Hundreds of thousands of Xbox 360 users who have illegally modified their console to play copied games have been disconnected from the online Xbox Live service as part of an annual drive to counter Xbox pirates. Guardian.co.uk puts the figure as high as one million of the service’s 20 million users — but Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT) won’t comment on that, saying it doesn’t release such data. Disconnected gamers can still play on their Xbox, just not online.
Microsoft is playing its anti-piracy trump card here: the company owns and closely controls every aspect of the Xbox hardware and platform and can easily restrict online access through in-built DRM technology. And with the popularity of games like Call of Duty, in which the online multiplayer mode is the main draw for many, the threat of losing online capabilities is a real discouragement to serious gamers.
BBC Radio 1’s Newsbeat programme interviews 25-year-old “Raz” who was cut off after getting his console “modded” in a local shop for £75 and has since played up to 40 illegally copied games — Raz didn’t receive prior warning, his TV screen simply read: “Your console has been banned from Xbox.”
As the UK government finalises plans to combat piracy through a complex system of bandwidth throttling and eventual disconnection — as in France, accused pirates will get two warnings before disconnection — Microsoft doesn’t have to get a court order or politely write to pirates before cutting them off: if they break the law and the Xbox terms and conditions, they’re out.
Meanwhile, music and film content owners can’t as easily stop each new release being freely distributed over P2P networks. No specific online-capable hardware is needed to play music, so the music biz has to force reluctant ISPs to cut off offenders just to uphold existing IP law.