Customer loyalty programs aren't a particularly new development, but we've only seen the videogame industry making strides to adopt them in the last few years. For such a bleeding edge medium that is relying more on digital distribution, the adoption of these programs only makes sense. Loyalty programs serve as smart business planning moves, encouraging sales and creating a relationship with customers. Better yet, these programs are most efficient when trading in bandwidth rather than in physical goods, which seems like a perfect fit for the games industry as it adopts digital distribution.
But which one gives you the biggest bang for your buck? Now that programs like Club Nintendo and Xbox Live Rewards offer rewards that can also be purchased separately for real money, it's easy to compare and analyze the real-world value of their respective freebies. Play currency like Microsoft Points and Nintendo's Coins may obscure the "real" value of items, but that also makes for an easy conversion rate.
It's worth noting, though, that the rewards aren't literally worth the dollar value of the points used to gain them. Obviously, the money spent on a game like The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword or a service like a year of Xbox Live is meant to give you the enjoyment of those products themselves, but, to have a baseline for measuring bonuses, especially against each other, it's helpful to take a look at the money you have to output before a reward is gained.
Nintendo entered the game first with its Club Nintendo rewards program, brought to America after years of popularity in the company's native Japan. It offers a set number of Coins for registering your purchases with a short survey, with bonuses given for taking another survey and occasionally for marking purchase intent. It's likely the most time-consuming process, but also has some of the greatest variety in paths to earn your respective points. Each first- and second-party game purchase offers points, and the program has enough opportunities to support Gold and Platinum statuses for earning a fairly high set number of Coins in a given year.
However, Nintendo is also inconsistent in the price-to-value ratio, in more ways than one. Wii games, for example, usually cost an MSRP $49.99 and offer 50 Coins (not counting the 10-coin post poll) -- implying a direct dollar-to-coin comparison.. 3DS games, usually priced at $39.99, tend to give 30 Coins, while cheaper DS games give 30 Coins as well. Savvy shoppers could maximize their points by going for cheaper products, while early adopters who pay more for day-one experiences usually aren't rewarded for it. Nintendo sometimes mitigates this with limited-time registration bonuses for a short window after the launch date, but those aren't offered consistently enough to be counted on.