Xbox One Error Messages SUCK! Let's Fix Them!

An exercise in improving a specific Xbox One error message

Recently I went to play a game on my Xbox One, and I was greeted with a rather unfriendly error message. The problem was that the game I was trying to play was part of Microsoft’s Games with Gold program, and my Xbox Live Gold subscription had expired. However, if I didn’t know about the stipulations of the free games available with the Games with Gold program, I would have been thoroughly confused. The archaic error message I received did almost nothing to help me.

Let’s look at everything that’s wrong with this error message, and then let’s redesign it to solve these problems!

Xbox Games with Gold

Before we get into the error message, let’s talk about Microsoft’s Games with Gold program. If you’re not familiar with the Xbox platform, Microsoft has a paid subscription service called Xbox Live Gold. This adds features to your Xbox account, such as enabling online play. Part of this program is their Games with Gold program, where subscribers can add a curated selection of games to their digital library for free.

Xbox 360 games are permanently added to a user’s library and can be played whether or not the user has an active, paid subscription to Xbox Live Gold. Xbox One games also be added to the user’s library. However, those games can only be played if the user has an active, paid subscription to Xbox Live Gold or if they’ve purchased the game.

The Error Message

I wanted to play an Xbox One game I had acquired through the Games with Gold program, but my Xbox Live Gold membership had expired. When I started the game, I got the following error message.

An Xbox One dashboard showing the error message 'Something went wrong / Give it another try. If this happens again, visit xbox.com/errorhelp and enter the following code: 0x003f8003'
The vague error message I received when I attempted to start a Games with Gold Xbox One game without an active Xbox Live Gold membership.

Let’s bring this into a mock-up tool (I’m using Pencil) and examine everything that’s wrong with this error dialog.

A mock-up of the error message with details about everything that's wrong with it.

Can we do better? I bet we can!

Slight Modification

The Xbox One has a web browser built in. We can leverage this to automatically search the Xbox website for this error message. Let’s add a button to the dialog that, when clicked, will display the troubleshooting article right on the user’s Xbox One.

Add a button to the error dialog that will launch the Xbox's website displaying information about the error.
Add a button to the error dialog that will launch the Xbox's website displaying information about the error.

Now, instead of the user taking out their phone or opening a laptop, they can click a button to be taken to the Xbox website and immediately see the problem and a potential resolution. This is already so much better, and it was a minimum modification. But it doesn’t really solve the issues we’ve outlined above.

Improve Error Messaging

The article on the Xbox website is pretty generic. Which subscription do I have to renew to play this game? Games are available with multiple subscriptions, so we can pick the one that the game was originally downloaded with and inform the user exactly what they need to do to fix their problem, as shown in our next iteration.

Add a meaningful description of the problem and outline exactly how to fix it.
Add a meaningful description of the problem and outline exactly how to fix it.

We’ve almost solved all our problems, but we still haven’t solved the Call to Action issue. But this can be fixed too!

Fixing the Problem from the Error Dialog

Let’s add the ability for a user to renew their Xbox Live Gold membership directly from the error dialog, and include a link to the game’s Store page in case they just want to purchase the game outright.

Allow the user to fix the problem from the error dialog by renewing their Xbox Live Gold membership right here or by purchasing the game from the Store.
Allow the user to fix the problem right the error dialog by renewing their Xbox Live Gold membership right here or by purchasing the game from the Store.

Let’s revisit the issues with the dialog and see how we’ve done:

This final step also serves an additional benefit of increasing Xbox Live Gold memberships, since we’ve removed the steps it takes for a user to renew their subscription, and we have a direct correlation between playing the game the user wants to play and needing an Xbox Live Gold membership.

Wrapping Up

This isn’t an exercise in all or nothing thinking; any of these ideas can be incorporated to improve the Xbox One’s error messaging. Although improving error messaging may not be the most interesting or glamorous job, little usability improvements all add up in a product. Ideas such as simple, easy to understand errors can be the difference between a user thinking your product is difficult to understand versus a product that works with them and gets out of their way.

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