Opinion: Does Microsoft's modded console ban really stop piracy? Or does it just alienate innocent tinkerers?

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xbox-live.pngMicrosoft have caused quite a stir this week, banning over 600,000 Xbox Live users for having modded their consoles. The move is an attempt to deter piracy and cheating in online games, two problems that obviously and validly need addressing. But have the bans hurt users with more innocent intentions for their modifications? Read on to find out.

Piracy in the games industry is no new thing; I can remember way back to weekend car boot sales in the early 1990s where dodgy Del Boy types would be selling knocked off Amiga 500 floppies for peanuts. Sales of software for the original PlayStation were marred by piracy-enabling mod chips, and the Dreamcast too was ridiculously easy to exploit, requiring just a boot-disc to play copied games.

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Widespread peer-to-peer piracy is rife too, with illegal downloads being cited as a major contributor to ever declining PC software sales.

Despite the might of Microsoft behind it, the Xbox 360 is no better defended against piracy-enabling mods. Specialist services will modify your Xbox 360 for under £100, allowing a user to download and burn their own software. Though Tech Digest does not condone piracy, it is easy to see how strong the temptation of buying cheap knock-off games or downloading them for free could be, especially with games like Modern Warfare 2 commanding an extortionate £54.99 price tag.

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Though the gaming industry is becoming increasingly wealthy, piracy costs companies billions of pounds in revenue. While larger publishers may be able to bear the brunt of such losses, small independent companies literally go hungry without legitimate software sales. It results in companies less prepared to go out on a limb and innovate with new creative games, instead focussing on an established series or intellectual property. Cue boring sequels, dire-movie cash-ins and derivative Halo-clones.

Even giants like EA are looking to cut as many as 1,500 jobs in the new year, which will cause a dozen games in the development stages to be canned indefinitely.

However modding does not necessarily equate to piracy.

Here is where the argument gets interesting. Piracy is bad, no question about it. But banning a console modded to increase hard drive space, when the only official alternative is a measly 120GB drive? That can’t be fair, right? Microsoft seem very keen to limit the choices available to users to just Bill Gates branded gear; just look at the recent lock-out of third party memory units.

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Also, having shelled out for the inflated price of a game, shouldn’t a user be allowed to back up their copy? Discs are still a fairly fragile, scratch prone medium. If something so fragile as a disc breaks, should the consumer really have to buy a brand new game? Sure, there is the increasingly available option of legal digital downloads, but, just like with digital music downloads, I think I speak for many people when I say that I like the ritual of walking into a shop, handing over my money and coming home with something physical in my hand.

Modded consoles also open up the Xbox 360 to the homebrew community, with gangs of bedroom designers the world over teaming up to try their hands at game making. This is often a well of creativity and a great entry point for designers with untapped talent. It’s easy to forget that massively popular games like Counter Strike started life as software mods themselves.

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But perhaps the homebrew community wouldn’t seem so vital to creative design if game companies had the money saved from piracy to invest in it themselves. It’s a vicious cycle.

Piracy will never go away, but how we deal with it is important not just in terms of punishing cheats and thieves, but also in how we go about protecting consumer rights and defending those who just like to innocently tinker under the bonnet of their favourite toys.

Gerald Lynch

8 comments

  • This will not stop people who mod for piracy as they can just pay $40 to get a new Keyvault and then they can unban themselves. Microsoft is the biggest fail ever when it comes to trying to stop Piracy thieves instead banning the innocent people. They are going to lose more and more money at this rate, because i got console banned once, now i am happy over at the PS3 side of life. A few of my friends have done the same. Therefore losing out on say $250 between us per new release. We bought on average 15 games each so overall yearly between us Microsoft lost i dont know about $4500 thats just from 7 friends. Imagine what they are losing on a global scale because of their retarded bans.

  • A player you cannot count on in the playoffs when a big hit is important but can’t deliver (look at his stats during playoffs) All he cares about is his looks, money and the women. He is a big joke.

  • Why don’t these Microsoft guys think decreasing the cost of the original one. May be it is the only way piracy can be avoided. Until and unless they make these costly games available at some affordable rate, I don’t think these will stop.

  • Agree with AddyB, it’s a poor excuse. I have a banned XBOX, I mod to play free games, no lies here. If the games were £20 I would buy them but I’m not paying £45 a pop, I will just stick to my PC.

    • A brand new PC game will still set you back £30 most of the time though. Do you buy PC games or download them? Or do you just prefer PC gaming to console gaming anyway?

  • I think the arguements for modding for “backup purposes” are pretty weak. Yes DVD’s can be scratched, but they can also be cleaned now very cheaply at gamestation etc, and if you take care of your £40 purchase it shouldn’t get scratched in the first place. Let’s face it people Mod for cheap pirated games

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