SEATTLE – Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) won't say what went wrong inside of its Xbox 360 video game consoles that could lead to $1 billion in repairs, but bloggers and their online readers seem to have their own answer: Heat stroke.
Frustrated Xbox 360 gamers have been going to blogs and forums to swap horror stories and voodoo-like solutions for problems with the consoles, which first went on sale in November 2005.
Microsoft has called the seizures "general hardware failures," while some users have referred to a "red ring of death," for the three LEDs that light up on the console when a serious problem has occurred.
Many have raised the possibility that something — either the power cord, or a component inside the box — is overheating and breaking in the units.
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A thread on the GameSpot.com forums from 2005 recommended suspending power cords with string in midair to keep them cool.
In June 2006, a post on the blog Xbox-scene.com pointed enthusiasts to a way to cool the console by piping tap water through hoses that snaked through the machine's innards.
Another Xbox-scene.com entry from June of this year purports to show photos of a Microsoft-repaired console with added hardware to trap heat.
YouTube videos, both deadly serious and snarky spoofs, abound.
"People have had some crazy ways of trying to fix their consoles when this happens," said Dustin Burg, a full-time blogger for Weblogs Inc.'s Xbox360fanboy.com.
He described the "towel trick," which is believed to cause overheated components inside the console to heat up even more, thus melting everything back into place.
Burg, 21, is on his third Xbox 360. He and a handful of friends won consoles from Microsoft as part of a promotional push around the time the system launched in late 2005.
All five consoles have since succumbed to general hardware failure and had to be returned, he said.
Burg said the three flashing red lights that indicate the problem started appearing on his console after about 10 months. He was able to get it working again for a while by shutting the machine on and off, but eventually it just stopped working.
"It's almost like slow dying," he said.
Burg skipped the towel trick and sent the console back to Microsoft, which swiftly replaced it.
The Xbox 360 Fan Boy blog attracts a great deal of attention from gamers.
When the site reported Thursday's news that Microsoft will extend the warranty for the Xbox 360 to three years — from one year in the U.S. and two in Europe — more than 60 people wrote in with comments.
But Burg said no one out there really knows what's causing the machines to flatline.
"It could be a lot of components," he said.
Microsoft, for its part, is giving few insights. Robbie Bach, president of the unprofitable entertainment and devices division responsible for the game console, said the company has made manufacturing and production changes that should reduce hardware lockups.
Microsoft declined to comment on whether overheating was causing any of the problems.
In 2005, Microsoft recalled the original Xbox's power cords, saying they posed a fire hazard in some cases.
The software maker did not specifically say whether the Xbox 360's power cord is related to current hardware failures, but David Dennis, a Microsoft spokesman, said in an e-mail that the fixes were made to the console.
The software maker also declined to spell out how many machines have been afflicted by the problems, but said that the number of returns reached critical mass in the past few months.
Chris Szarek, a photographer who lives in Chicopee, Mass., doesn't buy that Microsoft is just discovering the problem. He complained about it last year, complete with Web postings and faxes to Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates and other top executives.
Szarek, 38, has sent three consoles back to Microsoft, two that signaled general hardware failure after just a few months and one because it would not connect to the Internet.
He said he doesn't know what's going wrong, though he, too, has heard about overheating.
He said he was offended that Microsoft customer service told him there might be something wrong with the wiring in his house.
Szarek said that whatever it is, he expects the problem to afflict his fourth console, too.
"I haven't had any 'three red lights,' but I'm fully expecting it," he said. "It's not a matter of if it's going to happen, it's a matter of when."
Many gamers responded with blog posts and comments praising Microsoft for extending the warranty.
Wall Street was also forgiving, even though the software maker said it will record a charge of up to $1.15 billion for its fourth fiscal quarter, which ended June 30, to cover the additional costs associated with the warranty extension. Shares of Microsoft dipped 2 cents to close at $29.97.
Analysts were disappointed that Microsoft would take a financial hit in the June quarter, but were overall unworried by the news.
"By expanding the warranty coverage it could gain more traction in the gaming community and regain some momentum with its console sales," wrote Credit Suisse analyst Jason Maynard in a note to investors Friday.
With a one-year head start, Microsoft has sold more consoles since launch than competitors Nintendo and Sony (SNE).