Back in early November I covered a story about a Microsoft Xbox Live update which bricked at least one console. At the time a few readers commented saying that they wouldn't be surprised if this ended up in a lawsuit - well, they were right!
Kevin Ray of California claims that his Xbox 360 was bricked by the Xbox Live update on November 1 and claims that Microsoft would not fix his console unless he paid up $140 (it is a little hazy whether Ray's console was modded or not). Ray then filed the class action in a Washington federal court. This seeks over $5 million in damages and free repair of all Xbox 360s damaged by the update.[poll id=51]
It's hard to see if this case is going to go anywhere. On the one hand Microsoft claims that the number of affected consoles is tiny, while lawyers for Ray say this isn't so and that "a Google search of the terms 'xbox 360' and 'brick' or 'bricking' shows over 15,000 results." I've done similar searches and it doesn't prove anything - I just did a search for "poodle bursts into flames" and got 69,000 hits, but that doesn't point to a defect in poodles which causes them to spontaneously combust. What's more interesting that Googling about the problem is keeping an eye on Xbox related sites such as Major Nelson. The chatter there does seem to indicate that both the Fall update and the late November 1080p update caused a number of users a significant amount of grief.
This isn't the first Xbox 360 related lawsuit - The first was filed in Illinois by Chicago resident Robert Byers on December 2, 2005, just weeks after the console launched. Byers claimed that the Xbox 360 was "known to Microsoft to contain a design defect," when it was discovered that some consoles ran too hot and overheated. The two cases share one similarity - the lawyers filed suit without having any real evidence for the scale of the problem - websites, blog posts and forum threads just isn't the kind of evidence a judge wants to see. On top of that, the lawsuit didn't even claim that Byers had himself encountered any problems with his console. The upshot of this case was that on March 29, 2006, Byers filed for voluntary dismissal.
My take on this is simple - if a Microsoft update trashes an unmodded console, it should pick up the tab for a fix. Period. Maybe the real design issue here is that it's too easy to trash the firmware in the first place and that it's too hard to fix it - pretty much the same problem that BIOSes had a few years ago. A simple recovery routine that allowed the user to reflash from USB key or disc would dramatically reduce on downtime and the number of returns under warranty - everyone's then happy!
As for the lawsuit, I think it's another example of frivolous use of the courts. All hardware is prone to problems, but this problem didn't cause any loss of life, injury, damage or loss of property so asking for $5 million is extreme to say the least. If I could get $5M for everything that went wrong around me ... well, I'd be blogging from my own personal Hawaiian island.