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The Xbox Acquisition Deliberation

In the old days, I would replace my computer every couple of years. Since I don’t game on the PC much anymore, I’m still finding myself perfectly happy (well, mostly) with the computer I built in October of 2006. The object of my upgrade fever, meanwhile, has turned to mobile phones and game consoles, and it is these items that I now find myself replacing on a two-year cycle.

Having just upgraded to the iPhone 4S this past fall, I’m now approaching the two-year anniversary of my last Xbox 360 purchase, an ordeal necessitated by the death of my previous console from a case of scarlet ring disease. Back in March of 2010, newly Xboxless, I picked up a Final Fantasy XIII Super Elite limited edition unit. It’s still going strong today, no doubt thanks to manufacturing improvements made over time (and the fact that I install all my games to the hard disk now, to minimize heat produced by the spinning optical drive). But I recently started thinking that having a second Xbox in the house might be handy.

Now that we’ve got bouncing baby Connor to keep us busy around the house, I find it more difficult on the weekends to shut myself away in the game room upstairs for Xbox sessions. Although I still like the theater-like ambience of the game room during the nighttime hours after Connor goes to bed, I’d like to stay downstairs during the day and, when I’m not busy keeping Connor entertained, catch a game session or two without having to remove myself from view. (After all, when you have a three-month old baby, you never know when you’re going to be needed!)

I’d be lying, however, if I didn’t simply feel like getting a shiny new Xbox to brighten my gaming future. Since I bought my last console, the Xbox 360 has been completely redesigned, resulting in a slick new look, near-silent operation, touch-operated controls, greater reliability and the addition of integrated Wi-Fi and powered Kinect ports. Since rumors have it that the next-generation Xbox console should be out in just shy of two years’ time — playing right into my next upgrade cycle — this seems like the perfect time to pick up one last console from this generation and enjoy it for the years to come. Maybe even hand it down to my son for his own enjoyment when he’s ready! (Who am I kidding; he’ll know it’s an old piece of crap by then. “Really, Dad?” he’ll say as he rolls his eyes.)

However, with the Xbox landscape a lot more cluttered and complicated than it was two years ago, I decided to hash out my thoughts in this handy Oddball Update (Relevance Not Included™) and try to come to some kind of decision about how to proceed. If you’re interested in taking the journey with me, meet me past the break and we’ll Jump In. (Har har. That’s the Xbox slogan.)

Thanks to the good sales quarter my company just had, I recently earned a fairly substantial bonus. Then came my annual review, at which I earned a significant raise. With a little extra net spending money available as a result, I don’t have much trouble financially justifying my new console acquisition — especially since buying more games would be almost ridiculous given the huge backlog that I have yet to finish (or even start, in some cases). The problem is, which console to get?

Here are the options:

The Core System (4GB for $199 / 250GB for $299)

The core Xbox is the console itself and one wireless controller, and is offered with either 4GB of flash storage, or a 250GB hard drive. Although the 250GB variant used to come in a glossy piano black finish with chrome accents, this has been discontinued and now both models are finished in cheap-looking matte black plastic. Despite the ugliness, I could really stretch my money by going this route, because there’s a cheap (~$15) way to convert your old-style 360’s hard drive to a form-factor compatible with the new-style console. Thus, I could get the 4GB Xbox, attach my old hard drive, and enjoy the new console for minimum dollar.

The Kinect Bundle (4GB for $299 / 250GB for $349)

The two Xbox variants described above are also available with the Kinect Sensor packed in. This motion-detecting series of cameras and microphones is Microsoft’s answer to the “active gaming” trend started by the Nintendo Wii, but rather than using a controller, the Kinect watches you as you move your body and interprets those moves as game input. It’s actually really cool tech, but the problem is that it has very few uses that interest me. In fact, the only reason why I’d really ever use it — at least until my son gets a little older — would be to enjoy the automatic head tracking in Forza Motorsport 4, where the camera leans into turns as you move your head in real life. (Plus, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t at least sorta interested in Dance Central, but that’d probably result in my stomping a hole through the floor of the upstairs game room.)

The Gears of War Limited Edition (320GB for $349)

The modern-day equivalent to my FFXIII Super Elite, this is a limited edition, custom-painted Xbox done up to promote the Gears of War franchise by Epic Games. I’m certainly more of a Gears fan than I ever was of a Final Fantasy fan, so the thought behind the console is right up my alley. The paint job is unique, although a bit over the top. Best of all, though, this console comes with two controllers with transforming D-pads, plus a 320GB hard drive and a copy of Gears of War 3, which I haven’t played yet. It does not come with a Kinect Sensor, but as I explained in the previous paragraph, I’m not entirely sold on the usefulness of Kinect in my particular situation. The problem with this Xbox is that it was released in September, and being a limited edition, supplies are almost completely gone.

The Modern Warfare 3 Limited Edition (320GB for $349)

Similar to the Gears console, this limited edition is designed around the mega-popular Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 game. It’s actually got a pretty nice design, with its “military grunge” gray, and the controllers not only have a special grippy coating but also a new thumbstick design that prevents, uhm, “thumb slippage”. It’s also packed with the same big 320GB hard drive offered on the Gears console and, naturally, a copy of the Modern Warfare 3 game itself. The problem is that I just don’t give a shit about Modern Warfare. I may be the only Xbox gamer on Earth who doesn’t, but I don’t. I’d probably play the singleplayer campaign once and then trade it in for a copy of Gears of War 3, in all honesty! Unlike the Gears console, this limited edition is still readily available.

The Used Market

Instead of buying new, I could go in a completely different direction and buy a used console. eBay has numerous deals, and I’m sure Amazon’s Marketplace does as well. Although this would save me some money, I tend to resist buying game consoles in either used or refurbished condition. Particularly given the reliability track record of the Xbox 360, this seems a dangerous gamble, especially for something I expect to use regularly for the next two years. And a used console brings with it the possible inability to register its warranty in my name, or transfer my content licenses from my old unit.

Decision Time!

Now my conundrum is this:

  • I won’t have the funds to make a purchase for another couple of weeks yet.
  • When I do get the funds, I will still be $50-$100 short of what I’d need for the top-of-the-line consoles available to me.
  • My birthday is at the end of the month, and I might receive some help in the form of gift cards that I could put toward the Xbox…but if they are all from different retailers, I can’t pool them to help me close the gap.
  • Although I lean toward choosing the Gears of War special edition Xbox, they are out of manufacture and rapidly becoming hard to find. This makes me less flexible in terms of choosing a retailer or finding a good deal.
  • The Modern Warfare 3 console gets me the features I want, but I’d feel silly spending that much on a console that celebrates a game I don’t even like.
  • Part of me is tempted by the idea that I could save significant money by buying used, but I’m extremely wary of the potential pitfalls.

Since I’m financially unable to make a choice for another couple of weeks, I’m churning over these options in my head while I keep my eyes peeled for sales and special offers. And it occurs to me that, despite being nearly 32 years old now, my methodical obsession over gadgetry is still effectively the same as it was when I was 15. I guess some things never change. Ah well — at least my hobby isn’t filling my car with thousands of dollars worth of performance parts or ATVing or skydiving or…hey, I could have much more expensive interests!

If you were in the market for a new Xbox 360, which one would you pick? Let me know your thoughts.

And if you’re wondering what I might like for my birthday, an Amazon gift card would be ideal!

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