If you never saw Crazy People, a 1990 film starring Dudley Moore, I highly recommend it. Basically, an advertising agency is taken over by the insane, who decide that honesty — the anathema of marketing — is now the best policy. Volvos are sold as "boxy, but they're good." Another stunt offers "a free plant for fat slobs". And a poster featuring an attractive couple frolicking on the beach invites the viewer to "Come in the Bahamas".
The kicker to the whole movie is a brilliant fake ad for Sony (above), in which a smug Japanese man declares that their products have better engineering because shorter Asian engineers can see the circuitry better, while "caucasians are just too damn tall." Twenty-two years and three Xbox 360 failures later, I'm thinking maybe that movie was on to something.
This isn't an epiphany, though the straight up failure of my Xbox 360's disc drive this week certainly makes it into an I've-had-all-I-can-stand moment for me. That drive squawked like a turkey call on the first day of the season. The console's fan ran constantly, even if you were just charging up a controller while the rest of the unit was offline. If you played Skyrim without installing it to the hard drive, God, the thing sounded like a Husqvarna carving through a fallen maple, even with noise-cancelling headphones on. This is to say nothing of problems with the 360's temperamental wireless — and even wired — connectivity. I frequently started my 360 and watched it struggle to find the router, while my PlayStation 3, sitting inches away, connected to PSN with no trouble.
That probably pissed me off the most, because whenever your 360 can't find the wireless access point, you have to pretend to test the connection. It's not only that the process means signing out your user profile (what the hell does that matter?) it's that the whole thing puts on this air of "testing" like having a bloody wireless router right next to the unit is some experimental setup that may be outside of the tolerances of this machine designed by caucasians in Redmond who were just too damn tall to see what they were making. It drove me insane to play UFC Undisputed and be told my "NAT was set to strict." I don't know what the hell that is, and I consider myself an intelligent man. I do know it's an advanced networking issue you should never encounter on a piece of plug-and-play consumer hardware.
All of this leaves aside completely gratuitious design choices, which I have raged against before, like the stupid goddamn trap door that means you can't plug in a USB device on the fourth try, much less the second or third, or the capacitive power and eject buttons. I'm sure these features won some arsehole a prestigious design award. Here's the thing about those buttons and that door, though: Their design communicates a solid-state product. No moving parts. And yet when you need to load a disc, GA-WHOOOMPH, here comes the drive tray from 1990.
And that is the thing that crapped out on me this week, requiring a tremendous willpower to not hoist the whole unit by the tray like a horseshoe, and fling it into the laundry room.
Psychologists say you hate most that which you see, deep down, in yourself. It's true with the Xbox 360, and not just because it is sold by an American company and is the dominant console in my home country especially in online multiplayer. I'm angry because, no matter how much I stomp my feet and righteously declare how unacceptable these failures are, and how shameful this console's history is, I enable its crappiness by rushing right out to get a replacement when the thing breaks, even when a PS3 — loading times and firmware updates notwithstanding — is humming along without any problem on an adjacent shelf.
My only defence is that I need the Xbox 360 for my job. Forza Horizon is my review, when it releases in two weeks, and that game, of course, is not releasing on any platform other than the 360. That's my excuse. What's yours? And that's not to suggest there is no good excuse. Microsoft did a fantastic job making this machine seem to be indispensable despite unreliability that, in the early days, was calculated to be as high as one out of four units failing.
Console exclusives, or timed exclusives, have a lot to do with it, but so does Sony missing the boat on pricing throughout this generation, on online multiplayer and social features, areas in which the 360 has led unequivocally in North America.
Still, as much as there's the Yellow Light of Death, nowhere near the failure rate of the Red Ring, or the fact you can't install Linux on a PS3 — that thing works. It doesn't groan, wheeze or require a big stupid power brick that, if grasped, would leave you screaming like that Nazi grabbing the red-hot amulet in Raiders of the Lost Ark. It's made by a company that has made consumer electronics hardware for decades. Not the one that brought you Clippy.
As angry as I am that Microsoft turned out such terrible workmanship throughout all makes of this console, now approaching the end of its life cycle, I am even more furious that I have accepted it by continuing to pay for the product. I'm furious that, instead of trying to get it fixed, or calling Xbox Live customer support to get my money's worth in a nasty telephone rant, I just accept that I have to buy a new one. (Which is still true, the thing is out of its warranty.) This is the third Xbox 360 to fail on me since 2007, and anecdotally, that places me at the low of the spectrum.
The code name for the 360's successor is "Durango". The popular label is "Xbox 720". I don't care what Microsoft wants to call it, that godddamn thing better be built like a tank. No capacitive buttons. No USB trap door. No pissant WiFi. No disc drive that sounds like the fiddle solo in "The Devil Went Down to Georgia." No hot brick.
I can blame Microsoft if that new console fails the first time. I can only blame myself if it fails a second.