According to reports, Activision may have requested Microsoft to ban players with modded consoles

Yesterday, news broke that Microsoft had banned a massive amount of players from its Xbox Live service which is available on its popular Xbox 360 gaming console.  According to reports, the banned players had one thing in common -- they had modified their console's hardware or firmware to carry out unauthorized activity such as installation of an alternate OS, playing out of zone media, or running pirated software.

Initially, the estimates pegged the number of banned users at 600,000.  Now CNET is reporting that over 1 million players have been banned from the service.  That's a pretty incredible number as Xbox Live only has 20 million subscribers.  That means that approximately 1 in 20 players has been banned, or roughly 5 percent of the service's total population.

The ban coincided with the release of Activision's Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 on Tuesday, and many are speculating that the rampant piracy of the game before its release triggered Activision to demand action from Microsoft.  Pirated copies were widely floating around torrents sites over the weekend, and players with modified consoles may have taken it out for a spin ahead of release.

Xbox Live Director of Programming Larry Hryb, aka Major Nelson has stated, "Players who find their Gamertags banned from Xbox Live have wound up in that situation due to violations of the Xbox Live Terms of Use.  The Xbox Live team monitors players for not just cheating, but also for things like threats, racism, profanity, and just being an all around poor sport and ruining the game for others."

He continues, "When a Gamertag comes up as violating our policies for online behavior, the person who owns that Gamertag is punished by being banned from the service. Keep in mind, this isn't just a ban on a particular game. This is a ban on the Xbox Live service as a whole, so you won't be able to go online at all during your ban. Initially, you may be banned for a day, a week, or depending on severity, permanently! Kiss that $50 goodbye."

The ban revokes the consoles' crypto keys, making information saved by them unreadable on other Xboxes.  The ban also limits the console's functionality, via blocking HD installation and the use of a media extender.  For those banned, they do have the option of buying a new console, but that's a rather pricey option.  Users who do move to another Xbox should be able to get back on Xbox Live as Microsoft hasn't yet banned Gamertags -- just placed the ban on individual consoles.  When it gets down to it, it appears that as Major Nelson pointed out, over 1 million Xbox users are out a bit of money and enjoyment because Microsoft decided to crack down hard on console modding.

The crackdown is not without precedent.  Apple in 2007 bricked thousands of unlocked iPhones, which it claimed were illegally modified and violated its EULA.  Microsoft also reportedly will be banning third party storage in its latest update for the Xbox 360, forcing users to buys its more expensive memory sticks.

: Thur., November 12, 2009, 2:30 p.m.:

In recently released statements Microsoft says the ban is permanent and suggests owners of modded Xbox 360's buy a new console.  In a statement eerily similar to Apple's following the bricking of unlocked iPhones, a Microsoft spokesperson commented, "Users of banned Xbox consoles can recover their profile to another, unmodified Xbox 360 console to resume their Live service.  The banned console will be unable to connect to Xbox Live."

Reportedly, Microsoft discovered a way to detected modified DVD-drive firmware, leading to the bans.  Modifying the firmware allows users to run otherwise disallowed discs such as out-of-zone media, backup copies of DVDs or games, and even pirated games.

At press time hundreds of modified/banned consoles are reportedly flooding eBay and other online auction sites, as owners of the blocked consoles presumably try to dupe those who haven't heard the news into buying the damaged goods.

"What would I do? I'd shut it down and give the money back to the shareholders." -- Michael Dell, after being asked what to do with Apple Computer in 1997

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