The Xbox 360 Reliability Saga
Posted at 22:22 on 10th July 2007 - permalink

So, it turns out that Xbox 360s break down rather a lot. But then Microsoft quite unexpectedly decided to tackle the problem head on, putting measures in place to make sure that everyone who has seen or may see the dreaded “ring of death” error code (three red lights on the LED display on the front of the console, which indicates a problem requiring returning the box to the manufacturer) gets a fully working machine at no extra cost. Aside from the fact that I’ll have to mothball my plan to sell “Yours died too, huh?” t-shirts, this is a great result for all concerned.

I think that the warranty extension (as opposed to a full consumer recall) is probably the best that Microsoft could realistically expect to achieve at this point in time. Newsweek’s N’Gai Croal presents a well-reasoned analysis of the situation. Consumers deserve to have more information about exactly what’s wrong and how likely it is to affect them, not just some vague assurance that everything has been taken care of. Once the revised (65nm) chipset rolls out we’ll probably hear a more candid explanation of what happened. Until then, we get to marvel at the linguistic sleight of hand required to allow Microsoft to address the problem without admitting that there is a problem.

Part A: The announcement

“Microsoft expects to charge between USD 1.05 and 1.15 billion before taxes for the quarter ended June 30.”

Translation: There is a systemic flaw in the current design of the Xbox 360.

This flaw potentially affects all of the 11m units so far shipped within the commercial lifespan of the machine. The $1bn figure indicates that Microsoft would expect to pay significantly more than this in a class action lawsuit arising from this issue, perhaps enough to jeopardise the future of the project within Microsoft.

Part B: An open letter from Peter Moore

“To our Xbox Community:”

To the mainstream news outlets and retailers who have started to go public on this issue:

“You’ve spoken, and we’ve heard you. Good service and a good customer experience are areas of the business that we care deeply about. And frankly, we’ve not been doing a good enough job.”

…for the year or more we’ve known about this.

“Some of you have expressed frustration with the customer experiences you have had with Xbox 360; frustration with having to return your console for service after receiving the general hardware error message on the console.”

We didn’t have a process for this eventuality.

“The majority of customers who own Xbox 360 consoles have had a terrific experience from their first day, and continue to, day in and day out. But when anyone questions the reliability of our product, or our commitment to our customers, it’s something I take very seriously.”

At least 51% of the boxes we shipped haven’t broken yet.

“We have been following this issue closely, and with on-going testing have identified several factors that can cause a general hardware failure indicated by three flashing red lights on the console. To address this issue, and as part of our ongoing work, we have already made certain improvements to the console.”

More than one thing can go wrong that can cause a three-red-lights error. You could drop your console in the bath. It could get hit by lightning. Or, vastly more likely, it could suffer from the systemic design flaw we’re continuing to deny. Conveniently this ambiguity means we don’t have to make explicit reference to the flaw (what flaw?) in our extended warranty.

“We are also implementing some important policy changes intended to keep you in the game, worry-free.

As of today, all Xbox 360 consoles are covered by an enhanced warranty program to address specifically the general hardware failures indicated by the three flashing red lights on the console. This applies to new and previously-sold consoles.”

We aren’t going to recall the faulty current-revision machines from retail. Roll the dice, kids!

“While we will still have a general one year console warranty (two years in some countries), we are announcing today a three-year warranty that covers any console that displays a three flashing red lights error message … Microsoft stands behind its products and takes responsibility to ensure that every Xbox 360 console owner continues to have a fantastic gaming experience.”

We are committed to customer satisfaction at such time as we believe it is prudent.

“If we have let any of you down in the experience you have had with your Xbox 360, we sincerely apologize. We are taking responsibility and are making these changes to ensure that every Xbox 360 owner continues to have a great experience.

This will take a few days to roll out globally, and I appreciate your continued patience as we launch this program. I’ve posted an FAQ that should address some additional questions, and we’ll update it over the next few days.

I want to thank you, on behalf of all us at Microsoft, for your loyalty.”

You’re going to keep buying Xbox 360 games, right? *punches you on the shoulder chummily*

PART C: Interview with Todd Holmdahl, the man ultimately responsible for Xbox hardware quality, a few weeks prior to the announcement

“There are no systematic issues. The vast majority of the people just love the product, have a great experience with it. When there is an issue, we get on it and address it as quickly as possible.”

oh shit oh shit oh shit oh shit oh shit

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