Curmudgeon Gamer
Curmudgeoning all games equally.
24 November 2005
Microsoft Still Doesn't Understand the Net
Folklore tells us that Microsoft had to add internet connectivity to Windows 95 after launch because they didn't fully appreciate how important the web would become. The Xbox 360 launch teaches us that Microsoft -- and Sony and Nintendo and everyone else -- is still fumbling to deal with the secondary effects of that connectivity. In today's lesson, it's the instant spread of information, from some dude with his Xbox 360 in his living room to worldwide headlines.

My guess is that the glitches reported in some new Xbox 360s affect just a tiny fraction of the shipped hardware, yet those glitches rate a headline on CNN's front page (based on an AP report). The story quotes Molly O'Donnell, a spokeswoman for Microsoft's Xbox division saying:
"It's what you would expect with a consumer electronics instrument of this complexity .... par for the course."
Good, you expected some problems. Then why wasn't a swift, effective response at the ready? I don't mean replacing broken units and mollifying the few consumers who have troubles. I mean fighting what will really hurt Microsoft: a dozen squeaky wheels reporting on website forums which then get reported in the gaming press and from there to the mainstream press.

It should be obvious to everyone that information travels ever faster, and stories grow from a single forum post to CNN in less than 24 hours. Look at how fast the Sony rootkit story grew. Sony is learning that lesson, the hard way. Microsoft, who used Alternate Reality Gaming techniques to hype their Xbox 360, should already have known how fast they could distribute a message.

Here's a simple solution to the glitchy Xbox 360 problem: have every Xbox 360 that connects to the Xbox Live! service report in if the system has been working without crashes for 3 hours. Get this data published, as percentages, on a prominently displayed webpage at If these really are isolated reports we would see something like:
Percentage of Xbox 360s Reporting for Duty: 99.994%
That's just a made up number, of course. I bet the actual number is closer to 100%.

Now someone somewhere is going to say "You mean 6 people in every 100,000 are without a game system!?! Oh the humanity!" Fine. But Microsoft is controlling the message, and is probably in a position to say 100% of reported problems have been addressed and replacement systems have been next-day shipped to the unfortunate consumers, each with a free game (chosen by each consumer) in the box.

The lack of control, or the perception that they're not in full control, is precisely what they're fighting. That could have been avoided.

Nintendo, of all these companies, appears to understand controlling the message. They've pretty deftly handled their Revolution controller story. I think it's still a pretty weak idea, and that the Revolution stands a good chance of failing, but at least Nintendo is leaking information in just the right ways to keep the fires stoked and the system in the public eye.

More later. Time for Thanksgiving dinner.

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--Matt Matthews at 11:53
Comment [ 2 ]

Comments on this post:

I don't mean replacing and mollifying the few consumers who have troubles.

I hope not! What would they replace the consumers with? Robots? Are they breeding consumer clones in pods? *hushed tone* Is that what "mollifying" is?


Okay, seriously though, I think your solution would run into more problems, because you are proposing spyware. The people who are posting in forums are the same people who freak out when their system sends information out without their permission. ANY information. And if you made it voluntary, the percentage would drop considerably.

You could report a percentage of the people who did volunteer the information, but that stat would be worthless, since most of the people with defective boxes would be too busy dealing with the crash to bother signing up.

By Blogger Casey, at 24 November, 2005 18:46  

Verbiage fixed. Thanks.

People are already having their Windows machines phone home to check for updates. This would be little more than that, and Joe Consumer would eat it up if you label the button "Check for Xbox 360 Dashboard Enhancements and Upgrades". ;^)

Here's a good question: has someone done a packet analysis of all the traffic that goes in and out of Live! on the original Xbox?

By Blogger jvm, at 24 November, 2005 19:50  

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