Reporter: Gordon Harcourt.
In the last couple of weeks Fair Go has received a minor deluge of complaints from angry young gamers all over the country. They're all under 18, all Microsoft Xbox users and they are all grumpy - and rather mystified.
Xbox users buy Microsoft Points, which they can then use online to purchase updates, games, movie trailers and other cool stuff.
But in June, something changed and now when under 18s try to download stuff they get a very annoying message: Can't retrieve information from Xbox LIVE. Please try again later. Status Code 80153065.
It turns out that Microsoft have made a significant change, to prevent under 18s downloading "mature content".
They've done it for very good reasons, but we think they've made a complete mess of it. Instead of preventing access to mature content under 18s now can't get access to any content at all - not 15 rated, not G rated, nothing at all.
That's really annoying, but what makes this much worse is that Microsoft haven't stopped under 18s buying points they then cannot use.
As Wellington 15 year old Andrew Pearce tells us, "if you went to a store and said you were underage and want to buy some beer and they say no, but we'll take your money anyway, that's what it is."
We think the information they've provided to Xbox users is completely inadequate, and when we took this up with Microsoft, we were amazed at the dismissive response they sent us.
I talked to a PR company in Sydney, who put me on to a PR company in Auckland, who talked to Microsoft, and a day and a half later I got one of the least informative statements he's ever seen. It's printed in full below, but you won't learn much. There's no apology, not even a hint of regret at the inconvenience caused.
Microsoft Statement, 21/07/2009.
* Microsoft has taken an initiative in New Zealand to ensure people under the age of 18 cannot access mature content.
* We are working to limit access to content to the appropriate age group in New Zealand. This will take some time due to technical reasons.
* We are working to remove the ability for people under the age of 18 to add points until we can resolve this issue.
* People affected by this issue can be refunded via our customer call centre, which can be contacted through www.xbox.com/en-nz/support or on 0508 555 592.
Don't expect to learn much from that support page - as of Wednesday morning 29th July the information on it was unchanged - still inadequate.
At Fair Go we love having battles with corporates so it's no surprise when they are rude to us, but we find it quite remarkable that a company can behave so arrogantly toward its customers, especially young customers it will need in the future.
Sorry, or at least "regret" isn't the hardest word.
We were taken aback at how difficult it was to get a decent response from Microsoft, but we thought we should keep trying. Finally, after three attempts over a week, here is a rather fuller statement from Microsoft, and one in which they actually say sorry. Well, nearly.
Media statement: Fair Go
July 27, 2009
Statement from Xbox LIVE
Microsoft is a responsible company and believes in working together with families to use media in ways that are fun, safe and healthy. The company is very mindful of expectations about providing access to appropriate content on its Xbox LIVE marketplace.
By default, under 18s are not given access to Xbox LIVE or the ability to download paid content from Xbox LIVE until an adult has consented. A recent update to Xbox LIVE has now restricted downloads of content from Xbox LIVE Marketplace for the under 18s even where an adult had previously consented.
[HERE'S THE "REGRET" BIT ...] We regret any inconvenience that this update has created and we are working on developing a solution. This is not a simple matter and we are unable to confirm when that may be, but we will communicate developments with our young gamers.
All New Zealand content is still accessible via an adult account on any console, so parents can still download appropriate content for younger gamers to use on the same console, and for their own use. The update has had no impact on them chatting with friends online and young gamers can still enjoy the popular online multiplayer gameplay features.
Until we can restore downloads of appropriate content for under 18s, we are also working on removing the ability for people under the age of 18 to add points that can't currently be spent. We encourage anyone affected by this issue to contact us via our customer call centre for a refund on their Microsoft points purchased. The details are www.xbox.com/en-nz/ or on 0508 555 592.
Xbox wants New Zealanders to be assured that we take a responsible view on access to appropriate content and Xbox 360 has family setting that enable parents to manage the gaming experience in their home.
Our advice - It's very simple, buy a Play Station.