Tuesday, May 08, 2007


The gaming press is awash in stories about the Xbox 360's unreliability. Huh, thought I. Mine works fine.

Well, it did until yesterday.

The Red Ring of Death. Three flashing red lights, in a pattern the woefully incomplete manual does not mention.

I call Microsoft Xbox 360 Customer Support. This, I think, will take all day and make for a bleakly funny blog post.

At first it seems my instinct is right. "Max" answers, a creepy electronic voice that oozes the same sort of false bonhomie as the robots at the beginning of "Westworld". Max uses hip, slangy words and phrases like "Gotcha!" and "Great!" and "No problem!". Max soothes me with the promise of help (after regretting to tell me that due to call volume help may be delayed)and offers a list of possible things I can say to make Max keep talking to me. Suddenly it seems very important to keep Max talking to me, as I have now invested a good eight minutes of my life listening to him. I say, "three flashing red lights!", one of the phrases Max has suggested.

"Gotcha!" sez Max. "I can help you with that!" Hooray!

Max walks me through the process. Patiently. Gently. He guides me step by step. Unplug power supply, decouple hard drive, replug power supply, boot, check power supply light, look at console and there should be a pleasing green glow. Turn off, unplug, recouple hard drive, replug, reboot.

Max wants me to succeed. I can hear it in his voice.

"Did this fix your problem?" Max asks.

Max, I have failed you. Three flashing red lights. Max is silent a moment. Thinking, perhaps, or mourning the loss of a brother machine. Max recommends I visit the website and check out document 90345667122345356832345^3. I sigh. Max has turned against me.

"If you would like to speak to an agent, say 'agent'," Max suggests, but now he sounds hesitant, like he doesn't really mean it. Max is giving me mixed signals, and it's creeping me out.

"Agent!" I say, and Max blips me over into telimbo, without so much as a goodbye, a simple humble acknowledgment of our time spent together. Robot asshole, I think.

But before I can even complete the thought there's an actual human being on the line. I marvel at a "hold" actually being a "hold" instead of an "interminable wait until you lose patience and hang up". Kudos, Microsoft, I think.

But before I can complete THAT thought, said human being, whom I can clearly hear breathing and rustling paper amidst the background chatter of the call center, disconnects me.

Click. Bzzzz. "If you'd like to make a call..."

I've worked in call centers. Dropping calls like that will get your ass fired. She should have just muted me and rode the call for three or four minutes before hanging up, or whatever length she needed to shave her talk time without looking like she's shorting calls (which is exactly what she's doing). That's what I would have done. I sigh and call Max back.

"Xbox console Xbox 360 three flashing red lights agent," I tell Max, who must be ashamed of how we last parted, as he is much less vocal this time.

After a similarly short hold, a real person smoothly and professionally gets my registration information and informs me that I have a hardware problem, my console is still under warranty, and they'll send me shipping materials to send it back to them prepaid via UPS.


I don't even get to fight about this? I don't have to storm into Best Buy waving my extended service plan and demanding satisfaction? I can just...send it to you and you'll fix it?


I mean, I have a washing machine that I paid like $130 bucks for fourteen years ago and it runs like a top. It's a wet, spinning electrical appliance, for fuck's sake. You'd expect something to go wrong. Of course, when something DOES go wrong, I'll just buy a new one, since the new ones are probably more efficient and probably still don't cost much more than $200.

But a sleek $399 whangdoodley console, that gets used WAY less than our washing machine (OK, maybe not, but it's close), that's nothing more than an expensive paperweight unless you feed it $60 games, goes tits-up in less than a year. They damn well better make it work!

I don't have an end to this, because the story really isn't over yet - I've yet to receive the shipping materials, so we'll see how this all plays out.

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