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Xbox repair process leaves gamers in a fix

Some customers who send their consoles in for warranty repair are unhappy with long return times, inadequate fixes and poor customer service.

Microsoft's announcement that it will spend $1 billion to fix problematic Xbox 360s seemed like a step that would assuage disenchanted customers. Nearly a month later, however, some console owners are still less than pleased.

Complaints regarding Xbox repairs and service aren't hard to find. Visit, for instance, Microsoft's official Xbox Live forums. Customers have a range of gripes: customer service reps failing to follow up as promised, receiving broken consoles from the repair center, losing money on prepaid Xbox Live subscriptions and longer-than-expected fix times.

Microsoft, for its part, said the raft of service requests since the announcement of the new three-year warranty has increased the turnaround time for repairs. "We have been and continue to build out our repair teams to help reduce turnaround times," the company said in an e-mailed statement.

Reports of problems with the popular game console surfaced almost immediately after its 2005 launch. The complaints didn't seem to deter buyers, however. Since the product came out, Microsoft has sold 5.8 million next-generation game consoles in the U.S. alone through June, according to the NPD Group. The Nintendo Wii and Sony PlayStation 3, both launched last November, have moved 3.2 million and 1.5 million units in the U.S. through June, respectively.

If you ask me what's worse--my box going dead or the experience getting it fixed--it's the experience getting it fixed.
--Jessie Lawrence,
Xbox 360 owner

The warranty extension hasn't satisfied everyone for other reasons as well. That's because the extension is limited to consoles that display three blinking lights, or the "Red Ring of Death," as it is known to the gaming community. The three red lights indicate a "general hardware failure," according to Microsoft.

Of all the complaints from Xbox warranty repair customers, the most common one is excessive wait times of four weeks to eight weeks, in some cases.

"My Xbox took almost two months to come back," Greg Mcullen, 21, of New York, wrote in an e-mail to CNET News.com, "which was very aggravating since I was told I'd have it back in 10 days."

The return process goes something like this: an Xbox owner calls customer service and describes the problem. If the console can be serviced, a box is sent to the customer with prepaid shipping. The customer then uses the box to send the console to the repair center. The console is then either fixed or replaced and sent to the customer.

Microsoft said the standard repair time runs from two weeks to four weeks. "As we are rolling the new policy out, we expect an increased number of calls and repairs so turnaround times may be longer in the interim," the company said in an e-mail.

Some Xbox 360 customers acknowledge more despair than anger at separation from their prized device.

"I really miss my Xbox 360," one person using the handle "mbmstein" wrote in a thread titled "How Long Was Your 360 Away for Repair?" on the Xbox Live Forums. "I hope the service center sends it back someday. Or sends me a (refurbished console) someday. Or maybe even a new one someday...I don't like doing without my next-gen console for months on end."

Being without one's Xbox can also cost people money. Many Xbox 360 users subscribe to Xbox Live, a service that lets players connect with other Xbox users online via their game consoles and play against one other. The service is often paid for in advance, so an unusable console means an unused subscription.

Microsoft has apparently recognized the problem and is compensating some of its customers with a free month of Xbox Live with the repaired or replaced console. But a number of customers have been without their console for longer, thus missing more Xbox Live time. Microsoft declined to say how those customers are being compensated and would only say that it "will take care of customers as appropriate should they experience problems with their consoles."

Other complaints revolve around cases in which the consoles are not actually fixed, just replaced with older, refurbished consoles.

Xbox 360 owner Mike Vail blogged about his experience with the Xbox warranty repair on his personal Web site, beginning July 5 when he saw the first ominous glimmer of the flashing red lights, until July 26 when he received his replacement Xbox.

He complained that Microsoft didn't fix the console he sent to them. "They just gave me a new one. How does that work? I would understand if the manufacturer's date on the one I got back was a month old or something around there but it wasn't. It was four months older then the one I sent in," he wrote two days after receiving a console back from Microsoft.

Mcullen, whose box took two months to arrive back at his doorstep, was even less pleased. He said that instead of his console, which was 7 months old when it broke in mid-May, he got back a year-old Xbox with a broken disc drive.

For others, the interaction with customer service reps has been the most maddening part of the repair experience. Jessie Lawrence, 30, of Fremont, Calif., said his back-and-forth with customer service turned into what he called an "absolute nightmare."

It began with reps not inputting his information in the computer correctly, he said, and progressed to him being told he would be contacted by a service team member and promised discounts that weren't actually available. Often, when he asked for a supervisor, he was told there was no one higher up with whom to speak, he said.

Although Lawrence's experience may be an extreme case, combined with the complaints of his fellow Xbox users, it at least suggests that the Xbox service and repair process may be in need of its own fixes.

"It felt like the whole time I had to argue to get any kind of service out of them, like I had to defend myself," Lawrence said.

Other than this, Lawrence said, he has been a satisfied Xbox 360 customer.

"Up until this point, I've had a great experience," he said. "If you ask me what's worse--my box going dead or the experience getting it fixed--it's the experience getting it fixed."