By Jared Newman | Thursday, May 14, 2009 at 2:45 pm
Imagine if Microsoft could order a Red Ring of Death on an Xbox 360 if the company didn’t approve of the user’s actions, such as piracy or cheating.
One former software and hardware tester said this is possible. Speaking to 8BitJoystick, this recently laid off employee said Microsoft can activate a trigger that tells the Xbox 360 to fry itself, though it likely hasn’t done so out of lab testing. Upon receiving a broken console for repair, Microsoft could reportedly recognize the problem and decline to honor the warranty.
The source revealed several other tidbits, such as the possible release of Metal Gear Solid 4 for the Xbox 360 and the opinion that testers are overworked and underpaid, but neither of those are as shocking as the story’s other major revelation.
A bit of qualification: I follow 8BitJoystick’s Jake Metcalf on Twitter and he seems like a responsible writer. More importantly, he has a track record of digging up credible inside sources. He famously broke the news that Halo developer Bungie was leaving Microsoft (it was actually amusing to see bigger outlets laugh at him, then eat their words), and has posted a couple other juicy reports as well.
So when Metcalf says the source was “well vetted,” I believe him, even if the source’s information leaves me skeptical simply because it’s so unbelievable.
If the report is accurate, the obvious question remains: Does Microsoft have the legal right to do this? Yes, Metcalf argues, because hacking an Xbox 360 is a violation of the console’s terms of service, as well as the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.
I was hesitant to agree at first, because Microsoft would then have to reserve the right, in its agreement with the user, to disable the console. However, the proof’s in the pudding. The pertinent section of Xbox Live’s terms says Microsoft may, among other things (emphasis mine ahead):
“(c) upgrade, modify, withdraw, suspend, or discontinue any functionality or feature of the Service, any game or other content available or accessible through the Service, or any hardware or software associated with the Service or with an original Xbox or Xbox 360 console, or personal computer, from time to time without notice, which may involve the automatic download of related software directly to your original Xbox, Xbox 360 console, or personal computer, including software that prevents you from accessing the Service, playing pirated games, or using unauthorized hardware peripheral devices.”
Presumably, such a software update could brick the console, and Microsoft could argue that doing so was necessary to prevent piracy. It boils down to the idea that when you’re playing on Microsoft’s console, you’re playing by Microsoft’s rules, and they reserve the right to handle the console any way they choose. Break the rules, and you’re on your own. That’s no rumor.