Microsoft has long had trouble with the hardware of its otherwise (extremely) successful Xbox gaming consoles, from hard drive failures in the original Xbox to the now-infamous "Red Ring of Death" in its sophomore Xbox 360 to an easily broken disk drive in the new Xbox. But an easy and, dare we say, fun way to lessen the outrage of customers, aside from all the typical customer service and easy returns stuff, is to be funny. And it's in the error message that Microsoft has been setting itself apart from its competition.
"Something went terribly wrong. Please come back later."
And here's one from the Xbox One's competitor, the Sony PlayStation 4:
"An error has occurred. (E-82FOO1F8)"
One of those messages is going to provoke a chuckle, and maybe even an Instagram or a tweet. One of those is going to result in frustrated puzzlement and a shrug.
Websites have long played with fun 404 pages—that's the error page you get when you follow a bad link or type something incorrectly into the address bar. (We collected a few of our favorites up top there.) They're an easy way for a faceless, monolithic corporation to show a little spark of personality. And they are easier to toy with than hardware errors, for the simple reason that hardware errors sometimes block the device's ability to, you know, display a message, fun or not.
For Microsoft, the playful error message is a small, intricate example of the company's new philosophy, laid out in the innovation of Windows 8 and Windows Phone: this is a company that executes ideas from people, and not faceless algorithmic drones.