Jason’s Xbox Saga

Updated, 3/16/08—see below.

As some of you who know me personally may recall, I have rotten luck, especially when it comes to consumer electronics. Luckily, my Apple products have given me no trouble since my iBook debacle of years past—this time, it’s Microsoft’s turn to screw me.

Today, I called Xbox Customer Support to complain that the console scratched one of my games (The Orange Box). Between beating Portal twice and starting Half Life 2 the other day, I’ve played the disc maybe 6 times ever. Today, though, during gameplay, I started getting weird graphical glitches. First my buggy (and the occasional corpse) looked like it had been used by high schoolers to store their chewing gum. Then it crashed. Then the Xbox said it couldn’t read the disc. I popped it out, and it had perfectly curved radial scratches on it (which were certainly not there before).

So, I called Xbox Customer Support. You have to talk to a recorded man named Max before anyone will speak to you for real. I told Max that my console scratched a disc, but that did not compute. After reading me a list of problems that he did know how to deal with, none of which concerned me, he transferred me to a customer service agent. I gave her my serial number, and she told me my console was past warranty, claiming it expired in November. I said no, I bought it at a President’s Day sale in February. She suggested I call back later when I could find the receipt.

This probably sounds like they would acknowledge and fix my problem if they could verify I had a warranty. Not quite.

You see, the woman said there was nothing they could do about the console or the game. For the console, she said that the scratched disc could be a fluke, or the result of a momentary shaking or jostling of the console (her example: stereo speakers). We’d only know for sure that there was a problem with the console if other discs were scratched. I asked her, incredulously, if she expects me to damage more games to discover this. Heavens no—put in a CD I don’t listen to often, she said. Ah, right, because my CDs didn’t cost me money, too. Haven’t you heard that music’s free nowadays?

Anyway, I asked if I could get the game replaced. She suggested I check with the publisher to see if they have a disc replacement program. “There are just so many games out there,” she said, and they had no intention of replacing the one my Xbox broke because Microsoft didn’t publish it. I hung up feeling defeated.

A short while later, a discovered a couple things: One, the receipt proving that I purchased my console on February 19th; and two, the exact same sort of radial marks and scratches on the back of Halo 3.

I called back, got disconnected five or six times because I refused to enter a serial number, and then got reconnected to someone new. She didn’t recognize the reference number I had been given by the last person, and she didn’t have my serial number (even though I had to enter it on the phone to avoid being disconnected a seventh time). I got her back up to speed and she transferred me to her supervisor to give me the fax number so I could send a copy of the receipt.

As it turns out, though, they didn’t make me deal with that garbage. “Just put a copy of the receipt in with the console when you send it to us,” he said. It will take a week for the box to get to me, and then another 2–3 weeks for repairs, so I am getting a free month of Xbox Live (roughly a four dollar value). I offered my sincere thanks and asked when I would get my game replaced. Then things got a little weird and stupid.

“Well,” he said, “Was it a Microsoft game?” (It was not.) “You should check with the publisher to see if they have a disc replacement plan.”

“I did this, and they don’t,” I said. “Since they don’t have a replacement plan, though, and since it was my Microsoft console that destroyed my disc, I figure Microsoft should buy me a new copy or pay me the cost of the game so I can buy a new copy myself.” (I had a complex analogy in my head about who would be expected to replace my Xbox if I were driving with it and got into a car crash—Microsoft or Honda?—but I don’t really have a car, I’m not sure I could afford a Honda, and I didn’t want us to get too off track.)

“There is nothing in the console that could scratch a disc, sir,” he said. “Scratches come from when the console is moved or jostled while the disc is spinning, like if the console is near a window and there is loud noise outside.” (Emphasis added to highlight how completely fucking stupid this is. Tip to MS Support: Try arguing for the chaos effect next time! Manufacturer not liable for damage indirectly caused by butterfly wings.)

I asked: “Wait, let me get this straight. First of all, the console is in an isolated, level place away from anything that could shake it, including other electronics. Second of all, if there is nothing in the console that can scratch the disc, and I’m sending this to you because I believe my console scratched my disc, what are you going to do with it?”

“We’re going to check the laser, sir,” he explained.

“Um. How is that going to prevent my games from getting scratched?”

He replied in excellent corporate-speak, “As your warranty is not up, you have the right to send in the console to get checked. If the technicians find anything inside the console that suggests that the console damaged the game, then we can discuss possible compensation.”

Great. Because I’m sure that they’ll tell me if they find anything. I totally trust them right now.

I’ll update this post as I learn more.

