360 warranties: credit where it's due

· by Steve · Read in about 3 min · (595 Words)

I do a fair amount of MS bashing on this blog, but I like to think it’s not rabid anti-corporatism but actually a valid commentary on what’s often wrong with the dominant software supplier. Most of the time.

To reinforce this, I have to say ‘kudos’ to them over their recent actions with the 360 hardware failure rate. I’d thought about verbally tearing them a new one over it here in the past, but didn’t mostly because everyone else was already, and I didn’t feel I had an appropriately personal message to convey about it, not owning a 360 yet alone having a series of defective machines.

For those living in a hole, Microsoft has extended the warranty to a full 3 years on all 360’s, specifically to cover the ‘Red Ring of Death’ problem which has mostly been attributed to inadequate GPU cooling by independent technicians who fix the problem, although MS won’t admit to that. Not only that, even though they won’t talk numbers, Peter Moore has labelled the failure rate ‘unacceptable’ and has gone as far to issue a seemingly fairly genuine open letter of apology. They’ve held their hands up and said ‘we screwed this one up’ and have put in place something to assuage users fears. This is good.

Now, obviously this is all about sales, marketing and PR when it comes down to it, but nevertheless it’s a good move from them. It’s smart because it quells user revolts whilst not actually requiring them to change their manufacturing process faster than they intended or can handle - which is important because manufacturing processes take a long time to bed in and MS is only starting to get the benefit of falling component prices - the last thing they need now is to have to halt production and frig a design change in quickly (and the Elite wasn’t an opportunity to do it, being actually quite a trivial revision). They also can’t afford to let the 360 be tainted with an ‘unreliable’ sticker, which it is certainly starting to get, with mainstream media now carrying the story, not just online forums - not with the not-really-a-direct-competitor-Wii slaying it in the headline sales and PS3 having just dropped in price (with another one likely before XMas I think, or at least some attractive bundling deals).

Obviously even with a warrantly, having a device fail is a pain in the ass, but on the whole I think this was a smart move. People really just wanted them to accept that there was a problem and do something about it, instead of dodging the issue - the furor in the online community would not have gotten so big had there not been so much stonewalling from MS on the issue, given than anyone with an ounce of sense could see there was a systemic problem there. It’s going to cost them dearly in the pocket clearly, although definitely less than it would cost to recall / redesign, and it doesn’t actually resolve the ‘unreliable’ perception - if anything it reinforces it - but having a safety net there is better than nothing. In fact, this is probably more than could have been reasonably expected from most companies given the circumstances, since they’re clearly in a no-win situation. With 360 missing sales targets and now the cost of this, I wonder what the chances are of them actually breaking even with this generation now. But still, credit where credit is due - a little later than it should have been maybe but well played.