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The Lunch Break Blog

For those of us who would rather be leveling right now.

Author: cmagoun

Note to Devs: Pray Your Game Has the Red Ring of Death

Posted by cmagoun Thursday July 2 2009 at 9:30AM
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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.

fallenmoogla writes:

Great post! I'm a PS fan-boy.

To inform you about the playstations backwards compatiblity  being dropped...

They dropped the backwards compatiblity due to the manufacturing cost. Now however, they have designed the backwards compatiblity to be software rather than hardware. they are calling it the emotion engine and it is rumored that it will be an upcoming firmware release.

Thu Jul 02 2009 11:54AM Report
lestaticon writes:

It's not always the case of having a good game to keep players playing. Very often it is the underlying companies who pull the plug due to crushed expectations around sales and subscriptions. You mentioned Auto Assault and Tabula Rasa, both NC Soft titles. NC Soft ultimately is responsible for that. This is one of the reasons I'll never play/buy another NC Soft MMO. I don't want to see a good game go under because the company behind it put all their eggs in one basket and have to pull the plug.

EVE Online is actually one of the best examples of a game well developed, but also well managed as a business. They started small like a real business and worked up from there.

Most MMOs today are like movie franchises. They're trying to grab all the gusto they can and are crushed if they underperform. Lots of MMOs have moved away from being just "good games" and have become only "products".

 

Thu Jul 02 2009 11:57AM Report
cmagoun writes:

fallenmoogla: I will be honest, I also love my PS3. As I said, it is an awesome piece of hardware. However, I cannot argue with the fact that the sum total experience of the XBox 360 is hands-down better. This is unfortunate and I feel Sony largely mishandled the PS3.

Heck, I think they are still mishandling it -- Playstation Home is (IMHO) a horrible idea. I'd rather see Sony putting effort into getting more developers on board.

Thu Jul 02 2009 12:13PM Report
shadowsting writes:

I have had 3 red rings  and I would say I have not spent more than 3 hours on the phone or the support website.

Thu Jul 02 2009 12:13PM Report
ITPalg writes:

No idea what you mean by "red rings". I read this despite not owning consoles. 

I have played EQ II from 2 weeks after launch. I remember them not having much problems after launch. It was a good game then. It was just different and harder. Now it has caved to the 'easier' market with WoW.

Thu Jul 02 2009 12:28PM Report
cmagoun writes:

shadowsting: I am glad you had a better experience with customer support than I have. A lot of my time was with the two network port failures. There was a lot more troubleshooting time involved with each call, since I imagine they get a lot more, "Hey I can't connect to XBox Live" calls that are indeed user error. A red ring requires very little diagnosis... especially after they became something of a legend.

Ironically, my red ring call essentially took 3 days to resolve because there was already a repair order in the system for my XBox from the time I got disconnected from tech support. The first-level tech couldn't remove the existing order and it had to escalate to the point where they had to call me back a couple days later. Crazy.

Thu Jul 02 2009 12:32PM Report
lordtwisted writes:

I am on my third xbox, and I have had zero hours on the phone with CS. Why?

  Well, I paid the extra $18 dollars at Best Buy for the extended store warrenty.  When my xbox dies, I walk in and the give me full retail credit to buy a new one. The first time I did this I got a new xbox, plus it paid for the warrenty and had $10 dollars left over due to the price drop.

  If I wanted to spend an extra few bucks, I could have got the elite version, but then would have had to pay the extra $30 dollars plus still pay for the warrenty.

 Shop Best Buy, let them deal with Microsoft, it's much easier.  Oh, and Best buy is instant replacment, except the new policy on Red Ring of Death, that now has a turn around but it's like 3 days rather then the three weeks if you do it yourself.

Thu Jul 02 2009 12:44PM Report
cmagoun writes:

lestaticon: I think that launch is the most dangerous time for a game and that most games need time to weather the storm. Both Warhammer and Age of Conan are sort of in that position now -- both had very high expectations, both failed to meet those expectations and now they have settled into a comfortable, low-grade existance. Where do those games go from here?

As for Auto Assault and Tabula Rasa, both had features that were potentially interesting, but ultimately failed to capitalize on those features and gain an audience. Could they have done so given time and support from NCSoft? Good question -- I am not sure.

itpaladin: I played EQ2 from release as well and call me a carebear, casual noob, but I think EQ2 is infinitely better than it was at the beginning. Given the games that came soon after it, I think the design changes (especially getting rid of the tiered class system) allowed EQ2 to survive, grow and compete.

