18 June, 2007

In Case I Wasn't Clear

First off, the case against the 360, as I understand it, is as follows. Every news post about it elicits a dozen horror stories. How many are the same horror stories, I don't know. But there's far too many. There generally aren't horror stories about the PS3 or Wii. The Wii had a console killing firware update the first week it was out. That's it, to my knowledge. Plus, many of these horror stories are the newsposts themselves. Joystiq, Kotaku, Penny Arcade, and Cheap Ass Gamer have all had at least one staffer with a failed 360, and those last two only have two staffers (who are "customer facing" at least). If we gathered nothing but press statistics, it would be pretty damning on its own.

Most of these horror stories aren't just about a failing 360s. The early ones were about Microsoft charging customers lots of money for fixes and shipping and sending them broken (or quick to break) refurbished 360s. Then they charge them again. It's almost like Microsoft found a way to derive revenue from faulty products. Even after they released a new policy saying they'd replace launch units for free, they're probably making money on this. They also agreed to replace any destroyed disk for $20. None of this can be considered generous. Microsoft took almost a year to not admit they'd released significant amounts of faulty product with the initial 360s. But the $20 disk thing is extra insulting. The scuttlebutt is that if your 360 remains completely still, it won't destroy disks, so Microsoft apparently chalks this up to user error. Here's a hot tip, Microsoft, anyone who buys a CD or DVD player, you know, well over ten years after the technology became standardized, has come to expect that moving it while playing will not completely *#$%ing destroy their disk. I know, I shouldn't say it so coarsely, but no one is listening, so who cares what I say?

Okay, so you could still be thinking "this is just bashing from fanboys in other camps". Yeah? Then explain Microsoft running out of cardboard return boxes. How desperate do people have to be to try and eek out a couple of hours of gameplay at a time with the towel trick? Had a look at the informal UPS numbers? How about this article with a sound clip of a Microsoft service rep listing off the service numbers of the eleven wrecked consoles one guy had to go through? Wombat (of Cheap Ass Gamer) had a 360 (his second) which wouldn't load games without the game being inserted three to five times. It eventually became unusable, so now he'll be trying out his third refurb. The CAG podcast has thousands of downloads a week. Major Nelson (Microsoft's community manager) knows of the podcast and had a beer with Wombat at a Microsoft event. If Microsoft won't take care of Wombat, you might as well just die.

And it's gotten worse, in the way it always gets worse, compounding the offense by denying there was any offense. Do this to a woman, and you'll sleep alone.

Gamers are obviously not women because they tolerate this behavior. They're more like crack whores who'll let you do anything to them for that next fix.

Dean Takahashi is a game journalist for the San Jose Mercury News. He spoke with Todd Holmdahl, Corporate VP of Gaming and Xbox Products Group. Todd denied everything. I'm not a religious man, so maybe this means less coming from me, but I believe Dean deserves a sainthood.

Dean gave Todd an absurd number of ways to admit that maybe things aren't entirely perfect around 360 reliability. He even asked if there was any way he could ask a question that would allow Todd to comment on the reliability issue in any way, and got no response (outside of the prerecorded "people love their xboxes" loop). If the problem wasn't that bad, or if a solution was forthcoming, Microsoft would happily appear to take one on the chin to score some PR points.

They're not. They're too scared. The European Union is already investigating 360 reliability issues (specifically disk destruction, but I'm guessing they'll widen the scope when they start digging). My guess is all communications out of Microsoft are being heavliy controlled by the legal department, and with good reason. This is the same EU that fined Microsoft $357 million just for delaying Windows Vista. And as much as they don't want to suffer the pain of a lawsuit, one of the few pieces of info Todd does relate makes the situation even worse. They don't know how to fix it.

Todd makes a point of saying that the problems with the 360 are not systemic, as though that's a good thing. If there's no one problem, there's no one fix. Microsoft can't just add heat sinks and fix this.

That means a major redesign or spiraling down more layers of refurb hell (multiple broken 360s in a row, delays because they've run out of return boxes, etc.) which scares the crap out of me. I could pay $400 and have to go through that? I know early adopters get burned, but this is over a year and a half later. It's not so early anymore. Additionally, the 360 "elite" reportedly has just as many problems as the regular 360s. If Microsoft has learned anything about how to improve reliability, it's apparently too expensive to implement in a $480 product.

I hope the new heat sinks help, but it seems that the failures are so "unsystematic" (disk read errors, disks getting destroyed, CD trays locking up, overheating, dead power supplies, etc.) that it will be at least an entire hardware rev (possibly when they switch to the 65nm process) and a good three months of solid performance in the field before I'd seriously consider shelling out for a 360 without a lifetime warranty.

At the end of the article, Todd describes customer satisfaction as "one of my No. 1 responsibilities." You are obviously a lackey Todd, a toolbox; corporate cannon fodder. Let's hope someone else inside Microsoft has the guts to admit that these strategic desisions may well cost them the war and do something about it.