If you owned an Xbox 360, the chances are you lived in fear of one, very frightening possibility: The Red Ring of Death.
I’m not entirely sure what caused the failure back in the day – various things perhaps? All I remember is that friends and family all around me were reporting that their Xbox 360’s would just stop working one day, signalled by a a red ring where once shone a glorious green.
Former Xbox head Robbie Bach spoke about the widespread hardware failure in a recent interview with Tech Insider. As you can probably imagine, it was a mistake that cost Microsoft a shit ton of money.
See, as Bach wrote in his 2007 book Xbox Revisited: A Gameplan for Corporate and Civic Renewal:
At the end of a long, difficult conversation, we took a deep breath and decided to extend our warranty to three years and repair or replace every console affected.
It was this decision that cost Microsoft roughly $1 billion, which isn’t all that surprising – I swear every other person I knew with an Xbox had this problem at one point.
Oh, and regardless of what people tell you, wrapping the console in a towel was not a permanent fix. That in fact, would screw your console for good. Sending it back to Microsoft was the only way, which was not ideal for them.
Bach told Tech Insider that the decision to repair or replace all faulty consoles was the hardest he had ever made in 22 years at Microsoft. Though to be fair, it was their fuck up and they needed to deal with it.
So here’s something a lot of us have been wondering since 2005 – how the hell was this allowed to happen? A few console failures here and there is one thing, but the Red Ring of Death was a bloody epidemic.
Bach literally puts it down to style over substance. The original Xbox, while ugly, was a functional beast. It was very much built with the guts in mind first, but the 360 went in the opposite direction.
Here’s how Bach describes it:
We started with design at the front of the process, and we said, ‘This has to be designed with a designer’s sensibility.’ So the enclosure [the console’s shell] work we did was done relatively early. Not locked in stone, but we have a shell under which we want to fit. So then the engineering team goes and puts things in the shell.
In other words, Microsoft designed a slim box and then tried to pack a next gen console’s guts inside, making overheating a much more frequent issue, thereby leading to the dreaded Red Ring of Death.
What’s crazy is that nobody at Microsoft ever seemed to come across the issue during the testing phase of the 360. Maybe Microsoft HQ is inside an iceberg? I just don’t know.
Bach told Tech Insider that it was a while before the issue was genuinely fixed:
It wasn’t really until we shipped the next form factor of the product that the [Red Ring of Death problem] was completely gone.
Yet, despite a disaster to the tune of $1 billion, the Xbox 360 was still an unqualified success. In fact, the console was only recently discontinued, after 85 million units sold worldwide.
Ewan Moore is a journalist at UNILAD Gaming who still quite hasn’t gotten out of his mid 00’s emo phase. After graduating from the University of Portsmouth in 2015 with a BA in Journalism & Media Studies (thanks for asking), he went on to do some freelance words for various places, including Kotaku, Den of Geek, and TheSixthAxis, before landing a full time gig at UNILAD in 2016.