Next Gen Consoles Do Not Want Me To Buy Them

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I am about to buy an XBox 360. This may seem like a momentous declaration, but it really isn't. You see, I've been about to buy an XBox 360 for the last 4 months or so, but I just can't quite bring myself to do it.

This isn't by any means a console wars thing. I do generally prefer Nintendo over all the other major players in the present generation, and I will continue to support it and wish it well in all things. But, at the same time, I'm pragmatic. There are a lot of games I'd like to play that are unlikely to ever become available for the Wii, and the 360 seems like the best mixture of price and exclusive games. So there it is, simple as that.

But it isn't that simple. To start, just around the time I became interested in buying a 360 in May rumors started simmering that the 360 was about to get a price cut. This made sense; it had been on the market about a year and a half and was due for a price drop. So I waited patiently.

The price drop didn't come until August.

I was ready to buy a 360 right then, when even more rumors bubbled up. Now, as you know, Bob, the 360 has some significant problems with defective units. There are no hard-and-fast statistics on it, but I would guess that if you buy a 360 there's about a one-in-three chance it will short out and stop working within a couple of years. Apparently Microsoft used some cheap parts when it designed the 360. As a result, Microsoft released a product that is. . . well, noone wants to call it defective, but it is nonetheless a product where a fairly large percentage of the units overheat and stop working as a result of normal use within a couple of years of sale.

So right around the time they cut the price, we learned that Microsoft's been developing a new chip, the Falcon, to replace the old 360 CPU. It'll be smaller, cheaper, and, presumably, less prone to crap out. The word on the street is that the new 360s with Falcon chips won't be defective in the way that prior 360s have been.

The problem is that Microsoft doesn't want to take the hit from recalling all of those defective 360s, so its "soft launching" the new Falcon-equipped 360s. That means they've switched their factories to manufacturing the new, non-defective 360s and they're slowly introducing them into the retail channels, but they're not removing the defective 360s from stores, nor are they putting any markings on boxes to indicate whether a given 360 is one of the older, defective models or one of the newer, non-defective models.

From a marketing standpoint, this makes sense. They want to sell those defective units because at least some of them aren't going to crap out and have to be replaced. But it's really hard to sell a bunch of defective units if you mark them as defective. Or even if you have a pile of the same units right next to them marked non-defective. Though that would make an interesting ad campaign:

"The New XBox 360: Now No Longer Defective! (Probably!)"

So: Defective 360s are no longer being manufactured. But Non-Defective 360s are only just starting to reach the market. When you buy a 360, it's a crapshoot whether you're getting a defective one or a non-defective one. But since defective ones are no longer being manufactured, the longer you wait the better your chances of getting a non-defective one.

So now it's a month later, and I have no 360 because I'm paranoid about buying a defective one.

It should be noted that the packaging on 360s has altered over time, and that there are certain things you can look for on a given 360's package that allow you to either 1. identify it as definitely from a defective era of 360 manufacture, or 2. identify it as being from the most recent package design period, and therefore significantly more likely to be non-defective. The problem is that 360s are relatively expensive and, since stores are rightly worried about theft, most game consoles are kept locked up in storage rooms. You can't look at the package for a 360 unless you tell a sales associate that you want to purchase one.

This is a pain. I'd prefer not to be That Guy at Gamestop. You know, That Guy who walks in and wants to buy the copy of Mario for the PS3, which they totally must have made because his friend Billy from the playground has a cousin who played it and it was wicked awesome, and also he wants an Xbox 360 with an HDMI port and the new Falcon chip, and no, he doesn't want an Elite because he totally heard from his friend Sarah that she read on-line that they make regular 360s with HDMI ports and super-radical new chips, and could you go look in the back for one?

And on top of that: This damn thing. Even if I get a non-defective 360, it doesn't have wireless networking built-in. The PS3 has built-in wireless networking. The cheap-ass Wii has built-in wireless networking. But the 360 only comes with an ethernet port and the opportunity to pay Microsoft $100 to turn the 360 into a modern console. That makes no sense. Compare it to the Wii, which has built-in wireless networking because wireless is both more convenient than LAN and increasingly prevalent, but also offers the option of buying a LAN adapter for a modest $25.

I actually need wireless internet access in my console if I'm to do any kind of online game playing (and online gaming is 90% of the sales pitch for the 360). My apartment has a very long layout, with the living room at one end and my room (the only room with internet access) at the other. I can't move the internet connection to the living room, so, short of running a 40 foot ethernet cable down the length of the apartment, which would set up a trip-wire in front of my roommate's door, it's wireless or nothing.

I was at a store today and nearly bought a 360. But then I started thinking about the chance I'd get a defective console. And then I started thinking about the added expense of a wireless adapter. And then I started looking at the PS3s and realized that, between the cost of the 360 and the wireless adapter, I'd be $50 short of a PS3, which can actually play Blu-Ray DVDs (the HD-DVD player for the 360 is a further expansion, which costs another $180). But then I remembered that there aren't actually any games I want to play on the PS3 and there aren't going to be any time soon, which defeats the entire point of the enterprise. And then I remembered how much all of this costs even without games and peripherals and necessary adapters and I got spilkis.

So: The system for which there are games I want to play is designed to maximize my inconvenience and make me constantly worry that I purchased a defective system. The system that has all the accoutrements figured out and wrapped in a stable package doesn't have any games I want to play. And they're both too expensive. I sat and stared for 20 minutes until my brain started hurting. So then I went home and played Adventures of Lolo on the Wii.

1 Comment

I get the same way when I buy anything. Right now, I'm trying to pick an HDTV to replace my old CRT that Keri will be using elsewhere in the house.

I think I want to trade slim and sexy for bigger screen size, so that leaves rear projections. But what to buy? I spent an hour in Sears today and left with nothing but more questions.

I'm also wrestling with the urge to buy a 360 (or a Wii) to go along with it. I feel your pain.

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This page contains a single entry by Zach published on September 15, 2007 10:26 PM.

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