Xbox 360 Disc-Scratching Document Suggests Microsoft Knew

Did Microsoft know about the Xbox 360's potential to scratch spinning discs when reoriented? SeattlePi.com has an unsealed legal document from an ongoing lawsuit against the company that suggests they did. That document, which seek formal class action status, alleges that

The Xbox 360 is defectively designed because when an Xbox 360 is tilted or swiveled -- even slightly -- while a game disc is in the ODD [Optical Disc Drive], ODD components can contact the game disc, creating a distinctive circular "gouge" on the underside of the disc, rendering it permanently unplayable... Microsoft discovered this scratch-inducing design defect prior to launching the Xbox 360, but refused and continues to refuse to remedy the problem.

The document further alleges that "tens of thousands of Xbox 360 owners have registered complaints with Microsoft that scratches inflicted by the defective design of the Xbox 360 console have made their game discs unplayable." It also reiterates Microsoft's spec for an ODD that could operate either horizontally or vertically, stating that

In either position, Xbox 360 ODDs are specified by Microsoft to spin game discs at "12x," which translates to a rotational speed of 7,500 rpm -- a very high speed that is unique in the home video game industry. Microsoft failed during the ODD specification phase to account for both the high rate of disc rotational speed and the foreseeable movement of the console. This failure, combined with other mistakes Microsoft made in specifying the ODD, resulted in the design defect causing injury to Plaintiffs and the proposed Classes.

Read a bit further (to Section E) and the document names names, claiming that Microsoft knew prior to the November 2005 launch of the Xbox 360 that the system had disc troubles. According to Hiroo Umeno, a Microsoft program manager

This is...information that we as a team, optical disc drive team, knew about. 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.

After investigating, Microsoft determined that "when consoles were tilted, game discs become 'unchucked' and collide with the OPU, causing deep circular gouges in the playing discs." The company then reportedly considered three ways to remedy the problem, but rejected implementation due to expense and/or operational interference. Instead, they settled on a replacement program, but only for a fractional few Microsoft-published games.

My take: If the document's quotes are accurate and contextual, it doesn't look good for Microsoft, though I'd remind anyone reading this that even in context, there may be other details that have extenuating significance. More importantly, this document is only a piece of one side's argument.

What's more, I'm not sure I agree with the plaintiffs when their technical advisor rather presumptively alleges "there is a reasonable consumer expectation that consumer products with ODDs will not cause media discs to be scratched even when the products are tilted, vibrated, or slightly rotated in the course of every day use."

Really? That's news to me. I've always assumed that unless the optical player in question's the size of a walkman, you don't move it until the disc's out of the drive (or the system's at least powered down first). No one's ever told me that's how it works, I just thought it was common sense.

Update: Microsoft has responded to SeattlePi.com, stating that the number of users experiencing scratches is "less than one-half of 1% of the total Xbox 360 user base," and that the

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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