127: Escalation

Escalation

"Returns have spiked since Microsoft's July warranty extension announcement, and the once super-efficient service center is groaning under the strain, which translates into ever-longer wait times.
"'It took about six weeks to get a new 360 back,' says Eduardo Gabrieloff, 'and when it arrived it was broken. It took another six weeks to get another machine, and I spent hours on the phone with support. ... Finally I wrote an email to Steve Ballmer.'"

Matthew Sakey investigates the Xbox 360 repair process.

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If I had to guess, their reluctance to issue immediate console replacements is probably related to the fact that their DRM makes marketplace purchases non-transferable from console to console.

When you purchase content on the marketplace, you get two licenses for it. One license is tied to your profile, which means that you can re-download and use that content on any console as long as you're signed in. The second license is tied to the physical console you purchased the content with. This allows anyone else on your console to use the content, as well as allowing the content to be used offline. This second license cannot be transferred, and cannot be reacquired.

If Microsoft replaces your console, you lose the second license. They don't tell you this up front, but if you do notice and call back to complain, there's a huge process you have to go through. The only solution appears to be to get all the points you ever spent refunded so you can create a new profile, add all the points to it, and re-download all the content. I went through this about a year ago and it was a huge pain - I can't imagine how annoying it would be now (10k or more points later).

Our journalist-type console here in the orbital moonbase has also been out for repairs and replaced - and definitely not with an Elite :P

The secondary issue, which cannot be overlooked, is that unless you get YOUR OWN console back from repair, any Xbox Live Arcade games you previously purchased won't work on your new system unless you are logged into the purchasing Gamertag AND connected to Xbox Live. The fact that you cannot transfer XBLA games to another system is a major oversight.

Of the four 360's I've received from the service center, only the last one was the same as the one I had sent in. That particular console was actually a DOA that I received from the service center after a six week wait, necessitating another round of Xbox "support", whereupon that one was actually fixed about a month later.

Regardless of the hardware issues though, the Xbox Live Marketplace DRM is turning out to be a much bigger problem, especially for those with shared 360s (families, roommates, dorms, etc.) My family's been locked out of ~$200 worth of XBLM content for upwards of five months in the last year alone.

There are currently two methods to restore XBLM access, both of which are tortuous, painful and error-prone, seemingly by design due to the sheer volume of delays, roadblocks, and outright lies told by "support" personnel.

The first method, which used to be the only method, is now frowned upon by Microsoft and only applied sparingly. Essentially, you have to create another Xbox Live account and Microsoft will give you Points codes to apply to that account to repurchase your content with. You'll need to use a different account each time you go through this process. Unfortunately, this is the most painful "solution", as Microsoft's become very stingy with this solution for a variety of reasons. Microsoft claims that over 90% of the refunded Points are spent on new content, not the content for which they were issued; I dispute that claim, as some of my previously purchased content is now free or reduced in price.

The second method, introduced this past May, requires the service center to replace your old console ID in the DRM database with your new console ID (since they're still replacing most 360's). There are a couple of problems with this "solution": The first is that the service center is not uniformly performing this step on every console. The second is that the console ID switch only applies to the most recently serviced console; if you purchased most of your content on a console prior to the one just sent in for service, that content is not unlocked on your replacement console.

Also, if you replace your 360 with a different model through a retailer's warranty exchange program, Microsoft will flat-out refuse to help you at all. They claim that this "upgrade" irrefutably voids your XBLM rights.

They've started ignoring BBB complaints within the past six months. I was only able to fully resolve my DRM problems this time around by contacting my state's Attorney General's office.

It's just a matter of time before a class-action lawsuit or a bunch of media attention gets Microsoft to remedy this once & for all. A user-initiated DRM transfer would be preferable, as it would eliminate Microsoft's outsourced "support" for this particular problem altogether.

Guys. It's Microsoft.

Is anyone actually surprised things have gone ass up?

Welp, this article clinched it, there's no way in hell, EVER, that I'm buying an XBox360. I waited a year for the hardware to be OK, and it was still arse. I will keep waiting until they build one that isn't a sack of crap.

I'm getting an Xbox tomorrow. And, after reading this article, I am very scared.

Virgil:
If I had to guess, their reluctance to issue immediate console replacements is probably related to the fact that their DRM makes marketplace purchases non-transferable from console to console.

Aaah, here I come to the thread to express some confusion, and I find the answer staring me right in the face.

