Suit: Microsoft knew of 360 disc-scratch issues

Recently unsealed court documents reveal internal review of console's disc drive prior to launch identified possible fixes for game-gouging systems.


Hardware deficiencies have been an ongoing issue for Microsoft's Xbox 360. For its part, the publisher copped to one of the most egregious issues in June 2007, saying it would take a $1.05 billion hit to extend the console's warranty by three years on general hardware failures--better known as the infamous "red ring of death." However, there remains the problem of the Xbox 360's potential to scratch game discs, a topic that inspired one gamer to file a class-action suit in July 2007.

As reported by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, new developments in that case indicate that Microsoft was well aware of the console's potential to scratch game discs, even before its 2005 launch. As per a motion recently unsealed by the court, Microsoft was aware that reorienting the console while a game disc was spinning could result in permanent damage.

"This is...information that we as a team, optical disc drive team, knew about," Microsoft program manager Hiroo Umeno said in a deposition. "When we first discovered the problem in September or October, when we got a first report of disc movement, we knew this is what's causing the problem."

The Xbox 360 uses a tray-loading design--as opposed to slot-loading methods employed by the PlayStation 3 and Wii--which the complaint notes was an "unusual choice" for a device that is designed to operate both horizontally and vertically. Once in motion, the Xbox 360's optical disc drive spins at 7,500rpm, which creates significant gyroscopic force on the disc, reads the suit.

"Because these greater gyroscopic forces are combined with both a weak magnetic force for holding the disc in place, and a tray-loaded design that can be oriented vertically, uncoupling of a disc during normal console use was a predictable result."

The complaint goes on to state that Microsoft rejected three potential fixes that would have compensated for the console's design flaw. The first--increasing the magnetic force exerted on the game disc--was allegedly rejected because it would have interfered with opening and closing the disc tray. Option two was to slow down the speed at which the disc drive rotated, a solution dropped because it would have increased loading times in games. The third option would have been to install "bumpers," a fix that Microsoft's internal estimates pegged at $35 million to $75 million.

Microsoft's prior knowledge of disc-scratching could be considered self-evident, considering the publisher's strict warning in the Xbox 360's product manual to not reorient the console with a disc in the drive. And the publisher itself deemed this warning to be insufficient, according to an internal e-mail, due to the fact that very few customers will read the manual.

In a statement issued to the Post-Intelligencer, the publisher confirmed that it has received about 55,000 complaints regarding disc-scratching, a figure that represents a marginal number of the Xbox 360's total installed base.

"While we have had some users contact us with concerns about scratched discs, it is less than one-half of 1% of the total Xbox 360 user base," a Microsoft representative told the Post-Intelligencer. "Xbox 360 is designed so that it will not damage a game disc as long as the console is not moved while the disc is spinning. Too much movement of any game console, not just Xbox 360, can cause scratches on a disc. That's why we put a warning on the face of the disc tray, which the user has to physically remove before the initial use of the system. We also have warnings posted online and in hard copy instruction manuals."

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