It’s every gamer’s worst nightmare.
You buy an expensive new console that’s supposed to last nearly a decade — and it breaks on day one.
With every new console generation, sketchy stories about the pitfalls of early ownership spring up around launch. (The same thing happened with PS4 Pro and Xbox One.) In the age of social media, these rumors have found virality with accompanying videos, and those same concerns are springing up with release of the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5. But is there anything to worry about, or is it just another viral hoax?
Over the last few weeks, as consoles filtered into retail channels through demo kiosks and people’s hands as final units, footage of smoking Xbox Series X units and PS5s running too hot to function have appeared online. Both consoles are launching this week into a cloud of uncertainty and reports such as these only turn the screws a little tighter on new buyer anxiety.
The first report of overheating Xboxes came from Arek Adamowicz, a Series X owner in Poland who tweeted a video of his smoking console to Xbox Support in Poland the night it debuted. Adamowicz, who is not a native English speaker, was initially hesitant to speak with us after dealing with fans who have been accusing him of faking the entire thing.
“No one has asked me what happened,” Adamowicz tells Inverse. “I’m being accused of fraud. I just wanted to talk to [Xbox] support.”
According to Adamowicz, he had set up his Xbox Series X and simply idled on the home menu when the screen cut off and the smoke started coming up. He grabbed his camera and started filming, assuming Xbox Support was unlikely to believe this without some evidence. Microsoft did immediately contact him and are investigating the matter, but Adamowicz pointed out that he had the unfortunate luck of this happening on a Polish independence day, so he has to wait another business day for next steps.
The PlayStation 5 has also gotten its turn in the heated overheating conversation. A week before launch, a Twitter user named Xzyliac Ariel was intrigued to see a PlayStation 5 unit at a Best Buy demo kiosk. The demo unit was encased in a small plastic shell that left little room for the console to circulate air, which makes it unsurprising that the TV displayed a message stating “Your PS5 is too hot. Turn off your PS5, and wait until the temperature goes down.” Ariel confirmed taking the picture to Inverse and described the enclosure.
Another viral video was posted by Nick Blanco on Twitter, which showed a slightly less dramatic puff of smoke coming from the vent of the Series X. We spoke to Blanco, who explained that he downloaded the video without attribution from “either Reddit or Resetera,” the latter being a gaming forum with a now-closed thread about smoking Series X units.
On Reddit, there are multiple threads about sizzling and smoking Xboxes, but the top comment in each is either one asking people to stop baseless accusations of fraud, or to gently suggest there is not enough proof the footage is real.
The Twitter account Xbox Studio, a Spanish-language fansite for all things Xbox, is a lot less gentle about its belief these videos are fake. As the Xbox Series X keeps its fans spinning after shutting it off in an effort to cool its components, Xbox Studio posted a video showing how simple it is to use vape liquid to produce billowing smoke from the unit. This prompted the official Xbox account, whether as a joke or out of an abundance of caution, to tweet “We can't believe we have to say this, but please do not blow vape smoke into your Xbox Series X.”
A Microsoft spokesperson responded to Inverse’s request for comment, saying “We take all product safety reports seriously and our products meet or exceed industry standards. Findings from our initial investigations do not align with some of the claims being broadly reported, however we are in the process of investigating further.”
Inverse reached out to Sony, but did not receive comment at time of publishing.
The big picture -- The actual reports seem to be a mixture of some real events, some faked ones, and some reposting of fakes without the breadcrumb trail that leads to that revelation. That said, there are examples of widespread hardware failures in the console space, including Nintendo Switch’s Joy-Con controller drift and Xbox 360’s “red ring of death,” which lead to an extensive recall that ultimately cost Microsoft more than $1 billion.
It is difficult to explain why people would produce fake videos of consoles failing. The easiest answer is simply attention or an enjoyment derived from being part of a bandwagon, but these things only gain traction because they confirm fears people already have. Concerns about how hot the Series X runs were ubiquitous pre-launch, persuading VentureBeat to post a story actually measuring the heat of the unit, which did not fully assuage alarms.
Buyers picking up new consoles on launch day are taking greater risks than later buyers — a day-one console is the worst it will ever be in terms of availability, features, and rigorous hardware testing across millions of units.
These launch-day owners want to be assured that their hardware is beyond reproach in every aspect, which ends up leaving them vulnerable to agitation through what appear to be isolated incidents, poor demo kiosk planning, and even fake videos. The virality of these things does not confer on them the credibility of a widespread problem, which is important to remember as you scroll across videos on your timeline.