Red Ring of Death
Though we’ve already discussed many of the Xbox 360’s positive traits, Microsoft’s lack of quality control was bigger than just about any advancement. Be it a rush to manufacture or an inability to mass produce such a popular system, the first few years of the 360 experienced a failure rate estimated at one in six consoles. Customers quickly got to know the “Red Ring of Death” flashing red lights that let you know your 360 was dead. It not only trained a generation of players in navigating the waters of customer service to get your system fixed, it also showed the impact the internet could have on these types of issues. Consoles had malfunctioned before, but now gamers could share their dissatisfaction more openly than ever, forcing Microsoft to make good on fixing this systemic problem. Not only did this hasten a full system redesign, it also cost Microsoft billions, keeping the gaming division from reaching profit during its most successful years.
The death of third party exclusives
This one was really hard for people invested in console wars. Even into the PS2 era it was expected for series to stay exclusive to the console they’d historically shipped on, which led some to buy a PS3 assuming it was the only place they’d play certain series. But the 360 changed that misapprehension – franchises like Final Fantasy and Devil May Cry all did the unthinkable and came to the 360. A loud sect of gamers gnashed their teeth at the changes, but it soon came to be accepted as a the new normal. By the end of the console generation, third-party exclusives were a rarity, with most publishers putting games on as many consoles as possible. Nowadays, any single-system development (like Rise of the Tomb Raider and Street Fighter V) is usually due to lucrative exclusivity deals.
Though it was fairly standard for game development engines to be shared within a company, it was less expected to see pre-360 console games to come from an externally licensed tool set. However, after Epic Games set the standard for HD console graphics with Gears of War, Unreal Engine 3 became a very popular tool among developers. The more devs who used it, the worse news it was for the competition, as the PS3 initially had major problems with UE3 (the Wii couldn’t even touch it). The easy proliferation of the Unreal Engine may have led to a number of games sticking with the brown and grey palettes it manufactured so well, but it also normalized middleware to the point where it’s odd to find a console release that doesn’t use some sort of third-party tool set.
It’s hard to imagine the days when a tangled ball of cables sat in front of my TV, and I have the 360 to thank for that. While the Wavebird was the first dependable wireless device to hit the market from a console manufacturer, it was also an add-on that didn’t go as mainstream as it should’ve. Meanwhile, the 360’s wireless controllers came packed-in from day one (at least on the pricier model), making wired controllers the exception, not the standard. The accurate, cordless tech with a suprisingly strong rumble made gaming more convenient than ever, and the 360 wireless controller has become the standard bearer for quality in a gamepad.
Almost everything had a demo
Remember when you’d buy a magazine or a five dollar disc to play small samples of upcoming games? Only the most important titles would get the demo treatment prior to the 360, but Microsoft made trials the rule rather than a rarity. Many games were introduced to players via the Xbox Live Marketplace’s free, downloadable demos. Would as many people have bought BioShock or Dead Rising if they hadn’t sampled it first via download? The practice of downloadable demos certainly wouldn’t be as pervasive today if the 360 hadn’t made them such an early priority.
Is there any other important innovations that we missed? Teach us a little bit about history in the comments!