In which Microsoft has me running around in circles

Adventures with Microsoft Support

My XBox 360 broke near the end of December. I was playing EA Sports NCAA Football 10 at around 3 o’clock in the morning — with the Gators leading 45 – 10 against an unbeaten #2 TCU late in the 3rd quarter of the 2014 BCS Championship Game — when the screen suddenly went black. Poof! Out of nowhere and seemingly unrelated to anything I had done, the game just died. I was pretty miffed. “Stupid Microsoft,” I thought, “what the hell is the matter now?”

Microsoft Xbox 360I tried restarting the game, but nothing. I unplugged it and let it sit for a minute, but nothing. It was dead as a doornail (even though I’ve never understood why doornails have come to symbolize the pinnacle of lifelessness). The console wasn’t hot and it’s not in a place where it should have been overheating or anything. Even the power brick gets plenty of airflow; it’s off the floor in a nice breezy position behind the TV. I always stay on top of software updates and everything had been fine for as long as I’d had it.

And then … a clue!

I noticed that the ring of lights around the power button on the console was blinking in a way I didn’t recognize. Surely this is some diagnostic code, I thought, so I popped open Safari on my iPhone and Google-searched for “Xbox power ring codes”. Eek.

I’d never heard of the Xbox “Red Ring of Death” issue, but apparently it’s quite common. Something like 60% or more of all Xbox consoles manufactured before a specific date suffer a catastrophic failure because of a poor heat-sink design which causes the motherboard to warp. I was not shocked by this, because if two decades of dealing with Microsoft has taught me anything, it’s that they are terrible at just about everything. Part of me had been pleasantly surprised by how swimmingly my experience with the Xbox had been since I got it. And now I was once again kicking myself for having faith in them.

The good news was that Microsoft was aware of the issue and actually seemed to be acting honorably and responsibly in dealing with it. They had admitted their failure and extended the warranty on consoles, even providing free shipping and repair of machines afflicted with the problem. The support website let me print a pre-paid UPS label and packing slip and gave very clear, easy to understand instructions on how to send my game to their repair center. “Okay,” I thought, “It sucks that it broke and it sucks that they didn’t catch this problem during QA, but at least they’re dealing with it.”

I sent my XBox for repair at the beginning of January and was able to follow its progress through their system with my serial number and tracking code. It only took a few days from the time they received it to the time they said it was on its way back home. The whole process took about ten days, which I didn’t think was too bad.

On the 11th or 12th of January I found a brand new XBox on my doorstep.

On the 11th or 12th of January I found a brand new XBox on my doorstep. There was a nice note from the support center explaining that rather than make me wait for my console to get repaired they simply sent me a new one. The note let me know that my serial number had been updated in my profile with them and I didn’t need to register the new console or anything like that; they’d handled all that stuff for me. I was very impressed. “Maybe they’ve done a good job here,” I thought.

I reconnected my console’s hard drive, moved the dresser and TV and spent a few minutes plugging all the cables for power, audio/visual, networking, etc. back into the right outlets. There was a memo from Microsoft Support letting me know that I’d have to re-synchronize my wireless controllers and detailing how to do that. I hit the power button excited to finally put the Horned Frogs in their place. And … nothing.

Well, not exactly nothing. I should say, “the same thing.” The new console was displaying the exact same red ring of death! I turned it off. I turned it on. I disconnected everything and reconnected everything. Zilch.

This was when I got really mad.

This time I called Microsoft Support and talked to a rep who told me that the problem might be the power adapter and not the console. “What?!?!” My power adapter was displaying a yellow light instead of a green one, which meant that there was most likely something wrong with it and that my old console had probably been fine. The woman told me that they’d ship me a new power adapter right away. To say that I was angry would be an understatement.

So now it’s January 18th. I hadn’t received any email from them with a tracking number or service code like last time. When I visited the support website I didn’t find anything noting that I had had a problem with the new console and / or the adapter or that a new adapter was on its way to me. So I called again.

This time the woman tells me that she sees in my profile that I need a new power adapter, and that they’re just waiting to receive my broken one and then they’ll send me a new one. I was completely flabbergasted. “What are you talking about?! I wasn’t told that I needed to return the broken one!” She apologized for the confusion, but told me they’d not be shipping me a new power brick until they received my broken one at their repair facility in Texas. She said I needed to make sure to include my console’s serial number and my profile ID and my return address and gave me the address of the repair facility and that as soon as they received it the new one would be on its way.

I was seething mad. I went to the Best Buy around the corner to see if I could buy a power brick so I could at least play while I waited for the new one, but they didn’t have any. (I don’t even know if Microsoft sells them separately.) So on Tuesday I brought the broken power adapter to my office, intending to ship it to the repair facility. But I got busy and didn’t make it to the UPS shop across the street that day. As I left the office I saw the power brick and realized I’d forgotten to send it and lamented that now it would another day at least added to the wait …

So you can imagine my surprise when I got home from work and found a package from Microsoft on my doorstep. Here was a brand new power adapter, shipped four days before I called and was told it wouldn’t be shipped until they got my broken one.

The old adapter was sitting on my desk at work, so all I had to do was connect the new one and — finally, thankfully — my system works again.

Do you think I should bother sending them the broken one now? Maybe I can include a note saying that I want a new one shipped to me immediately, explaining how mad I am that they didn’t tell me I had to return it? Or should I just toss it in the trash?

PS: I destroyed TCU 63 – 13.

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