Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Xbox 360 number 3: Planned Obsolescence Edition

I am about to establish a relationship with a new 360. It's not by choice. I was jilted by the last one. I can't say it was completely unexpected. I learned how fickle their breed can be. They are so slick and shiny when you first meet them. They invite you to dress them in faceplates. They learn your name, and respond to your every whim. They promise to keep track of your gaming life for you, managing your social life, finding friends, and even talking on your behalf. They engage you with the the opportunity to earn their affection, granted in the form of achievement points which carry no value other than to display your commitment to them. Then, one day, without warning, the leave you. They check out. Their physical form remains as a monument to the relationship you once shared. Their spirit, their essence, their functionality, their soul leaves the hardware. I believe it skips out through the broadband connection and heads to a dormitory in Redmond, waiting for me to provide a new entry point into my life.

My first 360 was not easy to come by. Launch day shortages were fairy tales. Any time I wanted to buy a console, launch day or not, the strategy was simple. I just waltzed into the stores where the gamers weren't. Want an Xbox? Their stacked to the rafters at Target. Playstation 2? Hit Wal Mart. Little did I know, 360 would usher in the era of console shortage. On the morning of launch I jumped in my car with Matt Wolf and headed to Target in Culver City. Real people don't want consoles. We thought we were very smart. Gamers would be at the game store and no mainstreamers would pay USD 400 for a game console on launch day. We were wrong. When we got to Target, there was a line out the door. Matt stood in the Target line, I went to join the line at the Toys R US a block away. Within a very short period of time, tickets were passed out, and we were not within receiving range. We jumped in the car and headed to Circuit City and Best Buy, no luck. With 30 minutes left to opening, we headed to Costco, no one would be there. When we arrived, a 10 year old boy looked at our car and channeled Eddie Murphy doing his best "I got me some ice cream," waiving his 360 ticket over his head. We would have taken it, but we could not agree on who would take out the kid and who would take the ticket. We were skunked and embarrassed. Fortunately, Matt diligently monitored Target shipments, and secured a 360 within a few weeks.

I stocked up on games and started playing the machines. I let it suck me in and track my information. I trusted it to faithfully execute my commands. It kept track of my progress. Gave me free demos and even found me new friends to play with. When reports started to emerge, I laughed in the face of the red ring of death, and played on. Then one day, the red ring emerged. It toyed with my emotion. I rebooted, and it came back to life. . . for a week. I jumped on line to determine how to administer care. I turned into Randolph Mantooth, radioed Rampart, administered D5W and went to work. I followed every trick. I turned it on and off, wrapped it in a towel, dropped it on the table and every other tip I could find. Nothing worked, my 360 abandoned me. I called Microsoft, only to find my dear departed 360 was a mont out of warranty and there was no extension yet. I could pay USD 99 and wait a long time for a repair, or buy a new one. Since the web reports of refurbs was less than stellar, I opted for a new one.

This time I bought a base model. The EB looked down his nose at me me for not buying a redundant hard drive. He even suggested a Premium, but I stood strong. I unpacked the machine, slapped on the hard drive, plugged it into the old cables, and my companion was back. My gamertag, points, game history, it was all there as if my friend never left. My 360 went into battle with me in Medal of Honor and Call of Duty, it went to the track with me in PGR and even lost in a very gentlemanly manner. It even kicked back and relaxed with my family for a good movie. Then, all of a sudden, I put in a movie, and all I saw were squiggly, lilac lines dancing across the screen. After a reset and cable adjustments, it hit me. My second 360 left me in a new and unique way. Number 2 in the list of 50 ways to leave a lover.

I looked on line, and found I was not alone. The failure is common enough to be the subject of reports in numerous forums. I called Microsoft and waded through the voice tree.

"Hello, my name is Bob, how may I help you?" came across the line in a very heavy Indian accent.
"Yes, my 360 is not working. The video is messed up."
"I am so sorry for that." I don't think he really was. "I will try to take you through some steps to get it working."
"Thank you."
"First, we will reset the machine."
"I did that."
"But we must reset the machine, or else I cannot move to the next step."
"I did reset the machine, and I also reset the video settings to the default mode."
"But I cannot proceed unless we reset the machine."
"I did that."
"Ok, if that did not work, we will reset the video to its default settings."
"I did that."
"Oh no sir, we must try."

I finally convinced him I did everything I could to show the soul of my Xbox returned to Redmond."

"Well I see your console is out of warranty."
"I just registered it today, how do you know it is out of warranty. I bought it 8 months ago."
"I know because the computer is telling me your warranty expired in June 2008."
"But I bought it 8 months ago."
"But the warranty is expired."
"Well assuming the warranty is expired, will you repair this hardware defect which revealed itself 2 months after expiration?"
"May I speak with your supervisor?"

A couple months ago I had a similar issue with the Wii. I called Nintendo, this time I knew the console was out of warranty. The woman not only told me they would cover the known issue under warranty, but the repair center was in Los Angeles and if I delivered it there, they would fix it on the spot. An hour later, my Wii was fixed.

"Hello sir. Bob has explained to me you have a problem with your 360 which is out of warranty."
"Well I don't know if it is out of warranty, but I do have a problem."
"Well the computer says your warranty expired in April."
"April? Bob just said it expired in June."
"No sir, the computer says it expired in April."
"How do you know whether it expired in April or June?"
"Because the computer tells me."
"But now I've spoken with two different people who each gave me a different expiration date. Is it possible both are wrong?"
"Yes it is possible, but you must prove the console under warranty."
"Isn't it your job if you say it is not?"
"No sir, our computer says it is not, so now it is your turn. What would you like me to do."
"Well I would like you to use the brain g-d gave you and think independent of the computer."
"I am sorry sir, I am not authorized to do that." I was doing my absolute best to stay calm, but he was much more calm than I. "Would you like to initiate the repair?"
"Well it will be 99 USD and a lot of time for the repair, or 150 USD for a refurb in the store. It kind of doesn't make sense to send it in. "
"I agree, but what would you like to do. No sir, what do you suggest I do. I cannot allow a free repair, what would you do."
I explained the Nintendo story and told him "I would tell my boss the console market is very competitive, and if one of competitors is treating repairs this way, we should consider giving level 2 support authority to extend a warranty for known issues."
"I am not you." I know he is not me. His 360 probably works.

So now, I sit with the soul less shell of what used to be my 360, now transformed into a stunningly crafted paperweight and no way to advance in GTA IV. I knew I should have bought it for PS3, I was seduced by the siren call of achievement points. But going forward, I will remember, the PS3 I got on launch day never left me.


Micah Wright said...

I'm flabberghasted at your customer service reception at Microsoft... I'm on my 3rd X-Box 360, each of the first two developed the red ring of death, just as you subscribed, and both of them were out of warranty when they went bad. I simply mailed it in and got a refurb back for free -- from what I understand, MS has essentially abandoned the idea of a warranty period for those machines. That's a wise decision due to the fact that the entire problem is trackable to their use of a self-designed video chip which is prone to failure instead of using an off-the-shelf chip which would have cost them an additional 25¢/unit.

You should surrender the idea of getting YOUR machine back and just go the route of the rotating refurbs. I know that eventually, probably right at Christmas, my 360 will go south on me, and that I'll be unable to game on it for 3 weeks, and that this cycle will repeat 18 months later... but on the other hand, I've only ever paid $300 for one X-Box and my two replacements were free.

Get a refurb. They're free... and if they say they're not, they're lying.

Daniel Boutros said...

Doesn't each 360 have THREE YEARS repair warranty?

I seem to recall such an announcement from one Peter Moore.