Overheated gamers

Over at 8-bit Joystick, Jake posted an interview with an unidentified source “from inside Redmond” with a litany of complaints about the XBox 360 launch. (Actually, as the source later noted, he left Microsoft before the XBox 360 launched.)

The source’s biggest complaint: the XBox 360 was launched too fast with not enough quality control. Some number of the first batch of 360s that were shipped — around 30%, according to Jake’s source — were defective and had to be replaced. Why? Lots of reasons, but the primary one was that the XBox 360 could easily overheat, damaging the unit.

Digg, Slashdot, and all the other usual suspects have been having a field day with Jake’s post. (Good on Jake. He can use the traffic.)

What I don’t quite get is why any of this is taking anyone by surprise. Yes, the first run of 360s notoriously had a high failure rate, about 30 percent depending on who you ask. It was widely discussed in the gamer press last May. Microsoft tacitly admitted the problem when they spent over a billion dollars extending the 360’s warranty. If you’ve got a failed 360, Microsoft will replace it.

Yes, Microsoft hurried the 360 out the door. (Remember how long it took to see 360s in the stores? Microsoft had severe supply chain problems on launch; they hadn’t had time to build enough units in advance to keep up with the demand.) Why rush it? Simple: conventional wisdom said that the main reason PlayStation 2 did so much better than the original Xbox was that Sony got the PlayStation 2 out the door first. When it came time to ship the 360, Microsoft wanted to be first to market.

If they had it all to do over again, I suspect the execs would make the exact same decisions. Xbox 360 currently has double the market share of the Playstation 3, and a lot of that is because the 360 had a big, big head start.

Of course Microsoft should have built a more robust system. Still. Fellow gamers, let’s be honest with ourselves: we knew the 360 didn’t like heat. That’s why the manual said PREVENT THE CONSOLE FROM OVERHEATING in big bold letters on page 2 and the over-warm power supply was separate from the case. How many of us took that new 360 and shoved it into that tiny, airless, little slot between the TV cabinet and the subwoofer? Yeah, Microsoft needed to build a more robust system, but let’s be realistic here. We’re not all the innocent victims of bad product design.

So: lots of sound and fury, but somebody still needs to explain to me what’s new here.

(Full disclosure: I worked for Microsoft in 2005 when the XBox 360 shipped, but I worked in a completely different part of the company. I’ve since left their employ. This is all opinion; my involvement and knowledge of the XBox team was zero. I waited in line to buy my 360 with everyone else.)

2 Comments so far

  1. Jared (unregistered) on January 30th, 2008 @ 9:29 am

    i had one xbox 360 die because of heat and i bought about a year after launch. the warranty process wasn’t exactly quick or painless, but i got a refurbed unit three weeks after i sent the box out, not a big deal. since then it hasn’t overheated but i found a novel solution to deal with the heat: i sit the xbox on top of a laptop cooler. i used to use it for my powerbook, which was also notorious for heat and it works like a charm. it’s got two 50mm fans that just constantly circulate air underneath the unit and subsequently through my entertainment center. i plug it into the USB port on the back and everything stays much cooler. these can be had from $15 to $50 but really anything will do.
    as a consumer should i have to deal with solutions like this? probably not. but whatever, you make due, or you whine and still have a problem :) because MS isn’t going to give you a new xbox when your working one that was part of the faulty manufacturing run hasn’t died yet.


  2. Jake of 8bitjoystick.com (unregistered) on January 30th, 2008 @ 9:34 am

    Room heating and air flow problem around the unit can be factors in making things worse but just storing and using an Xbox 360 properly is not enough to prevent a failing unit from dying on you. I know games that have treated their Xbox 360s like they were a box of Faberge eggs but it still died on them. It’s not as simple as overheating. It can cook dozens of chips and connectors that can sustain damage from the thermal exchange.

    Also the 360 wasn’t just a rush it had personal issues, not enough testing and the design of the motherboard was dependent on the sexy form factor.

    My original interview article is linked here
    I do all right traffic wise. It pays the server bills and other perks.

    The company as spent over 6.5 Billion on the Xbox and Zune projects over the years and it’s going to take them a while to pay that back but overall it is a defensive product to try and stop the set top box and music market from being dominated by non Microsoft companies. Also Microsoft though that Sony was going to launch the PS3 in Spring of 06 . They also had no idea the Wii was going to be so popular.
    Microsoft has had a major PC hardware manufacturing team in operation since the days of DOS so I don’t buy the "Were just a software company" line.

    There has been 4.5 million dead Xbox 360s that has gone through the reanimation process and I don’t think that they are doing enough testing in the repair factories. If you get a dead 360 they don’t just give you a new one they send you a older previously died 360 that has a new fan on it but has a much higher chance of a 2nd failure since it had all the damage to the chips from it’s first death. That is how gamers will have to be on their fifth or tenth Xbox because they are shipping back hardware that has already been run hard and failed and they are not doing enough testing over a long period of time in the repair factories. It would be awesome if you got a new Xbox out of the deal but you sort of get patched up sloppy 2nds previously dead "zombie" xbox back instead of a new box with the newest motherboard designs. That is what my next article is about.



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