Whistleblower: Xbox 'glitch' sparks uproar in Minnesota

  • Article by: PAUL LEVY , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 23, 2011 - 12:07 PM

Microsoft didn't bother telling its customers that a company "error" meant subscribers suddenly lost access to its popular Xbox LIVE site.

Last month, Microsoft banned a 13-year-old honor student in Lakeville from playing Xbox 360 video games online for violating the company's "terms of use." Microsoft's e-mail offered no further explanation.

He was confused and angry. He'd spent nearly $500 on Xbox equipment and games and another $65 for an online Xbox LIVE subscription. He says he did nothing to warrant the penalty.

When his mother and other Xbox LIVE subscribers complained about the ban, which affected an unknown number of Microsoft customers around the world, they said they were told the only way to regain online access would be spending $199 for a new Xbox console.

"Microsoft has robbed my child of a voice and denied him the right to assert his innocence," Lorraine Leeson wrote in a recent complaint to the Minnesota attorney general's office. "We have offered to send Microsoft our console, all games, controllers for verification, which Microsoft flat out refused, saying, and I quote, 'It isn't worth it.' Worth it to whom? To Microsoft? A 13-year-old boy begs to differ."

Microsoft recently lifted the ban without explanation.

Microsoft declined to be interviewed by Whistleblower for this article. But in an e-mail response to the newspaper's questions, a Microsoft spokeswoman blamed the "error" on a "software glitch."

"Of the more than 35 million Xbox LIVE members, a small percentage of users have been impacted by the error," the statement said.

This was not the first time Microsoft has angered its customer base. The company "regularly" bans Xbox consoles that have been modified to play pirated discs.

Other LIVE customers have been banned for engaging in inappropriate communication, soliciting for other commercial interests and tampering with the LIVE system, according to a website called whywasIbanned.com, which has compiled more than 200 of "the hilarious, the sad and the downright stupid Xbox bans."

Two years ago, according to Xbox devotees, Microsoft banned hundreds of thousands of players around the world without explanation. Microsoft has not confirmed that action.

Joshua Beam, of Plymouth, said his two sons were booted from the LIVE system this fall without explanation. He said his sons, 11 and 13, swore they did nothing wrong.

"It's like a cop pulling you over, writing a ticket and not telling what law you broke," said Beam, an engineer at the University of Minnesota. "When I called Microsoft, they wouldn't tell me what the violations were. But they told me I could buy another Xbox!"

Beam said Microsoft challenged his sons' truthfulness about the matter, with a representative asking: "Sir, can you tell me you're with your sons 24 hours a day?"

The Leesons got the bad news from Microsoft on Sept. 3. Lorraine Leeson sent nearly two dozen e-mail messages to Microsoft challenging her son's suspension. Leeson also complained to the Federal Trade Commission and Better Business Bureau offices in St. Paul and DuPont, Wash., near Microsoft's home base.

After discovering the screw-up, Microsoft offered affected Xbox customers three free months of LIVE play. For their inconvenience, primary account holders also received 1,600 Microsoft points, which can be used to buy content or other services through the Xbox LIVE Marketplace. Beam said 1,600 points is worth about $20.

A BBB spokeswoman said the agency has received several complaints about unjustified Xbox bans this fall. In the past, the spokeswoman said, Microsoft has been "diligent and responsive" to customer concerns.

In an Oct. 4 letter, a staff member for Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson asked Microsoft to consider explaining the reasons for the recent ban to the Leeson family. The attorney general's office is waiting for a response.

Paul Levy • 612-673-4419
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