Simple question. In the early days Microsoft stuck to its story about 3-5%, muttering about “industry average”. More recently Peter Moore, in an interview with Mercury News, ducked the question, saying:
I can’t comment on failure rates, because it’s just not something – it’s a moving target. What this consumer should worry about is the way that we’ve treated him. Y’know, things break, and if we’ve treated him well and fixed his problem, that’s something that we’re focused on right now. I’m not going to comment on individual failure rates because I’m shipping in 36 countries and it’s a complex business.
In the absence of official figures, there is anecdotal evidence. It’s the folk with broken consoles who make a noise, so it can’t be trusted. Yet a notable feature of surveys like this one in 360 gamer is the number of users with multiple failures – 3, 4, 5, even more.
Another intriguing aspect is that users with broken 360s report significant success rate with a crude repair technique – deliberate overheating. There are several variations. In one you remove the motherboard and apply a heat gun or even a hairdryer. In another you wrap the XBox in towels and turn it on. It suggests that that the most common problem with the 360 is that soldered joints fail. Overheating causes components to expand and if you are lucky remakes the connections. It’s not a good repair and the XBox will likely fail again soon. In particular, the towel trick is silly – apart from the obvious fire risk, overheating in general is bad for electronic components and likely to shorten their life.
The evidence suggests an inherent manufacturing or design problem with the XBox 360. I think 3-5% is wildly optimistic; it would not surprise me if the true figure is 30% or higher. Multiple failures suggests that, at a minimum, entire batches of faulty machines were produced. And because Microsoft is tight-lipped we still do not know when or whether the problem has been fixed. Is it still present in new 360s today? What about the forthcoming Elite?
There is another long-standing irritation connected with the 360’s DRM. A 360 supports muliple profiles, so that family members can maintain their own game progress, high scores, XBox Live accounts and so on. If you download and purchase a Live Arcade game, it is available to all the profiles on that machine. However, if you replace the machine the rules change. The games can be re-downloaded by the original purchaser for free, but on the new machine they are only unlocked for that player’s profile, not for the others which share the machine. In other words, if your 360 breaks and is replaced, you have something not quite as good as what you had before.
Microsoft’s standard policy on receiving a broken 360 is to send out a refurbished model immediately. This means you never get your original machine back, so you always suffer this problem. Third-party repairers are likely to be better in this respect, though you will have to pay, of course, and hope that they use a more effective technique than towels or hairdryers.
Nothing can be done about the number of faulty 360’s now out there, but Microsoft could do a couple of things to improve the situation. First, come clean about the problem and tell us how many are affected and what has been done to fix it. Second, figure out how to restore unlocked Arcade games properly on replacement machines.
Perhaps you guessed: my own (December 2005) 360 failed this weekend, three red lights, code 0020. Another particle of anecdotal evidence.