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U.K. Xbox buyers take a play day

If a survey from Amazon is accurate, more than 90 percent of the game console's first-day buyers in the United Kingdom stayed home from work Thursday.

More than 90 percent of Xbox buyers in the United Kingdom were planning to take the day off work Thursday, according to a survey conducted by Amazon.com.

Microsoft's Xbox gaming console went on sale at midnight last night in stores across the United Kingdom, and those who preordered online were supposed to have their consoles delivered by the morning. Almost all of those who will have one are planning to take the day off.

In the survey of 3,000 gamers, 74 percent said they were intending to stay home from work and feign illness, an Amazon representative said. A further 20 percent said they also planned to take the day off, but had not decided whether they should own up to their bosses.

Stores across the United Kingdom kept their doors open late Wednesday night to take advantage of the hype surrounding the new console. Microsoft has not said how many consoles it has ready to ship in the United Kingdom and mainland Europe, but plans to ship 1.5 million units across the continent by the end of June. If successful, this will bring the worldwide tally to 6 million units.

Among the U.K. stores that were ready for the midnight launch was Virgin, which offered the consoles in five outlets in the United Kingdom and Ireland. The London and Dublin Virgin Megastores also had gaming arenas open from around 10:30 p.m. In an attempt to drum up support, Microsoft had said the first customers at the London store would be taken home in a stretch limo.

The Xbox has been available in the United States since late last year, but suffered a problematical Japanese launch last month when customers complained about the console scratching game and movie discs.

Complaints began to appear shortly after the Xbox went on sale in Japan at the beginning of February. Customers said game discs and DVD movies came out scratched after they removed them from the Xbox, although in most cases the discs were still playable.

The scratching complaints affected "significantly less than 1 percent of systems sold," according to a Microsoft statement released at the time, which said the company will evaluate any Xbox console a customer is concerned about and repair or replace any defective units.

A Microsoft U.K. representative said the problem had not been widely reported in the United States: "We don't anticipate that it will be a problem here," he said. "Where it (is a problem) we will replace the discs."

Analysts said there is no indication that the rate of defective Xbox units in Japan was greater than average for a consumer-electronics product. The real question is whether Microsoft can deal effectively with the handful of customers who experience problems.

"I don't think there are many long-term ramifications to the fact (that) there are a few units out there that are scratching discs," said IDC analyst Schelley Olhava. "What could be an issue is if Microsoft doesn't respond to the problems and repair things in a timely manner."

Gartner analyst P.J. McNealy agreed. "If they're happy customers when they get a new disc or a new box, that's all that matters," he said. "This is part of Microsoft's new challenge being a consumer-electronics company: They have to have good customer service."

Matt Loney reported from London.