Red Rings and Other Unnatural Disasters: My Life with an Xbox 360

No High Scores

My 360 ate it this week. Or it may have. It’s not entirely clear at this point. It may just be the power brick. Regardless, it seems a good time to think back on my life as an owner of this temperamental, yet still essential, little box.

I bought my original Xbox 360 a few months after the initial launch. In other words, when every single 360 was a hardware failure waiting to happen. It took mere months for it to stop reading discs and I got my first taste of Microsoft’s support program, which handled my in-warranty claim relatively quickly and with an acceptable level of professionalism. That is to say, I didn’t end any phone conversation loathing them with the white-hot passion of a thousand suns, which is the inevitable result of any call I’ve ever placed to Comcast.

More of this tawdry tale after the jump…

That console lasted a couple of years, until October 2007. This one’s easy to remember because I had been playing my review copy of Guitar Hero III. I was stuck trying to pass Expert-level Holiday in Cambodia by the Dead Kennedys. It had a ridiculous opening 60 seconds or so and I had failed it over and over again. I had finally passed that section only to hear my daughter crying in the next room. I paused the game mid-song to investigate and returned a few minutes later. When I attempted to unpause it, a screaching noise erupted from my speakers and the screen went blank. That console never started up again. No red rings. No nothing. This, as it turned out, was after Microsoft had extended its warranty program, but because I didn’t experience the dreaded red rings (which would not have been so dreadful in this case) I didn’t qualify and had to pay the $120 fee (if memory serves) to have it replaced.

I had hoped when I received my replacement unit that it would be one of the newer models, with a quieter fan and DVD drive, and maybe, just maybe, an HDMI port. Wishful thinking, I know. Instead it was a unit just like my last two and I’ve known since then that it was merely a matter of time before my third 360 went tits up, which it did Monday night as I tried to boot up Two Worlds II. I pressed the power button and for a single second the fan whirred to life only to stop, three quadrants of the normally green power indicator turning red and flashing. Since it spared me an evening of playing a game I don’t much care for, I guess I can forgive it that.

I seem to recall experiencing something akin to Hulk rage when my first two 360s gave up the ghost, but with this one I merely stared blankly at the console and murmured to myself, “Of course.” I can no longer muster much outrage at Microsoft’s short-lived hardware and merely accept that as the cost of doing business. After a few unsuccessful troubleshooting attempts, I made the call. You’d think I’d have the support number memorized by now.

As they always are, the tech I spoke to was nothing less than professional and courteous. He made a full faith effort to get my console working (requesting many of the steps I’d already tried) and conceded that either the console itself or the power supply brick had failed. The power supply seems likely based on the power brick’s indicator light behavior (it stays orange), but there’s an anomaly to it that gives reason to suspect the console as well (it does turn green, just for a moment). He checked out my warranty status and I’m a matter of months past the extended warranty for red ring failures. Again: Of course. Fortunately, a replacement power brick, if it does the trick, doesn’t cost much. I have better uses for $30, but what can you do?

What ultimately irritates me is that if it is the console, and I have to go through that replacement process, I’ll be on to my fourth 360 console in five years. At this I can only ask, should a customer really be on the hook for an out of warranty replacement cost that’s already been borne once? Given they keep shipping back to me what is essentially the original hardware, hardware that everyone remotely tied to this business knows is not built to last, at what point should out of warranty fees be waived? I asked this of the tech, who dutifully offered his apologies (doing an acceptable job of sounding sincere), consulted a higher level tech, and returned to the line, lamenting his inability to help me further. Once more with gusto: Of course.

At the end of day, be it the power supply or the console that must be replaced, I will end up opening my wallet. Unless I want to proceed on a 360-less existence, which I don’t, there is little other choice. I will, however, carry a new grudge with the company. I took the out of warranty hit for their product once and I was fine with it. This time, however? I’m less okay. Microsoft offers any number of products and services I would ordinarily consider adding to my life (Windows Phone 7 comes to mind), but don’t regard as essential. I have, in fact, been considering switching to the Windows Phone as my first data phone (it really isn’t too shabby), but now I think I’ll pass. There are other options with which I’ll be just as happy and if I must send Microsoft money to stay in the 360 family fold, then I feel obligated to withhold that money from them somewhere else.

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Todd Brakke

Todd was born in Ann Arbor, with a Michigan helmet in one hand and a mouse in the other. (Never you mind the logistics of this.) He grew, vertically anyway, and is a 20-year publishing veteran as an editor of books on consumer tech and professional development for educators. Because that wasn't enough of a challenge, Todd was a 20-year part-time snob about video games, writing reviews, features, and more for multiple outlets from 1997-2015. Follow him on Twitter @toddsfoolery.

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