How serious are the PS4's Blue Light of Death and broken hardware reports?

Seemingly isolated issues frustrate thousands of consumers.

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Just a few days after launch, the PlayStation had already earned a dubious honor: a nickname for its potentially fatal flaw. What some users are calling the Blue Light of Death, mimicking the infamous Red Ring of Death that plagued the launch of the Xbox 360 for years, has forced hundreds of PlayStation 4 owners to send their systems back to Sony and vent their frustrations in online reviews and forums. But just how widespread is the issue?

While it's impossible to accurately gauge how far the claims of broken systems extend, prior to launch Sony shared that their expected failure rate for the console was 0.4%. To put that in perspective, that's about 1 in 250. With over one million PlayStation 4 systems sold, that comes to about 4,000 potentially broken systems. While that's a small number compared to the 996,000 that do work, that's little consolation if you're one of the 4,000 affected waiting to mail a $400 paperweight back to Sony.

This is also the first console-launch since the wide spread of social media, where users can quickly and easily share their opinions with a world-wide audience ready to listen. And studies have shown that people are much more likely to share negative experiences over positive ones. We've grown accustomed to publicly berating companies that offer a subpar service and crowd-sourcing our troubleshooting needs, asking friends on Twitter or Facebook for advice before trying to go through any official channels.

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Even still, the PlayStation forums have several constantly growing posts dedicated to broken PS4 systems, and the Amazon review thread is divided between 5 star and 1 star reviews, with most of the 1 star reviews specifically calling out the flashing blue light.

Exploring Sony's Customer Service

A thread on the official PlayStation forums walks users through potential fixes for the flashing blue light, but if that doesn't work, the best advice I've read online is to take the PS4 to a Sony store. Official Sony stores can sometimes perform maintenance on-site, and they're generally able to offer immediate replacements without having to wait to mail anything back and forth.

While the PS4 I ordered from Amazon has been working just fine, I wanted to find out what the customer experience would be like if my system didn't work. So after reading up on all the troubleshooting I would have done, I tried accessing the live chat system on the Sony support site. Over the course of an hour, I was only put in line to talk to a representative three times. Each time I was queued at either number 16 or 17 and given a 5-minute wait time. After two minutes, I was booted from the queue with no explanation.

Not a great start, so I tried calling the support system by phone. Although the automated voice on the other end told me that the wait could exceed one hour, I was patched through to a live person in 28 minutes.

I asked about the process for returning a console that doesn't work and has a flashing blue light. First, I was told about the possible Sony store return policy I mentioned earlier, but if no stores were in my area, the representative would collect my shipping info. I'd have a return box in two days (or I could ship it to Sony myself right now via UPS), and after trying to repair the machine, they'd send me a repaired unit or replacement in 5-7 days.

The representative told me that, outside of the flashing blue light, she'd been able to fix most issues for users over the phone. However, she couldn't verify how widespread the irreparable issues were nor what was causing the blue light issue. The representative was incredibly courteous, knowledgeable, and almost made up for the wasted time I spent waiting to chat with someone online.

Ongoing Research

Maybe the GameSpot office and I have been exceedingly lucky. The consoles we were sent by Sony for review worked fine, and held up to the brutal 12-hour gaming sessions they endured for our livestreams. The system I ordered from Amazon has been on and online for hours without a stutter, and all of my acquaintances that ordered a PS4 have been streaming weekend play sessions and posting images of their games.

But even if Sony's estimates are correct and the issues users are facing only affect 0.4%, it's obvious that a vocal minority is having an effect on public perception of the system. And the customer service experience on Sony's side could be handled better, especially for compensating the gamers who aren't near a Sony store and who might not have a better course of action than mailing their system back and waiting for a replacement.

For the potentially thousands of gamers who have had to spend the weekend after launch troubleshooting a system and waiting to talk to customer service, there's a lot of justifiable unhappiness. But on the bright side, it doesn't seem quite as serious as some reports seem to suggest. GameSpot will continue looking into these issues to determine just how widespread they are and if they affect more than Sony's projected 0.4%.

If you've run into any issues, good or bad, we'd like to hear about them in the comments below. But if you're looking for technical support, you probably don't want to ask the commenters. For that, I'd recommend heading to the PlayStation support site.

Justin Haywald on Google+

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