This official Xbox 360 Red Ring of Death print bothered me.


Watching Xbox’s six-part Power On documentary, which is available for free on YouTube, has been a delightfully nostalgic journey through Microsoft’s 20 years in the console gaming market. A wide variety of interviewees and an honest assessment of the brand’s highs and lows makes it feel authentic.

“Jeepers,” I thought. “I want to play Halo Infinite immediately.”

Then I watched the episode covering the Xbox 360’s infamous Red Ring of Death, a widespread hardware failure that cost Microsoft more than $1 billion to repair, and remembered how gutted I was when it happened to me.

I loved my 360. Playing Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter on Xbox Live and Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion on that console was essential in getting me through my first breakup as a 19-year-old in 2006. I was fixated on in-game achievements, playing for long hours to unlock as many as I could. (I’ll admit that I was too emotionally dependent on my 360.)

It seemed like Microsoft had a loyal fan for life, until my 360’s front power indicator showed three red lights instead of the four green ones — that day’s Marvel Ultimate Alliance session was cut short. A little online investigation revealed that my beloved console was dead, but Microsoft had a repair program that’d sort out the issue. About three or four weeks later (it apparently took much longer in my native Ireland than it did in the US) I had a working gaming machine again.

Unfortunately, some of the magic was gone. I kept expecting it to happen again, and it sure did. Another few weeks without a console. Great.

Pretty much everyone I knew who played their 360 extensively suffered through at least one Red Ring – some of my passionate gamer CNET colleagues recalled having one to five. (One managed to avoid the issue altogether; his 360 was a chosen one.) A 2009 study of console failures found that nearly a quarter of Xbox 360s failed, considerably more than its competitors (10% of Sony PlayStation 3s and 2.7% of Nintendo Wiis).

The documentary doesn’t shy away from this issue, and it’s clear the people at Xbox felt even worse than the gamers about it (which makes sense: it was their problem to solve). Microsoft handled what might have been a brand-killing disaster as well as it could have – by flinging $1.15 billion at the problem and tweaking later models of the console.

“These were the darkest days of my career,” Leo del Castillo from Xbox’s hardware engineering group says in the doc.

It doesn’t seem like something to celebrate, but it feels like Microsoft is doing just that by selling a $25 Red Ring Of Death “premium print” as part of a series commemorating the documentary. 

I dunno how countless other gamers — those whose precious time and energy was wasted by the 360 hardware failure — feel about this, but my blood boiled just a little at the idea that Microsoft is making money off this issue. I’m certainly not nostalgic about it, and the idea of having a reminder of the one console that failed on me isn’t appealing in the slightest.

Xbox declined to comment about the prints.

However you feel about the Red Ring 15 years later, Power On is an engrossing watch. It addresses the disastrous 2013 Xbox One reveal, which put so much emphasis on the 360 successor’s TV streaming and online capabilities that it alienated a chunk of the Xbox’s core gamer audience – including me. I bought a PlayStation 4 and dismissed that generation’s Xbox completely.

Despite this, I acknowledge that Xbox did incredible work in revitalizing its brand. Since Phil Spencer became head of Xbox in 2014, it’s acquired killer studios like Minecraft maker Mojang and Elder Scrolls developer Bethesda, done stellar work reintroducing backward compatibility, created an irresistible subscription program in Game Pass, launched cloud gaming, introduced gaming to a wider audience through the Xbox Adaptive Controller and is giving the PlayStation 5 a run for its money with the Xbox Series X|S.

This is all extremely admirable, and most of the documentary makes me feel warm and fuzzy about Xbox. But Microsoft trying to profit off the Red Ring left me with a sour taste, and I’m suddenly of two minds about playing Halo Infinite after all.

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