Like other video-game consoles, Microsoft’s Xbox 360 comes with built-in guards that prevent it from playing bootleg copies of games. The motivation for this is obvious – Microsoft wants to block pirating – but it is matched by the desire of some gamers to skirt all barriers. Many users have taken to modding their machines so that they can play bootleg games by soldering in a chip or installing unauthorised firmware – warranty-voiding acts that may even be illegal under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.
Well, the empire has struck back. Over the past few years, Microsoft has taken to banning some modified machines from its Xbox Live online multiplayer gaming service, citing a violation of the console’s Terms of Service agreement. In November 2009 (a date likely picked to coincide with the release of mega-selling Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2), the company dropped the biggest bomb of all, banning a huge number of modified consoles in one fell swoop. Some reports peg the total number of newly banned consoles as high as a million, although Microsoft denies that figure and has not released an official number (nor will the company discuss exactly how it detects which consoles have been modded). And if a console has been banned, it’s banned for good – not even stripping out the mod chip will get it back online.
This ban is no small deal for Xbox 360 users. The system may lack the Wii’s motion-sensing controller or the PlayStation 3’s ability to play Blu-ray movies, but when it comes to online multiplayer gaming, it is the undisputed leader. In fact, the Xbox Live experience is so solid that millions of users willingly fork over the equivalent of about R60 a month (or R400 a year) to access the service, despite the fact that online gaming is complimentary on the rival Nintendo Wii and PS3 consoles. And Xbox Live has expanded into more than just a venue for die-hard Halo and Modern Warfare players to duke it out – recent updates have given it the ability to stream movies from Netflix and to access
sites such as Twitter and Facebook. The ban means that anyone shopping for a used Xbox 360 faces an added measure of risk. Remember, it’s the machine that gets blocked from Xbox Live, not a user or account. Today, there is no way of knowing if a second-hand console – even one purchased from a legitimate brickand- mortar retailer – will be able to access Xbox Live. Almost immediately after the latest ban was implemented, a torrent of cheap used Xbox 360 machines flooded for-sale sites such as eBay, and it’s likely that many of them won’t be able to go online. My advice: never purchase a used Xbox 360 console unless you have personally seen it successfully log on to Xbox Live. After all, even if you have no interest in online gaming, you may still want to watch some Netflix movies.