Dealing with the Stressbox360

Planning to buy an Xbox360? Hold on, you might want to read an account of our experiences first...

For anyone who loves video games as much as I do, few thrills can surpass the joy of getting your hands on a brand new console. I’ve owned almost every console since the Nintendo/Media Little Master days, and I can proudly say that gaming for me has metamorphosed from a mere ‘hobby’ into a full-grown passion, and eventually been cultivated into a way of life. I’ve celebrated the birth of many a console and grieved their deaths – which has never been easy. The only console that’s ever given me grief beyond measure – to the point that I wished my life didn’t revolve around gaming – is the Xbox360.

Dealing with the Stressbox360

Sure, the facts and figures Microsoft keeps throwing at us show how successful the console has been as far as sales are concerned. I would attribute that completely to the software end of the spectrum, which is Microsoft’s robust game development platform (XNA) that allows developers to code games with relative ease and, at the same time, makes it easy for them to keep the game multiplatform (i.e. Xbox360 + Windows), making it more lucrative. Couple that with the excellent developer support backbone (including an extensive developer Knowledge Base) Microsoft has in place, and you get a win-win situation for anyone who wishes to develop software for the Xbox360. That’s pretty much why you see such a large number of games being released for the platform.

That however, doesn’t change the fact that the Xbox360 has the most unreliable hardware I’ve seen in years. The whole saga started when my first 360 RRoD’d (Red Ring of Death) on me six months after I bought it. For those of you that aren’t familiar with the term: when an Xbox360 experienced any sort of hardware failure, you saw three flashing red lights around the circular power button on the console. Since this signifies the death of your console, it’s been nicknamed the ’Red Ring of Death’.

I promptly contacted the Xbox360 helpline and after explaining the problem to the lady at the other end, I was promised that my Xbox360 would be replaced in a week or two. A month and a half later the replacement arrived. I expected a brand new Xbox360, but I was greeted by a shabby refurbished one instead. Hey, I wasn’t complaining: it worked just fine... for a while. Exactly a week later, the disc drive on the Xbox360 starting giving way; the drive just wouldn’t recognize any game discs, no matter what I did. I called up Microsoft again and asked them for a replacement. This time I was told that it would take at least a month, since they were out of stock. The last time they said it’d be a week, it took me a month and a half to get a replacement; according to that calculation a whole month roughly translated to half a year! I refused to wait that long, and decided to contact Microsoft directly.

We got in touch with Microsoft’s PR and told them about the problem. We told them about how we needed the console urgently since we had a huge backlog of games to review, so they sent us a replacement within a week. After plugging the cursed thing in, I was greeted by the same 3 flashing red lights; the damn thing was dead on arrival! We contacted Microsoft’s PR again and told them that we needed another replacement, and they said that they were out of stock and it would take a while for them to get one.

We decided to buy another Xbox360 as backup for such situations. We went to a nearby PlanetM the next day and picked one up. By this time, I was so tired with the whole ordeal that I’d hoped to be rewarded with some quality time with my virgin copy of Mass Effect that was collecting dust. I started up the console, after which it said that an update was required. I pressed OK, after which the console rebooted and was stuck on an ‘Update Failed’ screen. I rebooted the console and there it was mocking me – the most dreadful sight ever – the three red flashing lights!

I contacted Microsoft’s helpline again, and they told me that there’s a policy in place that allows me to get the console replaced immediately from the store itself, provided it fails within a week of purchase. We went back to PlanetM, only to be greeted by some really incompetent staff that said it would take two days to get a replacement. After a whole lot of grief and many direct calls to Microsoft, we got our replacement after two painful hours.

The bottomline is that not even courteous customer service and the best software in the world can make up for a shoddy piece of hardware like the Xbox360. Microsoft can try hard to evade the fact that the Xbox360 is a flawed piece of hardware; but the one who suffers in the bargain is the customer. I could cope with the ordeal because of the people I know, and the fact that this is a part and parcel of my job; but what about those who buy the Xbox360 purely as something to de-stress? Is this the way Microsoft rewards those customers?

If you’re lucky enough not to have bought an Xbox360, and you need a powerful console to fulfill your gaming needs, I’d suggest that you either wait for the Xbox360 to come up with more stable hardware (I doubt that’ll ever happen) or buy a PS3. Up until recently, I’ve preferred the Xbox360 to the PS3 purely because of the extensive library of games. But now, in my opinion, the PS3 is a much better console to buy, since you can at least rest assured that you can play the games you love without worrying about hardware failures!

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