Running Rings with the Xbox 360: Mainstream and Melting

Last Updated on October 26, 2023

There are more ways to kill an Xbox 360 than waiting for the red rings of death…

Did anyone particularly want Microsoft to join the console market back in 2001? Does anyone particularly still want them around today? For all the deep involvement they have had in the industry for over a couple of decades now if we looked over their efforts, I think most would agree that it is tough to say they have made the impact of Nintendo, or even Sony.

But there in the middle period, and for a good stretch, Xbox felt as mainstream as an iPhone or a Ford Focus. The Xbox 360 (whose online marketplace closes in 2024), with its off-white fascia and online altogetherness was that time that Microsoft got it right. More or less. Pretty well every single one of them broke down at some point, but you could always pick up another one on the cheap. Like replacing an old Vespa, you could get one from your local hardware store and carry on from where you left off.

The Xbox 360 was slick, like watching Eddie Murphy slink down a flight of stairs in Beverly Hills Cop.

As I understand it, the PlayStation 3 would outsell the Xbox 360 in the end, but even if I accept that I find it hard to believe. I knew someone with a PlayStation 3, but the 360 just appeared to march alongside the Nintendo Wii for ubiquity, at least in Western Europe. It was the first console that I had to actively avoid the mass online activities of, and the last console that I bought. I have owned four of them and always thought it was a most joyous machine, perhaps even more than the Dreamcast.

Microsoft hit the culture right. By which I mean they augmented it a little. Caught the direction of the wind and applied the bellows. This machine was slick, like watching Eddie Murphy slink down a flight of stairs in Beverly Hills Cop. All eyes were on it. And Sony had given them a head start. They weren’t about to miss the opportunity.

Coming first vs. being first

Being first is good, but isn’t the same thing as being first. You can ask Sega about that. They got the jump on the previous generation by almost twelve months, but couldn’t convert that into being first where it counted.

It could very easily have gone the same way for Microsoft. They had landed with the Xbox, but it had been a cautionary one. It almost appeared that they remained in the industry just through the sheer fiscal might of the manufacturer. They already entered the fight bigger than Sony and Nintendo. But you can’t buy credibility, and credibility is what gets wallets open; and at some point, Microsoft were going to need the public to do that, else the brand become nought but a most distinguished vanity project.

That is not to cast a bad light on the Xbox. I bought one pretty early doors and it matched the PlayStation 2 for my attention while offering exclusive games which were often superior. It had the PlayStation 2 beat for power from day one and even some of the launch games felt a half-step ahead in generation. Halo, of course, but even their tent-pole tit-a-thon, Dead or Alive 3 was markedly beyond what we had seen before.

The Nintendo Wii was weird, a cul-de-sac of design, but certainly most of the time no less than the amuse-bouche of the generation.

They made their point. They had arrived, but that wasn’t going to cut it going forward. Nothing stopped the PlayStation 2 over those early 2000s and Sony had established a sense of brand that you couldn’t see being toppled going forward.

Nintendo had other ideas about what to do next, having just about cut-even with the GameQuad, and were putting their pennies into innovation, Japanese style. The Wii could only have come from Japan, and to be fair only something from Japan can go on to dominate the commercial landscape like it did. It beat the Xbox 360 for sales, but it was weird. At worst, in hindsight, a cul-de-sac of design, but certainly most of the time no less than the amuse-bouche of the generation.

It is tough to place where Sony went with the PlayStation 3. Complicated. Late. Expensive. A little off the mainstream. Yes, I am describing your local jazz venue, but it is also the somewhat off-key attitude to the PlayStation 3. Can’t say that I can say for certain, because I never played one, which does say a lot to me considering the pedigree and ubiquity of the brand. I do like some jazz though, so I am sure that I could find lots to enjoy there. When I am in the mood.

So where did that leave Microsoft? With some pretty big boots to fill for me personally. See, much as I liked the Xbox, it was not the Dreamcast satellite machine which was kinda, sorta more than hinted at by everyone. Well, I still wanted that feeling, at least the spirit of the idea. An upbeat, populist machine with big colours and an easy attitude. I wanted a Dreamcast 2, and at least in the spirit of the idea, I got it. I got four of them.

I am going to remember each of them, and how the first three passed.

Melting red rings

My first went bust the usual way. Slightly shonky internal design leading to the red ring. We’d all been there and as history would attest, it took two consoles for the culture of the machine to bed in. One to make you quickly realise you missed it when it broke and the next to keep you going. And going. That second machine could easily have done you a decade of gaming if you had bought your first very early on, riding on amongst other things, the rising crest of western development powerhouses. I killed my second machine, but yours might still be going to this day.

Explaining to friends and family that you have melted another games console, and in the same manner as the first was embarrassing.

I was sleeping in a converted shed at the time that lost my second. No fault of the design this time, unless the warranty had covered the machine sitting very close to an electric fire switched to maximum because it was winter and I was sleeping in a shed. I’d gone for a long walk in the clear bite of a winter’s night and whence I returned the underside and disk tray was undergoing some vulgar dissolution with a copy of Halo Reach stuck inside. It was a downer because I immediately knew that I had lost my data. I was going to have to buy a new, second-hand machine and start all over again with a game that had already captured my attention once.

That one lasted until the autumn of the next year. Same problem of living space (shed) and still the same heater in attendance, while I wasn’t. Explaining to friends and family that you have melted another games console, and in the same manner as the first was embarrassing and left me without a console to play for the first time since I bought a Mega Drive. Promising someone that you won’t melt their console took the edge off borrowing one as well.

To be honest, I did have a Wii but that wasn’t a real console. It didn’t even play DVDs. And nor could I without an Xbox 360. It was a true entertainment machine. It was how I accessed Grand Theft Auto.

So, once I moved out of the shed, my brothers bought me another one. One of those slimline black models which is still working today. Because my home is now heated by gas. Safe, reliable gas.

It has been a while since I melted one though. You begin to get a taste…

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About the author

John is a writer and gardener. He comes with various 90's Sega attachments and is the author of The Meifod Claw and other works. His favorite tree is a copper beech and he would like his coffee black without sugar, thank you.

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