MS apologises for Xbox glitch

By Siyabonga Africa, ITWeb junior journalist
Johannesburg, 29 May 2009

Microsoft and MI Digital (MID), its distributing and maintenance partner, are looking to clear, within a week, a backlog of complaints and requests for Xbox 360 swops.

Hundreds of complaints, on the online consumer Web site, lambast Microsoft and MID for their poor handling of a general hardware failure, which Microsoft has admitted to occurring on Xbox 360 consoles. The error is indicated by three flashing lights around the power button of the console and has been nicknamed the “red ring of death” (RROD).

Microsoft Xbox/Games for Windows product manager John Press says the company apologises to its customers, and has hired additional staff and is receiving more Xbox stock to attend to the backlog of complaints.

“We literally have people working 24/7 on this problem and we hope that within a week we should have the backlog sorted.”

Hardware failure

Press explains the RROD as a general hardware failure which occurs on Xbox 360s and has been plaguing the consoles since they were released globally in 2006. The problem is related to the console's graphics chip, which could explain why some of the warning signs of the RROD include spontaneous graphical problems in the middle of gameplay, such as checkerboard or pinstripe patterns on the screen.

“Microsoft responded to the problem by extending the warranty on the console, for that particular fault, from one to three years. Other issues with the console fall under the one-year warranty only,” he notes.

Roger Carbonell, a consultant at the local arm of GFK Retail and Technology, says his research firm's latest statistics show Microsoft has sold more than 95 000 Xbox 360 consoles in SA, since 2006.

Press maintains the number of Xbox 360 owners in SA who are afflicted by the RROD is small. He would not reveal the number of consoles which have been swopped for new ones due to the fault.

Microsoft says local Xbox owners, who experience problems with their consoles, can contact the company's global call centre, which would first troubleshoot the problem and, if it turns out to be the RROD, it would then refer them to MID.

MID would then request customers to produce a proof of purchase and fill in a swop out form with their contact details, as well as a valid address where the new console will be dropped off. Press says from the time MID gets all the relevant information and forms, customers should receive their new consoles within 72 hours.

“We prefer to swop out as there is no local facility to conduct repairs.”

Consumer hell

“Anecdotal evidence of MID's inability or lack of desire to meet the servicing demand for failed Xboxes litter the local Internet,” says Justus Ortlepp, a disgruntled Xbox 360 owner. “Microsoft seems content to merely pass the buck to their partner and their partner seems content to merely ignore the consumers.”

Ortlepp adds that, after he logged his complaint with Microsoft, he was referred to MID, which did not return his phone calls or e-mails during the past week. Posts on, some from as far back as July 2008, show a continuous disdain of the maintenance process.

“I feel sorry for MID because they probably didn't know the magnitude of the faults which are inherent in Xboxes,” says Ortlepp. “As soon as you scratch the surface of the issues that had been plaguing the Xbox 360 since its launch, you begin to realise what a lemon you've bought.”

Reasonable excuses?

Press says there are two reasons for the delay in processing swop outs since the console was released locally in 2006. Microsoft SA had initially conducted the swop out of faulty consoles through its retail channel, which led to a number of consoles being replaced for minor reasons.

“Customers would take their consoles to the stores and ask for a replacement because they could not crosslink their controllers with their consoles. This did not work with us logistically, which is why we resorted to the courier service with MID more than 10 months ago.”

Microsoft SA's swop out process has also been afflicted by the global stock shortages of Xbox consoles, which occurred late last year. Press says the company had also been swopping consoles from its retail stock, which also meant there were not enough units to replace faulty ones when they ran out.

“We have decided to have a separate stock delivery for swop out units, which means we are fully stocked up to handle the backlog. We apologise for lack of stock, but we could not do much about it from the local office.”

MID Powercare accounts manager Kathy Nelson says the company moved premises last week and its phone lines had not been transferred, which resulted in a number of complaints not reaching its office. This was the reason for the backlog in the number of swop out applications, she notes.

Press is confident Microsoft SA and MID will be able to tend to the swop out applications that are still unprocessed within a week.

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