29 June 2011

"Red-ring, Mrs. Torrance."

About three weeks ago my otherwise solid, completely reliable, quietly humming Xbox 360 Slim began acting up. First sign of trouble: the machine occasionally struggled to load games from discs. The word "Opening," followed by a repeating tail of ellipses, would hang up the screen for minutes at a time. The tiny green light in the center of the Slim's silver circle winked at me in this cadence:


After that, the Slim began to behave as if it was haunted by the demon from Insidious. Games would begin to load up only to abruptly quit, booting me all the way back to the dashboard for no discernible reason. And once, near the conclusion of a particularly trying quest in Oblivion, the Slim just shut down completely, as if someone--the demon maybe?--had yanked the power cord from the wall at the worst possible moment.

The Slim's hiccups became such a handicap that trying to load F.E.A.R. 3 for review purposes a few weeks back required approximately between 10 and 12 load-up do-overs before the game would finally "take." F.E.A.R. 3 is not a great game. But having to endure hardware issues, while on deadline, certainly did not bolster my opinion of it.

I spent 45 minutes on the phone last Friday morning with a peppy, warm-voiced man named Wade. Wade works at Microsoft headquarters where he apparently fields calls from people like me on a daily basis. Wade walked me through a few troubleshooting routines over the phone. He had me remove the hard drive from the Slim--pop open the bottom; yank the drive out by its cloth cord, voila, etc.--his theory being that perhaps corrupted data on the drive was causing games to load improperly.

Yet, even sans hard drive, discs struggled to load. The green light on the front of the Slim feverishly winked at me like an insane asylum patient.

Wade was quiet when I informed him that the problem was persisting. I knew that he was gathering himself--I could feel it--getting ready to deliver THE NEWS--information that he no doubt had delivered to possibly hundreds of 360 owners before me, and would deliver again to many other 360 owners after I hung up the phone.

"Unfortunately, there's no other choice here," he said. "You'll have to send the 360 in for repair."

As Wade described the next steps in the repair process to me--an email would be sent to me which would contain shipping labels, which I will have to print out; the turnaround for the 360 would be two to four weeks, etc.--my anger bubbled to the surface.

"I'm sorry, Wade, so please don't take this personally, but this is the fourth f***ing time I've had a 360 fail on me," I said. "I'm beyond f***ing frustrated at this point. You know, as a consumer, I should hate the 360 as a console and Microsoft as a brand at this point. But the funny thing is, I don't. I don't, Wade. And I don't f***ing know why."

Wade cleared his throat, but otherwise remained silent, allowing me to continue with my diatribe.

"You know, maybe you guys worked some sort of voodoo on me. Maybe you people hypnotized me somehow. Whatever it is, despite the number of times I've been screwed over by Microsoft and its faulty hardware, the thought of having to live without my 360 for two to four weeks sends me plummeting downward into a panic spiral. No kidding. My chest tightens up just thinking about the weeks--weeks!--I'll spend without my 360, not to mention the fact that I also evaluate games as my job, which means that doing my job for the next two to four weeks will be a huge pain in the ass for me.

"If my PS3 or Wii should go down--which they never, ever have, for the record--I think I would be mostly OK with it. But I need the 360, Wade. I need it."

Wade, to his great credit, let me get it all off my chest. Who knows what he was doing on the other end of the line while I was gassing on? Maybe he was listening intently and feeling genuine empathy for me. Or, more likely, Wade had locked eyes with one of his fellow call center mates and was making mock jag-off motions in the air. (If I was Wade, that's definitely what I would have been doing.)

I did a little math this morning. Since the 360 launch in 2005 I've spent an unbelievable two to four months, in total, waiting for various incarnations of 360s to be either repaired or replaced. And here I am, seven motherf***ing years into the machine's lifecycle, and I'm doing it once again.

Another sad 360 story: I once purchased a 360 for a friend of mine a few years back. (He was about to get married, and I wanted him to play BioShock while he still had the time to do so.) While visiting him, the machine red-ringed right in front of us. Mortified, and not wanting to leave my friend 360-less or have him go through the whole Wade process, I simply went to the nearest Target and bought him a new 360 and personally ate the $400 cost.

And yet, after all of this, after all the failure and betrayal and disappointment, the 360 remains my console of choice, and I don't understand why anymore. Wouldn't a group of sane people, two or three hardware failures ago, decide to forego all Microsoft products altogether? If you buy a Chevy and it shits out on you every 75 miles, the next time you go to buy a car chances are most people wouldn't say, "Well, I'm interested in buying another Chevy, since the last one turned out to be such a huge piece of goat shit."

But gamers are a strange lot. We're very, very forgiving. We have an incredibly high tolerance for bullshit. Case in point: By the time Jack Tretton got around to apologizing at Sony's E3 press conference this year, you could feel the tidal shift of goodwill coming from the crowd, as if we were collectively saying, "Aw, come on, Jack. Pshaw. We forgive you for the security breach that may or may not have resulted in the pilfering of our personal banking information! Now show us Uncharted 3, you scamp! Woo!"

