#83: Ring out

Did you get the Red Ring Of Death? I think we all did, didn’t we. It was sort of a rite of passage in the Xbox 360 era, and I remember all too painfully the day my launch-wave console finally bit the dust. To be fair to Microsoft, the returns programme was in full swing by the time my machine succumbed, and I only had to wait a few days before a fresh (well, refurbished, I suspect) 360 was on my doorstep. And it lived a long life after that: I even took it into the Edge office from time to time to review games.

It got increasingly loud over the years, admittedly; towards the end it was like playing games in a jump-jet during takeoff. I remember a GamesRadar staffer, who sat at the far end of the large open-plan office from where I was reviewing Ultra Street Fighter IV, walking past to get a coffee and muttering, “Jesus, so that’s what that sound is.” But my RROD nightmare passed quickly, and the 360 is certainly not the most problematic hardware I’ve owned in my life playing games. (That dubious honour — thank you so much for asking! — belongs to the PS1. I went through three of the things in a year. Once, while playing FIFA, the laser got stuck and the commentator kept repeating “KlinsmannKlinsmannKlinsmannKlinsmann” until I stopped freaking out, realised what was happening and turned it off. That will haunt me to my dying day.)

But look: the RROD fiasco was bad, wasn’t it. Legendarily so. In Power On, the documentary chronicling the 20-year anniversary of Xbox that launched this week, Microsoft finally fesses up for the first time about the scale of the problem. It turns out it was enormous. It had hundreds of thousands of duff consoles (chillingly known as a ‘bone pile’) stacked up in a warehouse, and it kept making and selling the things even though it had no idea what was causing the hardware failure, let alone how to fix it.

There was no malice behind it — Microsoft’s hardware engineers were working tirelessly to find out the cause — and the documentary’s talking heads are suitably contrite and regretful about the whole sorry scene. But regardless, had the world known back then what Power On has revealed this week, there would have been a scandal on a scale the videogame industry had never known. The billion dollars Microsoft spent on putting the RROD fiasco right would have seemed like a pittance as the lawsuits and fines mounted up. It might even have meant the end for Microsoft’s time in the games business.

As such I think it a bit rum that the Microsoft Store has this week put up for sale a poster commemorating one of the darkest periods in Xbox history. Here it is:

Yours for just £19.95 ($24.99). This is a bit… off, I think. A bit not right, as they say. Sure, perhaps we can laugh about it now, but to a lover and player of games, losing a console, if only briefly, is quite traumatic, is it not? And it seems very strange for Microsoft to be seeking to capitalise on one of the more regrettable episodes in its history. There is not much precedent for this as far as I’m aware. Investment banks do not, I believe, sell memorabilia of the global financial crisis. I doubt that Big Pharma is planning to launch a line of Oxycontin merch. There is to the best of my knowledge no line of commemorative coins to mark the anniversary of the Enron scandal (one for every culpable board member! Collect them all!), or a limited-edition giclée print of the BP oil spill.

Perhaps these are extreme examples, and not particularly fair comparisons: we are only talking about a console here, after all. But I think I’ve made my point. (And if you think that was extreme, you should have seen some of the stuff I had in the first draft. Sheesh.) The Red Ring Of Death may not have killed anyone, or ruined any lives. But nor was it entirely without consequence. It’s a pretty dark chapter in Microsoft’s history, and in gaming’s more broadly, and to see it celebrated in this fashion seems in pretty poor taste. Owning your mistakes is one thing. Profiting from them, though? Nah. A bit of a pisstake, I think.


  • A fun update on Peter Molyneux’s Legacy — the game, that is, not Peter Molyneux’s actual legacy, which was already smelling a bit funny before he set it on fire over the weekend by announcing his move into NFTs. All in-game land for the blockchain-powered business sim has now been sold, raising over £40 million for Molyneux and partner Gala Games in the process. Just great, this stuff, isn’t it. Fantastic.
  • Ubisoft staff seem almost as unimpressed by the publisher’s push into NFTs as the rest of us. Posts on the company’s internal message board have decried the move. “I normally try to stay positive on our announcements,” wrote one employee (really??), “but this one is upsetting.” Meanwhile, Ubisoft’s chief studios operating officer, Virginie Haas, is legging it after just 16 months in post.
  • Keanu Reeves says he’s never played Cyberpunk 2077, despite CD Projekt president Adam Kiciński having claimed on an actual earnings call that the star had “played the game and loves it.” I admit I have only really included this here because I’ve been looking for an excuse to post the video of Keanu laughing at NFTs. If you only click one thing today, make it that. Very cathartic.
  • The US government investigation into Tencent’s proposed acquisition of Sumo Group has ended with the parties being given the green light to continue.
  • Videos of little-known indie game Minecraft have passed a trillion total views on niche streaming platform YouTube.
  • Stalker 2 is doing NFT stuff. In the bin with you.
  • Supposedly Bully 2 is back in development at Rockstar Games; an opening and script outline was apparently written over a decade ago, and has been sat in a drawer ever since. I’d be delighted by this, I must say. I loved the first game.
  • Guy Beahm, known to his Twitch devotees as Dr Disrespect and to everyone else as Oh God Not This Prick Again, has formally unveiled his new triple-A game studio, Midnight Society. Former Call Of Duty ‘creative strategist’ and community manager Robert Bowling, and Halo sandbox designer Quinn Delhoyo, are the first on board. Obviously I hope this blows up in Beahm’s comedy moustache, but the core idea — PvP, early access, get streamers as well as fans on board early to help shape the direction of the game and build buzz — is a pretty sound one. Bit conflicted.

That’s your lot! As ever, do please give this a share if you’ve enjoyed it, and sign up using one of the buttons sprinkled around the place if you’re not already on the list. Have a great couple of days, and I’ll catch you on Friday.