A Florida resident this week launched a long-overdue lawsuit against Microsoft, alleging that the company's Xbox 360 game console is scratching game discs. Microsoft has thus chalked up the charge, which is echoed by users around the world, to "user error." But I've experienced this problem myself on three different consoles and can attest that it is all too real. And as with the overheating fiasco that caused Microsoft to take a $1 billion warranty hit recently, the company should come clean on this problem as well, lest outrage over these continual issues cause consumers to retreat entirely from its underperforming console.
"Out of the millions of Xbox consoles in use, Microsoft has not received any widespread reports of Xbox 360s scratching discs," a Microsoft spokesperson said. These comment echo earlier public statements the company made about widespread Xbox 360 failure rates, when it claimed that the failure rate was "acceptable" and in the 2 to 3 percent range. (Typical consumer electronics failure rates are 3 to 5 percent.) Today, we know that Xbox 360 failure rates could be as high as 50 percent, and Microsoft's $1 billion fix is the most expensive consumer electronics warranty fix in US history.
According to the suit, for which the plaintiff is seeking class action status, Microsoft's console caused scratches on two game discs purchased in 2006 for about $50 each. The scratches made the discs unplayable, thus rendering them useless. Microsoft says it will reimburse consumers $20 for each Microsoft game disc that is scratched, but the company will not reimburse for ruined third-party games. The plaintiff is seeking $50 million in damages.
The plaintiff notes, correctly, that Microsoft blames users for these issues. The company warns against moving the console while a disc is in the drive and the unit is on, especially moving it between a horizontal position and a vertical position. In my own experience, however, the Xbox 360 console sometimes simply scratches disks, regardless of movement, and the damage is usually accompanied by a grinding sound from the console's DVD drive. The physical marring manifests in a variety of ways, sometimes with deep scratches that run concentrically around the center of the discs.
Given the PR damage caused by Microsoft's dramatically slow ramp-up to acknowledging widespread Xbox 360 failures, the company should respond to this disc scratching issue in a more competent, timely, and transparent fashion. If the disc scratching issue is truly not widespread, Microsoft, then just replace all the discs for free, as the costs should be miniscule. If, however, the Xbox 360 is indeed randomly scratching game discs as I believe, it's time to do the right thing and own up to it. This is yet another embarrassment for a product that, frankly, is already costing Microsoft too much money for too little gained.