Microsoft is mining the Xbox 360 'Red Ring' controversy for profit, and that's not cool

Commentary: It's infuriating that Microsoft is selling a poster commemorating its Xbox 360 hardware failure.

Sean Keane Former Senior Writer
Sean knows far too much about Marvel, DC and Star Wars, and poured this knowledge into recaps and explainers on CNET. He also worked on breaking news, with a passion for tech, video game and culture.
Expertise Culture, Video Games, Breaking News
Sean Keane
3 min read
Xbox 360 Red Ring of Death

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


Watching Xbox's Power On documentary, released last week for free on YouTube, was a delightfully nostalgic journey through Microsoft's 20 years in the game console market. A wide variety of interviewees and an honest assessment of the brand's highs and lows make the six-part documentary 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 I remembered how gutted I was when it happened to me.

This 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" to coincide with the new documentary. 

I don't know how countless other gamers -- those whose precious time and energy were wasted by the 360 hardware failure -- feel about this, but my blood boiled 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 me isn't appealing in the slightest.

Xbox declined to comment about the prints.

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 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. Microsoft started a repair program to sort out the issue. 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 the problem to happen again, and it sure did. And I went 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 CNET colleagues who are passionate gamers recalled having up to five fails. (One did manage to avoid the issue altogether; his 360 was a chosen one.) A 2009 study of console failures found that nearly a quarter of Xbox 360 consoles failed, considerably more than its competitors (10% of Sony PlayStation 3 consoles and 2.7% of Nintendo Wii consoles).

The documentary doesn't shy away from this issue, and it's clear the people at Xbox felt terrible about it. 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, part of the Xbox hardware engineering group, said in the documentary.

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However you feel about the Red Ring debacle now, 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.