Update, March 6, 2008: Well, I scraped and cleaned and worked on my Orange Box disc until it actually ran again, and this left me feeling like maybe I didn’t have to send in the console after all. Between that point and the day the box arrived (to be used to ship the console in for repairs), however, I got a number of disc read errors that seem to be plaguing a lot of 360s, including errors on my perfectly clean and unmarked Rock Band disc.

I called Microsoft’s standard support number to update my report of what was going wrong—yes, my discs were getting scratched by the console, but no, that didn’t seem to be the actual cause of the disc read errors—and the person on the phone was super unhelpful. She kept trying to repeat the same old scripts to me (about how there’s nothing in the console that could scratch the disc, and maybe there were vibrations), and she wouldn’t actually listen to what I was telling her. Eventually we got disconnected (or she hung up on me), so I called the escalated support number and finally talked to someone helpful. He updated my info, confirmed that I might end up with a refurbished model instead of a repaired original, and suggested I just send the console in to be safe. He also acknowledged that the console can actually scratch the discs, especially if it’s positioned on its side and the disc isn’t perfectly in the tray—a tiny admission that everyone else seems instructed not to make.

So, I sent the console in a couple weeks ago. It had taken the box the full ten business days to get to me, but the repairs seem to have been done in just two weeks (when three was the max suggested to me on the phone). I called Microsoft today (the normal, not escalated number) to check on the status of the repair, and actually, the fellow I spoke to on the phone was the most helpful yet. He too conceded that the console can scratch the disc (with “even the tiniest vibration,” which sounds a lot less like the consumer is to blame). This is because, he explained, there sometimes one of the two lenses in the console—one for games, one for video/music discs—can get damaged or work improperly, and that lens will actually try to move closer to the disc to get a better “look” at it. As the lens moves closer, this increases the probability that the disc might come in contact with it and get scratched.

From this I’m taking that it’s not that the scratched discs were causing the disc read error, but the lens itself was faulty, and this inadvertently led to the scratched discs (which are all running okay last I checked, incidentally). It’s also worth noting that the suggestion I got early on—to play a music CD to see if that gets scratched—was not only kind of presumptuous about my willingness to damage my CDs, but also completely useless. It was the game-reading lens that was screwed up, not the music/video lens.

The helpful fellow on the phone confirmed that they weren’t able to repair the lens, so they sent me a “rebuilt” (i.e., refurb) model which should be arriving here tomorrow. (I gave the box to UPS on the 19th of February.) I asked what the warranty situation is, as I technically sent it off on the last day of my warranty, and he said that there’s 90-day coverage on the refurb they’re sending, and I have the option to purchase an extended warranty from Microsoft for $30 a year during that period (for up to three years, I think he said). I think I also heard him say that the extended warranty would be more oriented to quick replacement of parts than returns/repairs, which sounds pretty good to me. I’m not sure I’ll actually pay for that, but it’s reassuring to know that the option is there.

All in all, if this thing seems to work fine, I’ll be relatively happy. They did credit me a month of Live, and it’s not like I wasn’t using my Live account during that period (thanks to the ability to recover my gamertag on my friends’ systems). Plus, I’m getting a newer model out of this in the end, which means I should have the improved heat sink and maybe even the quieter DVD drive that they started installing awhile back. The customer service was all over the map, with some folks using minced-word, script-reading corporate-speak, and a couple giving me the straight deal in a friendly and helpful way.

It may be entirely coincidental, but I couldn’t help but notice that the two helpful guys I got were clearly American from their accent, whereas at least two of the less helpful and direct people I talked to sounded likely to be in an Indian call center. (I don’t remember for others I might have talked to, though.) I don’t mean this as a slight to Indians (who are swell); I’m just wondering if this is some indication of a larger trend of American businesses being half-assed about the hiring and training in their overseas offices. Not that the American customer service folks are always so great, of course. I suppose, consistent with earlier reports, Xbox customer support seems to have its fair share of morons and ass-hats, but sometimes you luck out and get somebody honest and knowledgeable.

I’ll try to remember to update this again later after I’ve had a chance to play on it a bit, but I hope this has been helpful so far for anybody else who’s having Xbox problems and trying to get a sense of what the repair process might be like.

Chin up, kiddo!

the same thing happened to my saints row game about 3 weeks ago but i had only just took it out of its cover put it in the console and about after 15 mins of game play it froze i took ejected it from the console and it had a perfect circle sctrached into the disc

[…] that time that I was having problems with my Xbox, dealt with a bunch of stupid people (and a couple nice, […]

They are still spouting the same story. “Speakers” caused the vibration . . .

And 2 tries at getting a repaired unit resulted in twice being told to call back because their system was down.

I can drag an old gamecube or wii down the road behind my car and they would both still work.

Ah HAH! Linked at Joystiq: “Unsealed docs suggest Microsoft knew about 360’s disc scratching.”