Thu Jul 02 2009 12:46PM Report
Barafor writes:

I used to be a big PS3 Fan boy until i got my xbox. 8 months now with long playing lengths and still not one problem.  I found that in total i had played my PS3  about 40 hours over the 1 and a half years i had it, collecting a lot of dust and my xbox get used 30-40 Hours a week! (sounds like a lot but hey it is summer break ;)) all my friends would bug me about the "shitbox" 360 and how unreliable they are and how outrageous stories of how it breaks down a lot "well i heard if you smash it on the ground a few times then throw it out a 3 story building your xbox might get red rings!"....They all own xbox and chucked their PS3s.... I agree on how people will wait and wait but it seems the only people who take time to post about it are the people who have problems. But really the xbox is just more fun and any ps3 fan-boy most likley hasn't used one before. Im not saying the PS3 isn't a good console just that better than you think ;)

Thu Jul 02 2009 1:25PM Report
pendragon640 writes:

I've had my 360 since 2005 and just had the 3 red rings of death on it , i  got on the internet and found a site that told how to fix the problems  and fixed them myself .

Thu Jul 02 2009 1:30PM Report
Miclee writes:

I really want to comment on the CO thing, but I can't. Damn NDA.

 

Anyways, I love my PS3. I went through 5 360s. Customer support made me pay for 3 of them myself. After the last one, I was too pissed off, so I threw the 360 on the road.

Thu Jul 02 2009 2:29PM Report
Kataline writes:

I thought the problem with the 360's was a earlier hardware issue, I've had mine for almost a year and no problems at all. Weird... Anyway great article, I enjoyed it very much.

Thu Jul 02 2009 2:38PM Report
Brynn writes:

How can CO have both: too slow leveling AND too fast leveling?

Thu Jul 02 2009 2:55PM Report
SnarlingWolf writes:

This blog was crap to put it bluntly. To say that Vanguard is having renewed success because a couple people spam the forums with "You need to come back and try this awful game" posts does not mean it's numbers are doing anything nice. Same goes for EQ2, randomly saying it's one of the best fantasy titles out there? That's an awfully opininated and random statement to try to prove a completly different theory.

 

Also many of the 360 red ring's came from people not turning the machine off properly, they would just hit the power button instead of shutting it down and the machine didn't compensate, this normally broke the DVD drive which is one of the ways of getting the red ring. They normally update the machine with the fixes to prevent that in future uses. I've had my 360 for over 3 years now and it runs like a champ, but I treat it correctly.

 

The reason PS3 may have a lower failure rating is that not many people even have them, the ones that do don't use them since there's nothing worth doing, and then because it costs so much they baby it like crazy to make sure it doesn't break.

 

Overall this article was weak.

Thu Jul 02 2009 3:27PM Report
Kylrathin writes:

The real solution is, of course, to throw your consoles out the window.  All of them.  You will never have hardware issues with your 360, or dust on your PS3, or whatever issue with your Wii, if they are both sitting in a landfill, crushed to pieces as they should be, next to the dreams of managerial-types who authorized development of software for these glorified toasters.

Thu Jul 02 2009 4:00PM Report
CnOath writes:

I've never had a problem with my 360, I didn't buy it till after the second run after they fixed some of the problems.  It has had huge amounts of game time  and it keeps on ticking along. I also have a PS3 which is used to play B-Ray more then play games sadly.

Thu Jul 02 2009 5:13PM Report
EliminatR writes:

your so right the 360 is a huge piece of junk,but the experience is where its at. i repair 360s for 40 dollars on the side and i get at least 4 360s a week.  my friend has a ps3 and had it for about 2 years now and nothin is wrong with it runs like a champ, but my 360 ive had it since it came out and had to send it in twice and the third and fourth time i fixed myself.