I've had Microsoft replace keyboards and mice for me, when they crap out. They don't ask for the darned things back. They don't bother with repairs. Instead, boom, I get a shiny new replacement. I was going to question why it would be so hard to provide shiny new replacement 360s, and scratch my head and furrow my brow, but that makes some degree of sense.

Microsoft's track record on DRM is that it appears to matter to them far more than any other possible aspect of their business. It doesn't matter how faulty or inconvenient or poorly-managed it is... there MUST be a crazy-thick layer of protection around anything they make, to keep you from using it in a fashion that they don't want you to. Screw the customer. They won't transfer XBL stuff properly? That's complete and utter BS.

Even with all of that said, I still want a 360. I may just have to be exceedingly fussy about the one I buy. Is there any way to tell what kind of internal hardware it's got going for it, by checking out SKUs and part numbers and stuff?

Matthew Sakey:
When a customer calls support with a failure that cannot be corrected over the phone, send them a replacement. Right then. Right there. Tell him to ship the broken one back in the same box.

Virgil:
If I had to guess, their reluctance to issue immediate console replacements is probably related to the fact that their DRM makes marketplace purchases non-transferable from console to console.

Think more that this opens up a possibility for people to scam free consoles out of the company. There is no guarantee that a customer has a faulty Xbox or even owns one at all, and yet you would expect Microsoft to ship out a brand new console instantly?

The current policy whereby they require a console to be shipped to them first is almost certainly designed to ensure that the customer in question does live at their stated address and has indeed purchased a console that has developed a fault.

Hi everybody, and thanks for reading the article. I'd like to respond to some of the remarks on this thread.

Virgil:
If I had to guess, their reluctance to issue immediate console replacements is probably related to the fact that their DRM makes marketplace purchases non-transferable from console to console.

Doubtless; that and the fact that Microsoft simply will not acknowledge how serious the failure problem is. The solution should include fundamental changes to their DRM infrastructure, which - given the massive failure rate of the console - is unfairly obstructive. I've been through five 360s, all different. If they make it difficult or impossible to get my XBL purchases when they're the ones responsible for my having five different consoles, it amounts to corporate theft.

HalfShadow:
Guys. It's Microsoft. Is anyone actually surprised things have gone ass up?

Sure I am. Microsoft has no vested interest in shipping a broken product. The problem lies in the fact that the company is not at all customer focused. When Rock Band guitars started breaking, Harmonix said "our bad, we'll fix it." When Xbox 360s started breaking, Microsoft accused gamers of being shrill and exaggerative.

No, I don't assume that anything coming out of Redmond is going to be messed up. But based on user experiences with the 360, I certainly assume that any problems I have will be my problem, and never Microsoft's.

Copter400:
I'm getting an Xbox tomorrow. And, after reading this article, I am very scared.

Copter, if you make a point to get one of the new Zephyr models, you should be fine. While it's too early to say for sure that Zephyrs elminate the problem, the early assessments are positive.

Kevashim:
Think more that this opens up a possibility for people to scam free consoles out of the company. There is no guarantee that a customer has a faulty Xbox or even owns one at all, and yet you would expect Microsoft to ship out a brand new console instantly?

I can't buy that argument, Kevashim. As one of my sources remarked, Microsoft has our credit card numbers, our real name, our Live IDs. It would be a trivial thing for a support tech to confirm that the caller owns an Xbox.

As to confirming whether it's faulty, who cares if it is? First, consumers are unlikely to request a replacement if their console is working fine. Second, I'm not advocating sending out brand new consoles - in fact, I made the point to say that with this model Microsoft could keep sending out broken ones. And yes, I would certainly expect Microsoft to instantly try to help an angry customer, even to its own detriment. That's just good service.

Bear in mind that the issue for me is less the frequency of the failures and more the inconvenience for the customer. With wait times exceeding a month and replacement consoles failing repeatedly, some 360s have been in the hospital longer than they've been in gamers' homes.

msakey:

Copter400:
I'm getting an Xbox tomorrow. And, after reading this article, I am very scared.

Copter, if you make a point to get one of the new Zephyr models, you should be fine. While it's too early to say for sure that Zephyrs elminate the problem, the early assessments are positive.

Better yet, might I recommend you try and pick up a Falcon model instead? The Zephyr boards used the same CPU/GPUs as the launch models, just with a modified motherboard that included the HDMI output. The Falcons are the newest revision, using a 65nm CPU with a 90nm GPU (both were 90nm on the Zephyr). While the GPU is the primary source of heat in the machine, and subsequently the prime suspect in all of the failures, the various changes have succeeded in lowering the power requirements for the machine (the power supply was 203W for the original and Zephyrs, 175W for the Falcon), which should help reduce heat. Anecdotal evidence suggests the Falcons are running cooler than their predecessors.

