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Five Lessons from the Xbox 360 for Keeping Customers Loyal to a Broken Product

Isn’t it so cute when mainstream news outlets run analysis on esoteric, geeky topics?

The New York Times thinks it has a handle on why gamers stay loyal to Microsoft’s Xbox 360 in spite of its atrocious failure rates. Since I know you get uncomfortable with all the big words that they tend to use in that particular periodical, allow me to summarize the article:

Halo 3. Halo 3. Halo 3. Halo 3. Halo 3. (P.S. Halo 3.)

But, of course, it goes deeper than that. And I think we can all learn something from Microsoft about what it takes for a product with remarkably-shoddy construction to succeed.

The Red Ring of Death. Finally! An excuse to deal with Microsoft’s customer service people!

5) Make sure that the next-best alternative to your product is even more painful to own.

Hm, let’s see, I’m in the market for a gaming platform with high-definition output, a online-gaming component, and plenty of violent shoot-’em-up games. I guess the Sony Playstation 3 is an option, but I’m not particularly interested in a grossly-overpriced hunk of machinery that lacks good content because game developers hate the platform more than I do.

Xbox 360, it is.

4) Hope and pray that other alternatives to your product stay scarce.

Picture a 30-foot tall battle mech (or, robot-o’-war, for you uninitiated…) brandishing canons, lasers, missiles, and a large Xbox 360 logo. Formidable.

Now imagine a cute, prancing puppy, with a “My name is Wii. If lost, please call Nintendo.” tag around its neck. Harmless, right? Puppies are so adorable and fun. But… wait. This puppy has rabies, is 100 feet tall, and uses giant robots as chew toys.

Thanks to another one of my razor-sharp metaphors, you now understand the relationship between the Wii and the Xbox 360. As soon as Nintendo is able to catch up to the market’s demand for giant, rabid puppies, Microsoft’s gaming division is going to be in a world of hurt.

3) String people along with promises of great new features and content.

Halo 3. Halo 3. Halo 3. Halo 3. Halo 3. Halo 3.

The Xbox 360 has had its fair share of other hits. As Will Ferrell as James Lipton of The Actor’s Studio might say: “If you haven’t played Gears of War and Dead Risingyou have not lived.

2) Make repairs free and accessible, even if you have to extend the warranty… twice.

If I get a Ferrari for a pretty reasonable price, and subsequently I get to have fun driving fast and getting laid on a pretty regular basis, I don’t mind taking the car into the shop a couple of times a year for a two-week overhaul.

The Xbox 360 won’t ever, ever get you laid (even if you know a chick who scored high on the Geek Girlfriend Litmus Test), but you get the point.

1) Hemorrhage money like it’s going out of style.

Here’s the tricky part. First, start a business that allows you to have billions of dollars in cash just laying around.

Then, put millions and millions of those dollars into product development and marketing, and sell your shoddily-constructed new product at a loss.

Finally, admit that maybe all is not right with the reliability of your product, and set aside $1.1 billion of your somewhat-hard-earned money exclusively for repairing faulty units.

Congratulations, you’ve got a “successful” product on your hands!

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17 comments… add one
  • Paul August 15, 2007, 4:08 pm

    Nice work. I’m praying I’ve got one of the few “good” 360s.

    I don’t necessarily agree with your point about Microsoft being in a world of hurt when Wiis are more available though. The thing is, the Wii is fun and all, but it doesn’t have a lot of the games (or power) that 360 or ps3 have that appeal to older gamers, like shooters. I see the wii as the popular system that everyone will own, but if you are really into games and have a pair of testicles, you’ll also have a 360 or PS3 to get your Halo or Resistance type games. Sorry to geek out on you there.

  • Great White Snark August 15, 2007, 5:29 pm

    Agreed, hard core gamers want a more powerful platform, but Microsoft’s hopes for eventually turning any sort of profit in part hinge on appealing to users outside of the core audience… and the Wii seems to have that all locked up.

  • Paul August 17, 2007, 8:17 am

    heh GWS you’re right. Microsoft’s business plan is to hope you don’t buy a PS3. They’ve even endorsed the Wii in the past.

  • Cindi August 17, 2007, 9:50 am

    GWS, you just made reading about a gaming system–a product in which I have absolutely no interest–enjoyable!

  • Great White Snark August 17, 2007, 11:26 am

    How enjoyable? Like you want to buy me one?

  • Cindi August 17, 2007, 12:40 pm

    Hmmm. Son’s college fund. Xbox for Great White Snark. Which shall it be?

  • Great White Snark August 17, 2007, 2:59 pm

    Education is for suckers. Just look at me.

  • Phoenix August 18, 2007, 12:50 am

    True, the Wii probably will not outdo the XBox360 or the PS3 for the “hardcore” game market because it just doesn’t have the power. But the game industry is discovering quickly that the “hardcore” market really isn’t that important.