Thu Jul 02 2009 9:03PM Report
Harafnir writes:

everquest II was NEVER "hard" I was in there from beta 2 and it was many thngs, but hard was not one of them. What it was though, was linear, you had NO character costumaization possibilities giving you NO choices at all that could go right or wrong, making it the EASIEST game on the market to develop a character. And killling an AI controlled mob can never be considered hard, sorry... You watch, you adapt, and you kill. Same formula over and over. So please.... Do not come here and try to bash WoW for EQ II:s failure. Do not try ot bash EQ II, because you think you are osme kind of Pro player. The game was bad and extremly shallow from the beginning. The costumers saw that. The developers saw that... They did somehting about it. Good for them. Bad for you, Mr "Proplayer"

Fri Jul 03 2009 12:36AM Report
Mcklez writes:

Your blog is great,i have yet to see you write any segment that is over stating of the obvious or flat out bull like so many others i've encountered,you have a very realist perspective while not being a complete pesimist like ninety percent of the populous and that my friend, is refreshing. All ego buffs aside my reason for commenting; Simple, I agree with the launch debaucles but also come from the 8-bit era also. I've coined the phrase I shall define below as the "Sega Self Destruct Default", Thus as its name implies, a company that has potential for great success becomes notorious,hated and kos to any former fans and it is becoming almost a trend(Hellgate should have been renewed,not shit canned) which curdles the gut of any true hearted gamer, it's a sad state when a company decides to pull the plug on a near million base of paying customers who invest so much time and efort into their product(mmorpgs of course) simply because they fail to land a critical blow to big names like wow(which i'd wager many of these figures blizzard seems to pride themselves in lately come from their all too abused trial accounts, which is why I quit for the summer.) It is much like sega knowing the bitter taste of lost revenue from sega saturn which they had no alternative than to pull the plug on and taking that post aggression out on the dreamcasts constant growing fan base back in 01 and canning the project and all future consoles. I never noted sega as a great software developer and doubt i ever will,they more or less self destructed by fogoing their hardware front,they could have saved money by not releasing any more mistakes like sonic adventure 2 rather than screwing their fans a second time. And in the mmorpg front and hype-mill it is much the same, if there is less than 1 million payed accounts on day one the game gets canned by the developer more or less. And the ones who do have success(microfunding usually) become greedy as all get out. I can't stand microfunding; considering the targets are teenagers who steal from their parents anyway, and have no restraint(i probably would've done something just as dumb at the age of 15 so don't flame, it's part of life) and abuse it. I've taken a new approach, i simply quit online gaming,lotro is okay,i may go back some time, but i find it much more appealing to play modern games over tcp/ip connections. And I refuse to change this untill developers re-educate themselves on the gamer code of pre-online ultima says(naught yore, ne'er speaken thar olden ultima as if it were 'n ancient relic, young lads and lasies need ne'er touch a real game if pokemon a challenge to ye!). I would rather preserve dignity and not endorse the sellouts of gamings origins, Squaresoft once was respectable,now the tech department will not even speak to you if you don't digitally purchase a fourty buck security token. Blizard once rocked my socks and showed me the way back home with Rock N' Roll Racing and The Lost Vikings,now they only want people around them who will spend 5 grand and a week of their lives to watch mister t sell the dregs of his soul to their ceo and pick up a murlock from a midget servant that represents a gnome. Maybe it is the sign of the times but it is indeed a sad state of afairs, no?

Fri Jul 03 2009 5:40AM Report
todeswulf writes:

I have an Xbox 360 Halo 3 edition...the thing is a tank Ihave carried it all over hell and half of georgia and it never fails me, yeah the warranty is done, but I wil drop what ever to repair it should it go belly up...best 300.00 I ever spent period.

And my PS3...I think I might have played it twice.

Fri Jul 03 2009 7:39AM Report
Seven77 writes:

Im actually selling my Xbox mostly because  I finally realised it was a waste of money to buy a system just because of a few exclusives. Upgrade my PC with the money. The Xbox and the PS3 never failed but mostly because I really did spend time on either.

Fri Jul 03 2009 12:42PM Report
Blazz writes:

I never bought any of this generation's consoles, because I have a nice computer that can run nice games.

Why do I need to buy something that will never be upgraded, only replaced?

Sat Jul 04 2009 8:07PM Report
mxmissile writes:

If only I could get the 360 controller to work with my ps3, i'd be set.

Tue Jul 07 2009 12:50PM Report
blooblob writes:

I had the same dream except Vin was singing the mario theme song.

Thu Jul 09 2009 7:19AM Report

MMORPG.com writes:
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