Or, you can wait a few months, as they're rumored to be releasing yet another revision which shrinks the GPU to a 65nm process sometime after the New Year, which should do wonders for their heating issues.

For this purpose, and to answer LampDevil's question, see the Xbox 360 Drive Database, which has a database of what models people have bought, along with their identifying information, and a rudimentary guide for identifying which boxes contain which motherboards.

Edit: As an additional note, while my desire to have a 360 (for a variety of reasons) has led to my seeking out all of this information, I find it absolutely deplorable that anyone would need to go to these lengths to try and avoid a lemon.

msakey:
Doubtless; that and the fact that Microsoft simply will not acknowledge how serious the failure problem is. The solution should include fundamental changes to their DRM infrastructure, which - given the massive failure rate of the console - is unfairly obstructive. I've been through five 360s, all different. If they make it difficult or impossible to get my XBL purchases when they're the ones responsible for my having five different consoles, it amounts to corporate theft.

Agreed.

Copter400:
I'm getting an Xbox tomorrow. And, after reading this article, I am very scared.

If you buy a new console from any major retailer, you should be fine. The issues are mostly around the older consoles (and the ones being sent out to replace them).

msakey:
I can't buy that argument, Kevashim. As one of my sources remarked, Microsoft has our credit card numbers, our real name, our Live IDs.

That is only if you have a live ID =)
I was merely pointing out that a return policy in which consoles were sent out first could potentially be abused.

Kevashim:
I was merely pointing out that a return policy in which consoles were sent out first could potentially be abused.

And you're absolutely right, it could. But I also think that some pretty simple mechanisms could prevent or minimize incidents of abuse. Getting a credit card number at the time of the support call, for example.

Requiring that the broken system be in their possession before another is shipped protects Microsoft, but does nothing for the consumer. Indeed, it's a tacit suggestion that all consumers are untrustworthy. At its most simple, the issue with this problem is that Microsoft has shown no interest in, and taken no action to, offset the hassle suffered by the customer. Which is darned irritating, especially when your 360 breaks the day before Bioshock comes out, as mine did. Grr.

kdorff:
The secondary issue, which cannot be overlooked, is that unless you get YOUR OWN console back from repair, any Xbox Live Arcade games you previously purchased won't work on your new system unless you are logged into the purchasing Gamertag AND connected to Xbox Live. The fact that you cannot transfer XBLA games to another system is a major oversight.

This was a especially terrible experience for me, as there is absolutely no hi-speed internet in my area.
I went to a friends house and downloaded about 50$ worth of games when I first got my 360, three days later it gets the red ring of death, and five terrible months of back and forth repairs and now I can kiss every single dollar goodbye.

I only own the games that came with it right now, because every time I get around to thinking of buying a game instead of renting one for a few days the 360 collapses. It's amazing, I've had that thing for almost half a year and I've yet to be able to sell it, or have it in working order long enough to finish anything except Halo 3.

Definitely paying the price of not being patient enough for the Wii to get more games.

----
(Kinda off the topic)

I don't really like the download services that are available on any of the consoles. I don't see how any of them can compete with just pirating everything.
I usually put on a holier-than-thou attitude with my friends who have every single cartridge based game they ever imagined buying as kids. But looking at the money I've wasted purchasing legally just to be told "Sorry, we can't refund you in any reasonable way despite the fact that it is all entirely our hardware and irritating DRM's fault" it is really hard to see why a somebody wouldn't just say 'Screw it!' and download away.

I've had two failures - one less than two weeks after "repair" - and as a result wasn't impressed with Microsoft's offer of a refurbed older unit (essentially what I already had, sitting and looking red and gathering dust).

Eventually I took it back to the store - in the UK, a buyer is covered by the Sale of Goods ACt, and if a product is faulty within the first year, a customer can exchange it for a new one. I didn't have any XBLA to worry about, so I was happier with a new 360 rather than a retread. New one's a Flacon - fingers crossed...

MS customer support for the UK weren't good. I got passed on to an escalation team, who offered me a free game (launch title, MS 1st party, no expense spent). I wrote a letter of cmplaint about the 360 in general, the poor repair job and the final slap in the face of a sorry (the cheapest game available, and no refund on the month's Live membership that went down the pan). After I said I'd exchanged the console, that was it. No reply to the letter. They must have just assumed that I'd be happy with a new console - well, I am, but the next time it breaks, MS is going to have some serious complaints on their hands. Their customer service dept. just needs a kick in the backside, and actually think about their customers; show a bit of sympathy a d make some amends, instead of just whining about how much the whole affair has cost them.

