Suit: Microsoft knew Xbox could damage discs
A document unsealed in a lawsuit last week suggests that Microsoft employees knew before putting the Xbox 360 on the market in November 2005 that the video game console could damage game discs.
Several ongoing lawsuits charge that the Xbox 360 is defectively designed because tilting or swiveling the video game console can scratch game discs playing inside.
Plaintiffs in a July 2007 case filed in U.S. District Court in Seattle are seeking class-action status on behalf of all those who purchased Xbox 360s.
Most of the declarations in the court case are sealed, but a newly unsealed motion (read it here) seeking class status quotes from the sealed declarations of Microsoft employees.
The motion says that Microsoft knew that when the Xbox 360 was reoriented with a disc playing inside, the disc could be damaged.
It quotes Hiroo Umeno, a Microsoft program manager, who said in a declaration, "This is ... information that we as a team, optical disc drive team, knew about. When we first discovered the problem in September or October (2005), when we got a first report of disc movement, we knew this is what's causing the problem."
After the Xbox 360 launch, according to the motion, Microsoft sent a team of engineers to stores across the country "to investigate complaints that the Xbox 360 was routinely scratching discs during demonstrations."
Microsoft determined that if the console was tilted, discs inside became "unchucked" and collided with the drive's optical pickup unit, leading to deep circular gouges on the discs.
Because of the complaints, Microsoft considered three possibilities to fix the problem, but rejected all of them.
One solution would have increased the magnetic field of the disc holder, but it was dismissed because it could have interfered with the disc opening and closing mechanism. Another solution -- slowing the speed at which the disc was rotated -- was rejected because it could have increased the time required for a game to load. A third solution, installing small bumpers, was too expensive. It would have cost between $35 million and $75 million.
Eventually, Microsoft did institute an Xbox 360 disc replacement program that sends out new discs to customers if their discs are damaged for any reason. The program only applies to Microsoft titles and costs $20 per disc.
A warning was also included in the product manual, telling customers to "remove discs before moving the console or tilting it between the horizontal and vertical positions."
But, according to the motion, Microsoft employees deemed in an internal e-mail that the warning was insufficient.
A warning label was also affixed to the Xbox 360's disc drive.
More than 55,000 customers have complained about broken discs as of April 30, according to a Microsoft employee quoted in the motion.
Plaintiffs in the case also include a statement from an engineering consultant who says that other electronics makers, including Sony and Nintendo, almost always incorporate the possibility that a console could be moved while a disc is rotating inside in the designs of their products. Read his declaration here.
A Microsoft spokeswoman said Friday the company would not comment on pending litigation.
The Xbox 360 has been hampered by hardware glitches. In July 2007, Microsoft took a $1 billion pretax charge to extend the Xbox 360 warranty to three years from the purchase date for cases where hardware failures are accompanied by a red flashing in the "ring of light" around the console's power button.
At VentureBeat, Dean Takahashi has detailed how Microsoft prior to the launch of the Xbox 360 knew that the console could fail but went ahead with the release anyway so that it could get its console quickly to market.
Posted by Joseph Tartakoff at December 14, 2008 5:45 p.m.
Might these suits actually have some solid foundations?