Yesterday I decided it was time to buy a year's subscription to Xbox Live Gold so the kids could play online with their cousins in Florida. When signing up, Microsoft asks the subscriber to enter credit card information so they can renew the subscription whenever it expires. But I prefer not to use a credit card because I don't want to give my kids (and their visiting friends) the power to make charges against my card. And my Xbox Live account have been hacked before.
Thankfully, Microsoft is one of those progressive companies that accept bitcoin so I have an alternative to using a credit card. But they don't allow you to just buy something and pay with bitcoin. Instead, you have to buy Microsoft Currency in advance, then apply that as credit against whatever you want to buy. So I bought $ 75 of Microsoft Currency and went to buy my Xbox Live Gold subscription. That's when the nightmare began.
Despite having a $ 75 account credit, the subscription process provides only one payment option – credit card. I thought this must be a mistake, so I searched around for several minutes looking for support phone number to call. Not finding one, I eventually settled for support chat.
After waiting a few minutes in the queue, a friendly support tech informed me that Microsoft does not allow Microsoft Currency to be used for Xbox Live Gold subscriptions. That's annoying, but not the first time I've encountered a low-level support person forced to enforce an inexplicable, poorly-documented, and counter-intuitive company policy. So I asked for a refund. He tells me they don't offer refunds of Microsoft Currency. "Is there anything else I can help you with?", he asks. I tell him I want to talk to his manager. While we wait, he reminds me that "As consumers, we must be responsible for knowing what we are buying before making a purchase."
The manager confirms the policy – no subscription purchases with Microsoft Currency, no refunds. I reply that accepting payment for something, refusing to provide the requested service, and refusing to provide a refund is illegal. After a pause, he informs me that he would like to provide a refund, but Microsoft Currency refunds can only be processed by the people in the Microsoft Store group, not the Xbox group. He gives me their number and wishes me a good day.
I call the Microsoft Store people, happy to finally have a phone conversation rather than enduring the long pauses and cryptic half-replies in support chat. After explaining the problem I am put on hold for a few minutes, then find myself describing my problem to the Xbox group. Once again I ask for a manager.
This time, the manager is clearly trying to make me a happy customer rather than shuffle me off to someone else. He offers a free month of Xbox Live Gold. I tell him that I'll accept 12 months, since that's what I've been trying to buy all along. Otherwise, I want a refund. After a break to consult with someone else, he tells me he can provide a refund in 24-48 hours, but their system is having problems at the moment – the refund option does not appear in his control panel. He sends me a free month subscription to Xbox Live Gold as an apology. I ask him how the $ 75 will be refunded since I purchased it with bitcoin. "Bitcoin, is that a kind of credit card?", he asks.
Dinner is an hour late at this point and the kids are complaining, so I end it there.
The lesson here is clear to me. Microsoft caused this problem in the first place with their ridiculous "you can't buy that" rules and illegal "no refunds" policy. And they know "no refunds" would never hold up in court. They clearly have a way to issue refunds. But bitcoin, as implemented today, has no refund mechanism in place by default for the merchant. And the buyer – me – has no option to reverse a charge. Had I bought Microsoft Currency with a credit card they would have the system in place to refund me. Had they refused, I could have easily disputed the payment with my card issuer. Situations like this illustrate a scenario where bitcoin is not a good choice for online purchase.