I've had one 360 death, just a few days after Bioshock dropped. I actually was favorably impressed with the way MS handled my return. Total turnaround time was around three weeks, which seems reasonable. I had the replacement console in my hands with a few days to spare before the release of Halo 3. My original console was purchased used from a fellow forum-goer, who had registered the hardware with MS, but when I was able to verify the guy's name the phone rep said that they'd honor the warranty for me.

They did send me a refurb console as a replacement, but it seems to be working well so far (knock on wood). As a small bonus, it does appear to have the newer, quieter DVD drive and the newer, larger heat sink.

It is a shame, though, that they refuse to replace the old faulty hardware with the more reliable revision. I know I would've felt extra warm and fuzzy if my old 'box had been replaced with a shiny new Falcon 360.

I got an Xbox from Kmart (EB was out of them) and so far it hasn't died on me. It's probably because I stop playing out of fear every few hours. Regardless, I've been shooting up Combine and Covenenant without any problems whatsoever. Thanks for the advice, guys.

You know, after all the ballyhoo and what not, I'm still actually rather confused on what the exact CAUSE is of these system meltdowns--I've never actually read an explanation. Is it just critical overheating or what? It's honestly sort of mindboggling that such a critical and fatal flaw could exist and not be corrected ASAP.

That said, I've had one of the Halo 3 edition 360s since they came out, and it hasn't died on me yet. So the newer 360s in general seem to be less prone to consoledeath, I take it? That's a bit of a relief; I talked my mom into getting my little brother a 360 instead of a PS3--and I'd hate to have to walk them through the process especially if they do anything re: the aforementioned DRM.

CantFaketheFunk:
You know, after all the ballyhoo and what not, I'm still actually rather confused on what the exact CAUSE is of these system meltdowns--I've never actually read an explanation.

There are a variety of theories, and Microsoft won't confirm any of them. The position, frequency and number of flashing lights is how Microsoft set up system diagnosis, similar to a BIOS's beep codes. Officially, three flashing red lights means "General Hardware Failure," which is about as nebulous as you can get.

Current theories center around the shape of the 360's case (its concave profile causes pockets of air to lurk inside, getting hotter and hotter without circulating); an overheat in the GPU; and - possibly - cracking in solder as the system heats up and cools down. Basically (and again, all this is a theory) the heat inside the case causes a miniscule bowing of the motherboard and softening of the solder; when the system is shut off it cools down quickly and the bow changes shape, causing microscopic cracks in solder traces which eventually lead to complete electrical failure.

It's also possible that the thing just gets too hot and MS didn't put in large enough heatsinks.

In whatever case, "refurbished" consoles come back to consumers with beefier heatsinks and a sort of retention/holding plate on the motherboard to prevent bowing. So far, however, there's been little indication that these improvements make the system more reliable.

CantFaketheFunk:
You know, after all the ballyhoo and what not, I'm still actually rather confused on what the exact CAUSE is of these system meltdowns--I've never actually read an explanation. Is it just critical overheating or what? It's honestly sort of mindboggling that such a critical and fatal flaw could exist and not be corrected ASAP.

There are several possible problems, but by far, the most common one is, needless to say, one of heat. The cooling of the CPU was actually fairly well done, they put a heat pipe to draw the heat away from the chip (and thus the mainboard). The problem is that the GPU and its low-profile heatsink sit under the DVD drive, and are given a very narrow channel for air to be pulled acrosss the heatsink by the fans. When the GPU heats up enough, its reflow the solder in the ball grid array slightly, and it can then cause the entire mainboard to flex, largely thanks to the X-shaped brackets that hold the heatsinks down to the chips under the mainboard, with a tension fit that presses up directly underneath those chips. So when the system gets too hot, the combination of loosened solder with a mainboard that flexes from heat causes the GPU or CPU to actually break its connection from the board, resulting in the 3RLOD, with the 0102 error code ("unknown hardware era").

(for instructions on how to find the secondary error code and what the others mean, go here.)

These are mistakes that first-year tech students make, not people who are supposed to be GOOD at this sort of thing (namely, people that such a phenominally powerful company as Microsoft is supposed to have working on such expensive hardware). Imagine if any other hardware or software company tried to get away with the kind of crap that Microsoft pulls every damn day. I think Vista is proof that absolutely nothing Microsoft can do will ever alienate their user base under any circumstances.

 

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