Xbox UK launch prompts mass sickies

Three out of four people who plan to buy Microsoft's Xbox when it goes on sale in the UK tonight also plan to take a sickie tomorrow. Plus, full coverage of the launch
Written by Matt Loney, Contributor

Over 90 percent of Xbox buyers are planning to take the day off work tomorrow, according to a survey conducted by Amazon.com.

Microsoft's Xbox gaming console is due to go on sale at midnight tonight in stores across the UK, and those who pre-ordered one online should have theirs delivered in the morning. Almost all of those who will have one come Thursday morning are planning to take the day off.

In the survey of 3,000 gamers, 74 percent said they were intending to stay off work and feign illness, said an Amazon spokesman. 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.

(See also: Gamespot's Q&A with J Allard and Michel Cassius on the European Xbox launch.)

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

Among the UK stores readying their cash registers for midnight will be Virgin, which will offer the consoles in five outlets in the UK and Ireland. The London and Dublin Megastores will also have gaming arenas open from around 10:30. In an attempt to drum up support, Microsoft said the first customers at the London store will also get to be taken home in a stretch limo.

The Xbox has been available in the US since late last year, but suffered a problematical Japanase 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 that the company will evaluate any Xbox console a customer is concerned about and repair or replace any defective units.

A Microsoft UK spokesman said the problem had not been widely reported in the US: "We don't anticipate that it will be a problem here," he said. "Where it does we will replace the discs. It is a very small problem."

Analysts said there is no indication that the rate of defective Xbox units in Japan was greater than average for a consumer-electronics products. 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 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."

CNET News.com's David Becker contributed to this story.

To find out more about the Xbox, go to GameSpot UK's Xbox Launch Special.

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