The Red Ring of Death is one of videogame industry’s most infamous fiascoes. It’s basically the Xbox 360 version of the Blue Screen of Death—seeing either one means you’ve got real trouble. The Xbox support site describes it prosaically: “Three flashing red lights mean that the Xbox 360 console or its power supply has a hardware problem.” But that really doesn’t convey the scale of the situation, which was nothing short of catastrophic.
Apparently now, though, the whole fiasco is far enough back in the rear view mirror that Microsoft can actually turn it into a historical touchstone—almost a treasured memory, really—and turn a buck on it in the process: You can now buy a Red Ring of Death “premium print” from the Xbox Gear Shop for $25. The slightly glossy, fingerprint-resistant print is to “commemorate” the release of a six-part documentary of the Xbox console, one episode of which recounts the Red Ring of Death era.
For those who missed all the fun—it was 15 years ago, after all—VentureBeat published an in-depth history of the RRoD in 2008. The short version is that Microsoft knew the Xbox 360 had problems but didn’t delay the rollout because it didn’t want to get beaten to the punch by Sony and Nintendo. The result: Massive failure rates and more than $1 billion in warranty expenses, complicated further by how many of the problems were latent, meaning they wouldn’t turn up until the machines had been in use for a while.
Despite the scale of the problem, the whole thing blew over relatively quickly. Robbie Bach, the former president of Microsoft’s Entertainment and Devices Division, said in the VentureBeat history that “customer reaction data” didn’t show untoward levels of outrage over the problem.
“It speaks to the fact that they love their games and Xbox Live,” Bach said. “Does it frustrate them? Yes. On the other hand, they know we’re taking care of them. People have a certain amount of respect for that.”
As my UK compatriots might say, it’s a cheeky move—very cheeky, indeed. The Red Ring of Death was a full-scale goat rodeo, and while Microsoft has the resources to absorb that kind of financial hit, bouncing back from the PR nightmare is a whole different matter. But charging people $25 to hang a big reminder of the most ignominious moment in Xbox history on their wall? That’s next-level stuff—and a move that will probably be very popular, too.