Scratched Discs Can Wreck a Rock Band

By Mike Musgrove
Sunday, November 25, 2007

The band broke up a lot earlier than I expected last weekend.

We were an all-girl band from Stockholm, called Buddha Cracka. I was the lead singer, a redhead named Debbi. A handful of my friends and I were rising stars on the Swedish rock scene for about two hours, before the disaster happened.

It wasn't the squabbles over the set list or over our look that did us in -- I blame Microsoft. Specifically, I think it was the Xbox 360, which appears to have cut a circular scratch into a video-game disc and left it unplayable after only about a day's worth of use.

Alas, the disc, for a game called Rock Band that was released last week, could be a victim of an alleged problem that has launched a few class-action lawsuits against Microsoft this year. Microsoft says it has not heard of other instances of scratched Rock Band discs.

Rock Band is the new offering from the creators of the first two smash-hit Guitar Hero games that takes the concept to its logical next step. Where those two games were made to appeal to the guitar-star wannabe, this one fills out the band by throwing in a game-controller drum kit and a USB microphone, in addition to the latest version of the guitar controller.

All told, the package, which is also available for the PlayStation 3, costs $170. Even at that price, the game's publisher, Electronic Arts, has said that it will have trouble producing enough to keep the game in stock this holiday season.

Music and rhythm-based games are a huge business for the video game industry this year, thanks to the success of Guitar Hero. Activision acquired the rights and issued the latest version of the game in October; it did $115 million in sales during its first week. Different versions of the game took four of the top 10 slots for the month, according to research firm NPD. Rock Band, by original Guitar Hero developer Harmonix, is another attempt to cash in on the trend.

Microsoft has had a number of tech-related headaches with the Xbox 360 game console, but the scratch issue was a new one to me.

A few lawsuits were filed separately this summer, alleging that the Xbox 360 console sometimes damages game discs. More recently, the plaintiffs -- from Florida, California, Georgia and Washington -- teamed up and filed a consolidated class-action suit in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington in Seattle.

Jeffrey M. Ostrow, a Fort Lauderdale, Fla., lawyer among those who filed the complaint, says his team has gotten thousands of reports from users about scratched discs. He came to the issue after one of his clients complained about the problem in passing. Later, Ostrow said, he noticed that some of the sports games in his personal video game collection had similar scratches.

Microsoft's lawyers filed a response to the consolidated complaint on Monday, denying that the system scratches discs during normal use.

"When the game console and the game discs are handled properly, the game disc should not scratch," said Molly O'Donnell, a spokeswoman for Microsoft. O'Donnell said the company has not received many complaints about scratched discs.

This isn't the only scratched-disc story I've heard concerning Xbox 360 games. Most recently, there was a problem with discs that were scratched when they came loose during shipping in a special metal box for a premium version of the game Halo 3. Microsoft offered to replace the damaged discs for free in that case.

This past summer, Microsoft announced that it was expanding the warranty on the Xbox 360 for an unrelated tech failure, a move that the company said would cost at least $1 billion.

At the time, Microsoft's corporate vice president of interactive entertainment, Peter Moore, posted an apology for the Xbox 360's technical problems on Microsoft's Web site.

"Good service and a good customer experience are areas of the business that we care deeply about," he wrote. "And frankly, we've not been doing a good enough job."

Two weeks later, Moore left Microsoft to take a job at Electronic Arts, Rock Band's publisher. He said that his move was not related the Xbox 360's tech issues.

For the record, the Xbox 360 I used, an "Elite," had never chomped on any other discs before last weekend -- but I know four folks who can attest that it left Rock Band unplayable on two relatively new Xboxes, and sorta buzz-killed the party.

According to tech blog Ars Technica, online-game rental service GameFly warned over a year ago that its customers should not move the Xbox 360 game console "in any way" with a disc inside -- or risk causing permanent damage.

I don't recall moving the system when the power was plugged on, though I also didn't know that doing so could destroy a game. In any case, my friends and I played for a couple of hours straight, without touching the system, before the game froze and we found the otherwise pristine disc had a circular scratch.

Did we rock too hard? Four people bouncing around and fake-rocking out in a living room cause a lot more vibration on the floor, where my game console is parked, than the usual couch-potato fare. Sounds like a stretch to me, though -- and if you can't bounce around while playing a game called Rock Band, what's the point?

In any case, the game is a blast and offers up an experience that could leave Guitar Hero in the dust. My friends and I barely scratched the surface, you could say. And my wife, who cares nothing for video games, now wants to set it up in a spare room of her office one afternoon for chuckles.

You're really making a significant lifestyle statement if you buy this game, as all the gear and wires involved tend to take over the room. Also, you need a big screen if you're going to play with your friends; that old 26-incher is not going to cut it if you want to crowd the band together in your living room. Fortunately, I had a gigantic screen and a high-definition projector on loan from Epson for the test run.

Hopefully, Buddha Cracka will have a reunion one of these days -- but I don't know how that'll work, as of this writing. I'm inclined to keep the replacement disc away from the bite-y Xbox. And next time, we're going to have to rock out a little more carefully.

Staff researcher Richard Drezen contributed to this report.

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