You encountered a greater ban elemental

On December 19, 2007, in Business & Industry, by Steffen Itterheim

Microsoft is banning users from their Xbox Live online service for having their consoles modded.
In most cases this involves opening the case and flashing the DVD drive with a firmware that allows to play backup copies of retail games.
Now word has it that Microsoft has also banned unmodified consoles and some people were able to get them unbanned.

There’s something about this whole Microsoft vs Modders thing that i find fascinating, and it’s not David vs Goliath. I see a lot of the elements of a “4th Generation War” as defined on Wikipedia at play:

  • High Technology (the Xbox360 hardware and the Xbox Live online service)
  • Terrorism (hmmmm, Modders calling Microsoft Tech Support?)
  • A non-national or transnational base (Microsoft)
  • A direct attack on the enemy’s culture (Microsoft banning the Modders, plus apparently collateral damage)
  • Highly sophisticated psychological warfare, especially through manipulation of the media (withholding information, maybe active misinformation, countless banning theories)

Now you might not actually see the Microsoft vs Modders thing as a war but there’s something intriguing to be noticed: a lot of people try to come up with theories about how Microsoft detects modded consoles. There’s a lot of uncertainty, even more speculation and no one knows for sure. But one thing is for certain: Microsoft does not want the Modders to find out what criteria they use to detect them. This is the last element at play: psychological warfare.

Contrary to the Xbox Microsoft now bans Xbox 360 consoles in waves, meaning a lot of people get banned on the same day. But they might have been banned days, weeks or even months before that date, the ban just didn’t go live until that very day. Which makes it very hard for the community to figure out what is causing the bans, and when they get banned it’s already too late for countermeasures. Microsoft might even  let a small percentage of banned consoles still go online on purpose. They will get banned on one of the next waves, making it hard for Modders to judge if the now-in-place countermeasures are actually working. It is no longer as simple as “I replaced my console’s hard disk with a bigger one today, and the next day i was banned.” and then trying to find a fix for that. There are numerous theories, such as Microsoft might be able to log playing with backups even when not connected to Xbox Live, or Microsoft being able to read the DVD drive’s firmware or even detecting the absence of the DVD drive during the flash process.

Fact is, no one knows for sure. But there’s one thing i find noteworthy: Microsoft doesn’t catch all modded consoles. This can mean one of two things:

  • Microsoft is unable to catch them all.
  • Microsoft doesn’t want to catch them all.

The latter point may sound odd, why would they even allow Modders to go online? Especially if they had all the resources to ban them all? Because there are some positive effects as well:

  • Word of mouth. The modding community has a strong voice, they could even be the opinion leaders.
  • More hardware sales. Modders do tend to break their consoles, and more casual modders are more likely to buy a console if they don’t have to pay as much for the games.

In the end i believe that Microsoft is merely trying to keep the balance with their so called “banhammers”. They probably don’t care enough to ban all of the modded consoles but they do want to keep the uncertainty because that is enough to keep most users from modding their console. All the others will just go out, buy a new console and mod it again anyway the instant they get banned. For them it’s just like buying another game or two or three (price difference between new console and selling the used and banned console).

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