Peripheral Breakdown

Does anyone even test these things?

Last week I was playing Rock Band, and whilst hammering out an awesomely over enthusiastic drum solo my bass pedal snapped in half. While this only caused me a few days of inconvenience (it was surprisingly easy to get EA to send me a new pedal) it got me thinking about the multitude of hardware failures that are reported when new peripherals are released.

Image of snapped Rock Band bass pedal

The recent popularity of the Guitar Hero series of games has meant that living rooms up and down the country have become infested with plastic, guitar shaped controllers. However since the first game these peripherals have been plagued with faults, most notably the Xbox 360’s Guitar Hero II controller. The majority of peripherals shipped with the game suffered a fault out of the box which meant that the whammy bar on the controller wasn’t sensitive enough and barely worked at all. When Guitar Hero III came along the guitar was designed so that the neck of the guitar could be detached to allow for easier transportation. However the designers forgot the fact that this meant the connection between the fret buttons and body would constantly be moved and as such frequently broke. Surely if these peripherals had undergone rigorous testing, the likes of which most consumer electronics are subjected too, then these errors would have been noticed before the games were shipped? Even simple play testing of the game should have brought these faults to the attention of the companies who produced them?

Then along came Rock Band. They introduced a peripheral which you hit repeatedly, hard, and with sticks. It also has a component which you stand on quickly and repeatedly. This peripheral, however, was obviously not subjected to any kind of heavy testing. As stated earlier I’ve managed to snap the bass pedal in half (and I’m not the only person to do so as a quick search of Google will reveal) and many people have reported faults with both under- and over-sensitive drum pads. Surely play testing would also have brought up the issue that repeatedly hitting plastic pads with wooden sticks makes a really annoying noise. These issues have been rectified in the Rock Band 2 drum kit, with a metal bass pedal and quieter pads, but surely they shouldn’t have been issues in the first place? And who has room for a second plastic drum kit anyway?

This issue of a lack of testing isn’t just confined to music peripherals either. When the Wii came out there were a multitude of reports of people hurling their Wiimotes into their expensive television sets during overly enthusiastic games of bowling or golf or tennis. This wasn’t due to a flaw with the Wiimote itself, but rather the small piece of string which attached the Wiimote to the wrist band. Now the Wiimotes ship with thicker straps and more secure clasps on the Wiimote, but surely there shouldn’t have been an issue in the first place? This, again, could have been identified with the same kind of repetition and stress testing that consumer electronics undergo before they go on sale.

The most prominent and widely experienced of all the hardware faults of the current generation of gaming is the dreaded Red Ring of Death, which almost every single Xbox 360 that was sold has experienced. Microsoft is fairly lucky that the PlayStation 3 is quite expensive otherwise I’m sure more people would have jumped ship when they experienced the RRoD on multiple replacement consoles.

We consumers are spending hundreds of pounds on these pieces of technology and really, these faults should be unacceptable. It wouldn’t be acceptable if, after three months of normal use, a leg fell off your sofa; or if you bought a new bike only to find that the handlebars won’t let you turn left. It is this apparently lack of hardware testing that has cost Microsoft millions to extend their warranty on the Xbox 360 and on replacement consoles. It has also cost EA Games and Harmonix a pretty penny on replacement peripherals and free games which were offered to certain customers. Surely this money could have been spent on properly testing the hardware instead of inconveniencing the consumers when their peripherals end up breaking?

29/09/2008

Posted in Gaming, Interaction Design

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