Changes to Xbox Live: Points and Family

It's been a long time coming, but I finally received notice from Microsoft regarding two very important items in my household, Microsoft Points and the Xbox Live Family Gold Pack.  Microsoft is doing away with both services this year.

In the case of Microsoft Points, all existing points are being transferred over to real-world currency.  This means users won't have to do any mental math to figure out how much a XBL purchase really is.  Any existing points will be converted over and Microsoft has sent out the remaining balances for Xbox Live Rewards.  In my case, I had 110 points that were being held by Microsoft that were deposited in my account.  In conjunction with the termination of the Microsoft Points system, Microsoft is also terminating the Xbox Live Rewards program.  No longer will players earn "free money" for being loyal subscribers.

From this point forward all purchases in the Xbox Live, Windows Phone 8, and Windows 8 stores will carry their real-world currency value instead of the needless MSP value.  This is something that many have been clamoring for over the past few years.  Other major service providers like Sony's PlayStation store and Apple's App Store use real-world currency.  It's about time Microsoft joined them.  Expect the changes to roll out later this year.

The other, more disappointing news, is that Microsoft is terminating their Xbox Live Family Gold Pack.  Later this month on August 27, 2013, accounts in the family plan will be broken up into individual Gold memberships.  Each account under the previous membership will have the same amount of time remaining on them and a bonus three months.  Microsoft has this to say on the matter "We continually evaluate our offerings and are always working to provide services that best meet the needs of our customers and Xbox.  Any accounts in an Xbox Live Gold Family Pack are being converted to individual Xbox Live Gold memberships to prepare for new and exciting upcoming benefits and features on Xbox Live Gold.  Through the new Home Gold feature, a single Xbox Live Gold membership allows anyone in your home to enjoy many Gold features like multiplayer, access to Gold entertainment apps, and more on your Xbox One."

Unfortunately, this is a stiff middle finger to those that don't adopt the Xbox One when it launches later this year.  A Xbox Live Gold Family Pack allowed four Xbox Live Gold memberships for less than the price of two individual Xbox Live Gold subscriptions.  It was a great way to manage a family of four and save a considerable sum of money.  Now, Xbox 360 users will be forced to pay more to keep the same services for all accounts.  The new features on Xbox One will be welcome, but bear in mind that this is a service that many believe should be free.  The fact that Xbox is the only platform that forces members to pay a subscription just in order to access other premium services like Netflix is ridiculous.

It seems to be one step forward and two back for Microsoft.  The loss of the points system is welcome, but the loss of the Family Pack riled every user in my household.  It's just another little nudge towards joining the glorious PC gaming master race.

Image by Yahtzee

App of the Week: Bing Weather

Bing Weather
Publisher: Microsoft
Price: Free!
Platform: Windows Phone 8

What is the #1 app that everyone must have on their phone?  What is the one topic that everyone can talk about?  If you said anything regarding the weather, you've got a sensible head on your shoulders.  With that in mind, Microsoft has just released their personal weather tracker, Bing Weather.

The app is sleek and much like everything else Microsoft is doing these days, beautiful in its simple design.  The live tile gives me the basic information I need with the current temperature, conditions (clear, foggy, rainy, etc.) and the high and low for the day.  Opening up the app brings up a more detailed breakdown of the current weather, including humidity, visibility, barometer, and wind speed.  Swiping right reveals daily and hourly increments which is absolutely fantastic for gauging the day.  There are also a multitude of maps showing everything from temperature, highs and lows, to rain conditions.

The app comes with the ability to track location, so the app will update based on your location.  This is a nice consideration for travelers.  But since location services have a terrible habit of killing the battery in my Nokia Lumia 920, I'm forced to keep them off if I want the phone to hold a charge all day.  Thankfully, the app includes manually setting multiple locations and the ability to change the default location for the live tile.

All in all, Bing Weather is a fantastic app for doing what many rely on, checking the weather.  The in-depth breakdown of everything going on from an hourly to extended forecast and detailed maps make it my go-to app for weather.

App of the Week: OneNote

Publisher: Microsoft
Price: Free!
Platform: Windows Phone 8, Windows RT, Windows 8

When it comes to being productive and keeping your life organized, Microsoft has had your back for a number of years now.  OneNote has been included with every major version of Microsoft Office since 2003.  And since the boom of tablets and smart phones have swept the world, Microsoft has made it even easier to keep everything in sync with their free OneNote app.

OneNote is a note taking application that allows users to create and curate their own journal, wiki, manual for life, etc.  Users can paste in files, pictures, audio, or even handwritten notes.  Sections make it a simple task to categorize everything and the search feature makes it easy to find anything and everything in the notebook.

There's not a day that goes by that I don't use OneNote either for work or at home.  It's a fast, simple, easy way to store my information in a way that's just as easily organized, indexed, and searchable.  I use it to log upcoming projects, phone calls, and even my shopping list.  Best of all, it's available on all of my devices.  So even if I can't get to my tablet or desktop, I have OneNote right there with me on my phone.  Of course, I can also share my notebook with others which definitely makes keeping track of familial tasks that much easier.  And for those security conscious individuals, you are able to password protect individual pages and sections.

Current users of Windows Phone, Windows RT, Windows 8, iOS, and Android are able to get the app for free.  After signing in with their Microsoft account and creating their notebook, users can even log on to their account online to view their notebook.  It's a wonderfully brilliant solution to keeping all of life's many facets in check.  This is a definite must have app for anyone.

Review - Bloodrayne: Betrayal

The Bloodrayne series enjoyed some moderate success when it was first released.  It combined three great gaming elements into one seductive package: sexy women, killing Nazis, and vampires.  Add in a lackluster sequel, some truly awful movies, and a tacky Playboy spread and times have been tough on titular hero Rayne.  Developer WayForward Technologies are looking to turn things around for her with the help of publisher Majesco.  Will the transition to 2D and a focus on compelling gameplay bring focus to this series?

Release Calendar: August 2013

August 01:
The Dream Machine: Chapter 4 (PC, MAc)

August 02:
Arcania: The Complete Tale (360)

August 04:
Pikmin 3 (Wii U)

August 06:
Divinity: Dragon Commander (PC)
Dragon's Crown (Vita, PS3)
Mortal Kombat Komplete Edition (PC)
Planes (3DS, DS, Wii U, Wii, PC)
PopCap Ultimate Collection (PC)
Tales of Xillia (PS3)
The Sims 3: Dragon Valley (PC, Mac)

August 11:
Mario & Luigi: Dream Team (3DS)

August 13:
Angry Birds Trilogy (Wii, Wii U)
Eurpoa Universalis IV (PC)
Phineas and Ferb: Quest for Cool Stuff (DS, 360, Wii, 3DS, Wii U)

August 18:
Disney Infinity (Wii, 3DS, Wii U, 360, PC, PS3)

August 20:
Saints Row IV (PC, PS3, 360)
Splinter Cell: Blacklist (PC, PS3, 360, Wii U)
The Bureau: XCOM Declassified (PS3, 360, PC)

August 25:
New Super Luigi U (Wii U)

August 27:
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow - Ultimate Edition (PC)
Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn (PC, PS3)
Hatsune Miku: Project Diva F (PS3)
Lost Planet 3 (PS3, 360, PC)
Madden NFL 25 (PS3, 360)
Swet Fuse: At Your Side (PSP)

August 28:
Killer is Dead (PS3, 360)

August 29:
The Lord of the Rings: War in the North (Mac)

August 30:
Painkiller Hell & Damnation (PS3, 360)