Xbox 360 Hardware Failures – Is It Time for Consumer, Regulatory or Political Action?

My Xbox 360 is currently visiting Texas.

GamePolitics, of course, is headquartered near Philadelphia, so we’re not seeing much of one another these days. The reason for the long-distance relationship? My 360, which experienced the dreaded red lights of death failure only weeks after purchase, is undergoing warranty repair.

So are a lot of other gamers’ 360’s, apparently. Rob Watson, with whom I share game coverage duties for the Philadelphia Inquirer, suffered the same problem recently:

I try to leave my personal gaming woes out of this column, but… I got the dreaded Red Rings of Death… Microsoft continues to stick to its 3- to 5-percent defective rate for its next-gen console. My gut, how I judge all things of utmost importance, tells me that might be a tad low…

Web sites such as offer countless sad stories, including a guy who has gone through seven of them.

So what’s the real number of broken 360’s? I doubt it is as high as the estimates made by Their informal poll found 2,315 (61 percent) responses to the survey have complained that they’ve got through at least one console..

That is just crazy, and there would be class action suits all over the place if that were even remotely close to being accurate. However, I will say this: Out of the 10 or so 360 owners I complained to about my box, two also had to replace or repair one.

Although GP is not – yet – ready to declare, as 360 Gamer did, a scandal, the alarming Xbox 360 failure rate is quickly reaching a tipping point. In his excellent Law of the Game blog, attorney Mark Methenitis, who has lost two 360’s to red ring failure, discusses the legal implications:

The concept of a warranty is simple enough: Someone selling a product assures the buyer that of something… Microsoft has encountered an interesting problem with the 360. The failure rate is high, but so are sales. What is a gamer to do? …What is a consumer to do?

Unfortunately, short of a product recall (which seems unlikely given that is has not happened yet and safety is not the issue) or a class action suit, the individual consumer is likely stuck. Why? The cost of an action against Microsoft would be astronomical, and more than likely, they will just settle before any court could place any actual fault on them in order to avoid future, similar suits.

Meanwhile, the anecdotal evidence mounts. 1up has a story about a gamer who is on his 12th 360.  A U.K. repair company, MicroMart (NE) Ltd., has stopped servicing the red lights failure. A note on the company’s home page reads:

Micromart has now withdrawn from offering a Repair Service for the dreaded 3 Red Lights fault. This problem is endemic on the XBox 360 console and the volume has made this repair non-viable. Other repairs to the XBox 360 are still being supported.

UPDATE:  Next-Gen has more from MicroMart, including this gem of a quote:

We were getting a phenomenal amount of these things coming through. We were seeing about 30 a week coming in with the same problem which we identified as a fundamental motherboard fault… 

We decided it wasn’t in anybody’s best interests to continue the sham that this fault is easily repaired.

Sham? Strong words from in-the-know techies. 

What is Microsoft’s position? Yes, they have upped their 360 warranty coverage. But if you’re selling a defective product, that’s probably a given. The 1up story cites some corporate double-talk from Microsoft pitchman Peter Moore:

I can’t comment on failure rates, because it’s just not something – it’s a moving target. What this consumer should worry about is the way that we’ve treated him. Y’know, things break, and if we’ve treated him well and fixed his problem, that’s something that we’re focused on right now.

GP: We could go on and on. Stories from disappointed Xbox 360 owners abound on the Net. Perhaps it is time that some political pressure should be brought to bear on behalf of gamers for a change.

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