And so I sit, brow furrowed, gazing at the gaping hole which my Slim once occupied beneath my television, trying like hell to convince myself that Microsoft f***ing sucks, that the 360 sucks, that the stupid Master Chief eats bags of cocks, etc. and not even coming remotely close to succeeding.


  1. Well thank you sir, this has further convinced my wanting brain that the empty space between my PS3 and Wii does not need to be filled by a 360.

    I have a similar story with the (at that time) new Ipod touches, but instead of a red light winking at me constantly it was that damn little white apple. I went through 3 touches in a year, they spent about an hour trying to fix the first one the first time until they gave up and gave me brand new one. The next 2 times they just took one look at it, went to the back and grabbed me yet another brand new shiny one. I swear to god they give those things out like free candy at a Canada day parade.

    Just thought I'd share my failing technology story as well, this brought up great memories!

  2. I can't believe Victor wouldn't just tell you to go out, right away, and buy yourself a new 360 on the company dime. If a surgeon broke some retractor thingy he uses, would the hospital make him go without one for 2 to 4 weeks until it's repaired? Hell no! Demand your rights, go on strike or something. :)

  3. Brad makes an excellent point.

  4. Microsoft's got you firmly by the short-and-curly's. And they know it.

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  6. Hey Brad! I still have my old Halo 3-branded Elite, so that's what I'm using in the interim. All my saves, Gamer Score, Profile, etc. are still on the Slim's hard drive, and there's apparently no way--or at least, no easy way--to transfer the data back to the Elite.

    So I started a new profile from scratch on the wiped hard drive.

    Also: for the record, Vic's production company is scrappy, but small. We can't financially take the hit and run out and buy consoles whenever something goes down. Like normal consumers, we wait for repairs.

    But unlike normal consumers, we often have Elites as back-ups, so maybe we're not *that* normal after all.


  7. Scott, a similar thing just happened to me and you can transfer all your game saves and whatnot with a usb stick. It's easy.

  8. Scott I couldnt agree more with the rant....the 360 is like some sick drug. Breaks down and I come back for more! What is wrong with me?!
    -Lee Jo's

  9. I personally think its easier to forgive the hardware crapping out when you are fortunate like Scott and many others myself included that own more than one xbox 360 console... I'm currently getting a over heating error on one of my xboxs but the wife has her own console and we have a back up that is occasionally played by our son... as for the save issue we ended up buying the hardware transfer cable to transfer our saves from the old xbox to the slim... so to transfer from the new would require you to take your hard drive to someone with another slim and your elite hard drive and copy it that way... bit of a pain in the ass but a solution.

    Love the blog Jones, always a highlight when I'm stuck at work trying to get through the dull grind.

  10. Also I love how people think that as soon as you have some success and get on tv you are automatically rich lol... Not so much... Love the shows, you guys have inspired me to try and put my broadcasting diploma to some use in my spare time, I appreciate all you guys do for those of us gamers out there.

  11. I have mostly been an avid PS3 player myself, and only recently took the plunge into the world of the 360. Shortly after purchasing my 360 Slim, I managed to kill one of the Slim models at work (it was straight out of the box, might I add). This caused such an anxiety in me that I can't turn mine on without feeling mild heart palpitations.

    You sir, have just turned that anxiety into full out paranoia. Thank you very much.

    Also, sorry for your loss.

  12. I've had my 360 for a little over 2 years now, Its not a slim or anything. I've never had a single problem with it and everyday i remind myself how lucky I am for that, Its not like I don't play it much I play a lot (More then I'll admit) and it still works. I know exactly what you mean if it ever did break (Crosses fingers that it never does) I would be angry that it happened but I would also be dreading that 2-4 week wait without it. Microsoft is so good at getting us addicted to there console that no mater how mad we get at them or the problems the thought of being without it seems even worse.

    I feel bad for you having to deal with it breaking so many times, It cant be nice to go through even worse when your job is centered around playing and reviewing games. Keep up the great work both on the show and writing this blog.


  13. Scott I hear your frustrations, over the last few years I've gone through a magnificent number of original and Elite models. Recently My Original white 360 had it's dvd drive fail, to which I just demoted it to Network Media player and arcade games machine now. When I find another person chucking a red-ring-of-death in the trash I'll raid it for the drive and get it back up and running.

    To tell you the truth I bought the Elite as a 2nd xbox, along with a pair of copies of TC rainbow6 vegas 2 and a 2nd copy of TC GRAW2 to play local with my wife.... both copies of vegas 2 are still in their shrink wrap (3years now), but yet I'd STILL be DEVISTATED if either machine red ringed on me.

    And that sir is your answer! there's no voodoo, just multifunction device with a slick user interface. It's not as simple as just getting a george forman grill ps3 instead! We had 360's while the PS3 was still being unfasionably late to the launch party, the use of it is ingrained in a left frontal lobes!

    For me when the TV is on the 360 is on and sometimes the cable box, ocassionally the wii, but ALWAYS the 360 and I hardly ever play any games anymore.... go figure.

    Cheers, Phil

    PS. being just p the highway from the repair centre it's only a 3-5 Day turn around here in Muskoka, On. And when you chirp at them enough, they even give you free shipping both ways. :)