SEATTLE -- Hundreds of people who bought Microsoft's hot new Xbox gaming console over the holidays received defective systems, and some said they had to wait weeks and endure shoddy customer service before their systems were fixed.
While analysts say the number of flawed consoles is probably too small to spell serious production troubles, they caution that the long repair times may harm the software giant in its first major foray into hardware.
John Kreis bought an Xbox the day it came out. But the 31-year-old Chicago man's $300 system stopped working almost immediately. Kreis said it took a month of aggravation with Xbox customer service before he got a replacement.
"The whole thing that was so frustrating (was) just the fact that still to this day I'm waiting for a call back just to explain to me what happened," he said.
The Associated Press spoke with about a dozen Xbox users who complained of a game system that never worked or worked for a few hours or days before freezing up. Most called the customer service response poor.
"I'm taking my Christmas decorations down and (my son) hasn't gotten to play with his Christmas toys yet," Debbie Mason, of Uniontown, Pa., said Thursday.
She had just been told in her ninth call to customer service that, despite an earlier promise that the system would be sent back that day, it turned out to be broken again.
Microsoft sales and marketing director John O'Rourke said fewer than 1 percent of the Microsoft units - 10,000 units in this case - have proven faulty. Analysts say that's in line with the industry standard, and competitor Nintendo reported a comparable rate for its new GameCube.
But analyst Rob Enderle of Giga Information Systems warned that a company's response to those customers who do have problems often is more important than how many units actually break.
"If 200 people have a really bad experience and they're vocal, then the impression is the product's bad," he said.
During the Christmas season, Enderle added, any return that takes more than a week is "a horribly long time."
For Microsoft, which shipped about 1.5 million Xboxes over the holidays, the stakes are high. With the highly regarded Xbox, the company is battling Nintendo and Sony in a hyper-competitive game console market.
Microsoft already has been plagued with rumors of problems at its Mexican production plant after it delayed its U.S. launch date by a week - to Nov. 15 - and pushed back its Japan launch as well.
The company has denied any major problems.
Plenty of people who bought defective Xboxes got decent customer service. Marc Patri, 49, said in an e-mail that his Xbox was repaired and returned within five days - which O'Rourke called the time it should take a unit to get repaired.
Microsoft uses outside companies, including San Antonio, Texas-based Harte-Hanks Inc. and Sykes Enterprises in Tampa, Fla., to handle its Xbox customer service. Xbox repairs are handled by Solectron Corp. of Milpitas, Calif.
A spokesman for Harte-Hanks declined to comment. The other companies did not respond to calls seeking comment.
Microsoft has seen no pattern of specific problems, said O'Rourke, and heard of no major delays with repairs.
Kreis said it took nearly two weeks before he even received an empty box to send his faulty Xbox back for repair.
And he got conflicting answers: At one point, customer service couldn't find his records. Another representative told him he would get a new unit rather than have his old one repaired. Another agent told him they never send new units out.
Still later, someone called him and asked him how he was enjoying his new Xbox - which he'd never received.
Finally, on Dec. 10, the repaired Xbox came back.
"I'll be loyal for a while," said Kreis. "But I'm hoping I never have to call support again, that's for sure."
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