Microsoft has banned owners of modified Xbox 360s from its online gaming service Live. The precise numbers haven’t been revealed but estimates put it between 600,000 and a million.
Microsoft hasn’t said how it has detected which machines have been modded but insists all affected users have breached terms and conditions. Anecdotal reports suggest it covers a wide variety of modification types, though some people with modded consoles claim to have evaded detection. The bannings do not affect a player’s ability to use the console offline, only to use the online services.
The situation is something of a moral minefield. It’s tough to complain in any manner about players with pirated games losing the ability to play online (though one British player is quoted as saying the punishment is “like telling someone their dog’s just died.”)
However, when it comes to modifications which merely improve the gaming experience rather than cheating firms of money, it’s a different matter. It certainly seems harsh to deprive somebody of a key feature of a console merely for adding their own hard drive. In such a situation Microsoft appears to be entirely justified in legal terms, but not so much in terms of fairness. As for players banned for modding their machines to allow them to cheat in online gaming, that’s either an outrage or a blessing depending on your perspective.
While much of the coverage is about the losses suffered by the players, it’s worth remembering that these actions will have a price for Microsoft itself. It’s not clear yet whether Gold subscribers to Xbox Live will get any form of refund after being booted off.
But even if the answer is no, Microsoft will wind up losing revenue in future years from Gold gamers who will no longer have any reason to subscribe. Leaked figures suggest 56% of Xbox Live users are on the paid option so if that proportion holds up among modded users, go by the 600,000 bans figure, and take an average annual fee of $49.99, the bannings would cost Microsoft more than $16 million a year.