    Every one is excited about “Casual Gamers”. People that don’t demand top-end graphics, don’t bitch about advertising, and buy games first hand (instead of warez or pre-owned).

    In 2-5 years, they will probably stop using the term “Casual Gamer” and just say gamer. Hardcore will still be around, but they will be a very small part of the market.

  • Great White Snark August 18, 2007, 1:31 pm

    You’ve nailed it, Phoenix. The Wii has opened everyone’s eyes to the true potential of the so-called “casual” market.

    Personally, all I care about is what platform will let me play Dead Rising 2 and Star Wars: Force Unleashed.

  • Kyra August 18, 2007, 4:42 pm

    hi i enjoyed the read

  • Great White Snark August 18, 2007, 4:47 pm

    Hi, Kyra. I enjoyed that you enjoyed it.

  • Julian Gnam August 21, 2007, 6:01 pm

    Well, I think its pretty obvious why the 360 has kept so many loyalists in spite of the hardware issues. Yes, the answer could be summed up in “Halo 3” but a more accurate statement would simply be that the 360 has been able to deliver attractive games sooner. While Gears of War has really been the only “must have” title on the system up till now, its still had more reasonably well-liked games up to now, and more importantly, its been able to deliver info on its promised future big hitters all year, leading up to a delivery of those big hitters sooner than the PS3’s.

    Games like Halo 3, Mass Effect, and Bioshock have been open to the public eye for some time, and are hitting before the end of the year. On the other hand, when you look at Sony’s big hitters, there was practically nothing to show for them until this E3 (MGS4)…and in fact some of them were virtually unknown and became highly anticipated titles overnight (Heavenly Sword, Killzone 2). At this point virtually nothing is still known about Final Fantasy XIII.

    This generation so far has mostly been about waiting for Sony and MS’s promises to come to fruition, and most of MS’s promises have remained more immediate and tangible. Perhaps when Sony’s major titles are finally here the tides will turn, but with the combination of software selection and price difference its obvious why MS has been successful in spite of the embarrassing red-ring situation so far.

  • Great White Snark August 21, 2007, 6:18 pm

    Hey, Julian. That’s the funny thing about getting an early market share… there’s not much “pie” left for late-comers. At this point, I’m not sure how effectively marquee titles on PS3 could “turn the tide.”

    Totally agree, though… tongue-in-cheekness aside, they’ve scored several major coups by having big, buzz-worthy exclusives out early.

  • Julian Gnam August 21, 2007, 6:44 pm

    Well, as Sega demonstrated multiple times, being the early bird doesn’t guarantee success alone. On one hand, MS deserves credit for turning this approach into a huge success where Sega fell behind so many times. On the other hand, that’s not to say that Sony can’t eventually catch up when their big hitters *finally* arrive.

    While prospects may be bleak right now, I think this generation has the potential to end up one of the most even console battles ever once everything is said and done. MS’d software lineup is not nearly as limited as it was with Xbox 1 (or 180 as some like to call it) while Sony’s selection of games is not nearly as large as it was with PS2. Additionally, it seems the selection of big-name cross-platform titles is much bigger than before. But of course we’ll have to wait and see.

  • Great White Snark August 21, 2007, 6:47 pm

    Wait and see, indeed.

    P.S. Xbox 180. Heh.

  • Tyrant September 9, 2007, 11:54 am

    As for being an early bird. it does give some advantages.. but indeed it’s no guarantee for succes. XBOX360 was lucky to be the first, because if you’d switch the releases for 360 and PS3, the Xbox would have NOT been able to catch up to the PS3, for it breaking and all. The combination of being late with the launch AND bricking almost 40% would sincerely piss off it’s customers (more then it has done so far).
    I think the fact they were first, is the thing that made them able to take a big hit like that.
    Not just a couple of exclusives like Halo 3 (wich is being hyped like crazy so it’ll turn out less >_> ppl don’t get the fact that hyping NEVER works, correct me if I’m wrong).

  • Andy November 18, 2007, 4:57 pm

    great job but you also have to consider now that the ps3 is 399……sony is selling them at a loss, and having the free online play (microsoft charges $5 a month for online) the 360’s price equals the ps3’s price in 10 months.Also the ps3 comes with a blu ray player while you have to buy the xbox’s seperate. Now dont get me wrong i love the 360 and the ps3 and the wii too, but having owned a ps1 and ps2 I have a large stack of ps2 and ps1 games and if i buy a ps3 i can still play them and sell my ps2 which still has games comming out on it. While the xbox has Halo 3 and other excluseves I have a gameing pc microsoft put halo and halo 2 (xbox exclusives) out on pc eventuly and I’m sure they will do the same with halo 3 it will just take time. But they have some games like dead rising and saints row that I want but probably wont come out on pc so the simple solution to this is…..if your wallet is big enough….. is to buy a 360 and a ps3 that way your getting the best of both worlds!

    sory if i sounded like a fanboy
    (correct me if I’m wrong)

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