The 360’s Epic Fail
By Lewis Denby
In a week where GamesCom has dominated the videogame headlines, with Sony announcing both a Playstation 3 price-cut and the long-speculated PS3 Slim, it’s a piece of Microsoft-related news that’s captured my attention the most.
No, not all Molyneux’s Fable III talk. As interesting as the game looks, it’s not what’s been on my mind for the past few days. Instead, it’s a feature in the current issue of Game Informer, suggesting that more than 50 per cent of Xbox 360 units on the market have at some point conked out on their owners.
Game Informer’s report, off the back of a survey of its readership, claimed that a massive 54.2 per cent of 360-owning respondants had suffered a console failure of some sort. This was in stark contrast to the Playstation 3’s 10.6 per cent failure rate, with the Nintendo Wii’s being under seven per cent.
For many, this isn’t exactly news. The 360 has been infamous for its ‘red ring of death’ problem since its launch, and while Microsoft claims the issue has been largely resolved, there are still heaps of consoles that are refusing to fire up. But it yet again raises the question of what we should realistically expect from the hardware we spend so much money on. Should our games machines be considered throwaway distractions with a short initial shelf life? Or are they commodities that we hope will serve us well across multiple generations of the videogame industry?
It’s a safe bet that every enthusiastic games player will know at least a person or two whose 360 unit has suffered some kind of significant problem. That’s not in any doubt, but I find myself considering my own games machines, and how well they’re serving me.
I should probably touch a large plank of wood as soon as humanly possible, but my 360 continues to tick along just fine. Indeed, across all the consoles I’ve ever owned, not a single one has broken so resolutely that it’s stopped me from playing and enjoying its games. Perhaps I’m particularly lucky. Maybe I just take good care of my equipment. I’m certain that anyone who knows me would stray towards the former.
Yet it’s not always been plain sailing for my gaming units. Until the relatively recent past, I’ve been very much a PC gamer. Since the mid 90s, I’ve been playing extensively on the big beige box, and it was only with my purchasing of a Playstation 2 and a Gamecube that my console playing career seriously kicked off. And while I’ve never had much of an issue with my consoles, the innumerable computers I’ve owned over the years have been in and out of the repair shop countless times.
That’s for repairs alone. This isn’t even considering the regular upgrades, updates and general clean-ups I’m forced to subject my machine to, just to keep it capable of playing even relatively recent releases. Whether it’s viruses, hard drive failures, processor problems or video card inadequacy, having to give my PC some serious care and attention has become second nature, as it is for an enormous amount of PC fanatics.
The difference, of course, is that the advantage of consoles has always been their plug-in-and-play accessibility. And with the games industry diversifying, and the amount and type of gamers rapidly increasing and demarginalising, expecting a home console to just work doesn’t seem too unreasonable. Furthermore, the range of places providing quick and thorough service to troubled PC users is vast. In contrast, if your 360 breaks, sending it back is often the only route to take.
Yet I’m still struck by the 360-related uproar and how it contrasts to the ambivalence of PC gamers. Of course, all of us like to have a little moan sometimes. Why can’t the machine we just spent the best part of a thousand pounds on continue to work to a reasonable degree for more than a year or two? But we still expect these problems from our personal computers, while shaking our heads, tutting or even angrily ranting at a console manufacturer, half of whose machines are playing up.
This is just food for thought. I’m not claiming to offer any radically contrasting opinion on the matter, nor do I believe it is acceptable for a relatively expensive piece of equipment to break so quickly and so comprehensively. But perhaps we should be demanding a response not just from Microsoft and the Xbox 360 team, but from the producers of any other format on which we have the chance to play games. After all, these things aren’t cheap – and if gaming is to continue in its growth, actually playing the things is going to have to become ever more accessible, for an increasingly lengthy period of time.