I am on my 4th XBox 360. Well, it might not literally be my 4th 360; I would have to check the serial numbers to see if the boxes were actually different or not, but this is the 4th time I will get an XBox into my home after a return or repair.
So... 3 hardware failures, more specifically 2 network port failures and, just so I didn't feel like a wierdo, a red ring of death. In total, I have spent over 6 hours on the support website and an estimated 18 or so hours on the phone with tech support. The most epic of those calls lasted over 2 hours and ended with me getting disconnected just before the tech authorized the repair, forcing me to repeat the whole call, and I mean the WHOLE call, including the "Is the cable plugged into the back of the console, Sir?" The second most epic call had the tech trying to convince me that the network connection really was working... hard to explain. I wish I would have taped that one.
Of course, I am not alone. The failure rate of the XBox is well-documented, with current estimates hovering around 1 in 6 360s failing. By any reasonable measure, the XBox is a mess. It has cost Microsoft millions, probably billions of dollars in shipping and repair costs, not to mention further burying the image of a company with a less than stellar reputation for quality.
One night, I had this dream where an enraged Vin Diesel comes to my house, angrily picks my PS3 above his head and repeatedly smashes my XBox 360 to bits. Then, once the 360 is nothing more than a pile of electronic components, unrecognizable except for the pathetic, still-flashing red-rings, he sets the Playstation down, pops in Metal Gear Solid 4 and plays while whistling the theme song to Katamari Damacy.
Proving only that 3 burritos before bed is not the best idea.
But you know, the PS3 is a darn nice piece of hardware. It has a pretty innovative architecture, a sturdy, sleek black case, a blue-ray player, a full-on PS2 chip in there for great backwards compatability with my extensive PS2 collection (why they dropped this feature, I will never know), a hard-drive I can replace without paying a premium, and a respectable 3% failure rate.
It bears repeating: the PS3 is an awesome piece of hardware and the XBox 360 hardware is crap.
The PS3 also collects dust while I anxiously await the return of my lovable piece of crap 360. (And let's not even discuss the Wii... because that is by far the best $250 paperweight I have ever had the pleasure of owning.)
See, if there is one thing the XBox has taught me, it is that failure is not absolute. In fact, consumers will be quite willing to ignore your failings if you offer them something worthwhile in return. We will put up with red-rings, repairs, tech support folks with painfully heavy accents, terrible hold music, being at the UPS store enough so that the clerks there know you by first name... we will put up with this and more, as long as the overall experience is good enough. The sum total of the XBox -- the dashboard, the online experience, the downloadable content, the game library -- comes together to provide an experience that transcends the crappy hardware.
If we look at the world of MMOs, I think we will see the same thing, because you know what? 90% of games suck at launch. Almost every game ever launched in the history of MMOs has been incomplete, buggy, unbalanced, laggy, glitchy or worse at launch. Software development is difficult and an MMOs are some of the most difficult programs to develop, so it is almost an impossibility to get the perfect launch.
Yet some games overcome their launch woes and enjoy success. Anarchy Online had a good run despite a terrible launch. Shadowbane managed to last for several years despite a poor launch and nagging performance issues throughout the game's life. EQ2 had a very shaky start and has grown into one of the best fantasy titles in the genre. Vanguard is enjoying renewed life.
On the other hand, Auto Assault died very quickly after its launch. Tabula Rasa had a decent enough launch, but could not survive. Darkfall seems to be the latest in terrible launches, and it seems to be on life-support. The Chronicles of Spellborn was not horribly flawed at launch, but it seems to be DOA.
I think ultimately, that games survive or die based on the sum total of the player experience. Certainly, the launch is part of that experience, but not all of it. Certainly bugs are part of that experience, but not all of it. I believe the single, most important part of the player experience is the GAME. If your underlying game is good, you will eventually find people want to play.
Vanguard, for all of its flaws and its legendary bad launch is a solid MMO with an old-school appeal to it. EQ2 started as a mediocore game, but has since transformed itself into an excellent example of the genre. Anarchy Online was unique for its time and has one of the most awesome, crazy min-maxing character advancement and gear systems I have ever seen. These games offer something that transcends their problems.
Someone recently asked me if I thought Champions Online will kill CoX. I replied that I didn't know, but in the current MMO market, bet on the game that has already survived its rocky period. Why? Because invariably, Champions is going to have serious flaws at launch. I am sure there will be ample lag, too slow leveling, power imbalances, grouping is pointles, combat glitches, issues downloading updates, too little content, too fast leveling, video card incompatabilities, forced to group...
All of that is certainly going to happen. The question is, will Champions Online also have something in it that will make us play in spite of all that. CoX did... and it survived.