Daily Reaction: Why Microsoft Has the Right to Brick Consoles

Update: Apparently Microsoft sent a message to Kotaku claiming that the leakers’ full consoles were not actually bricked as the original VMC letter implies. One portion of this message says “Suspensions for both consoles and accounts are determined by looking at a number of factors” which leads us to believe that console suspensions can occur (in addition to verbiage found in the EULA backing this claim). Our viewpoints on the situation still stand, though it does not appear that punishments were as severe as initially implied by the statement “Microsoft also permanently disabled their Xbox LIVE accounts (as well as other suspected accounts present on their Xbox One kits) and temporarily blocked all of their Xbox One privileges – meaning that for a period of time which Microsoft decides on depending on the severity of the offense, their Xbox One is entirely unusable.”

Original: Not too long ago, Daily Reaction covered information leaks and how they hurt the industry. We also talked about DRM and the always online compromise we must make for a digital future. Both of these subjects have been brought to light in recent events regarding the leak of an upcoming Xbox One title, and Daily Reaction is looking at this event and how it could shape the future.

Chandler: There’s a Gears of War remaster coming to Xbox One. We know this because the information leaked from someone that was given a strict NDA, or non-disclosure agreement, when provided with this privileged information. In fact, these beta testers were allowed to use their own home consoles for the purpose of testing this unannounced title. Now I don’t have a copy of the NDAs that they signed, but having agreed to a number of them myself as a games journalist, I’ll say that they were likely very thorough, covering all the bases for the people that worked for this beta testing company.

In a letter obtained by Kotaku from the contracting company called VMC Games, it was discovered that the perpetrators who allowed the leak to occur, both passively and maliciously, had their Xbox Live accounts suspended and their Xbox Ones rendered completely unusable for an undetermined amount of time. That’s right. Microsoft flipped a killswitch on their consoles, and they were completely in the right to do so.

Let’s think about a couple of things. First of all, you are being provided with extremely privileged information and agreeing to certain terms to be allowed this knowledge. If you read our Daily Reaction on info leaks, then you know that this kind of thing being leaked out to the public can cause all sorts of misinformation and assumptions to be perpetrated about a game that is nowhere near complete, as well as causing headaches for the marketing and PR teams that now have to pick up the mess and rework their strategies. In short, we’re talking about a lot of lost money for things not going according to plan.

“But Chandler! They paid money for those consoles! Microsoft has no right!” Yup, actually they do. The most obvious thing should be the NDA, which likely had verbiage that puts their personal consoles in jeopardy if used to execute the leak. But besides the NDA, there’s another precedent in place. If your personal property is used in a crime, it can be confiscated and impounded. Your vehicle? Sure, you may own it, but it can be taken from you or rendered unusable if you use it to break the law. The same goes for something on which you have an account or contract. Did you read that giant document of terms and conditions before signing up for the PSN or Xbox Live? What about the updated versions they periodically notify you about?

The fact is that the Xbox Ones made unusable by Microsoft were used to carry out a breach of contract — a legally binding contract that has now cost these guys their jobs and their gaming hobby, not to mention anything else they used their Xbox Ones for. Is it a bit scary, knowing the Microsoft has the power to simply render your console unusable? Sure, and let’s be honest, Sony probably has a similar killswitch for the PS4. It’s the sacrifice that we have to make for the advancement of technology and living in the digital age. Am I worried about it? Not in the least. I follow the rules. I don’t breach contracts. And if I did use my PS4 to breach an NDA, then I’d expect to get what’s coming to me.

Xbox One Banned

Dan: Precisely, I know that to many people the understanding of rights of ownership is a difficult one, especially in the digital age, but this is a prime example of what can happen. Much like everyone else, I don’t read every End User Legal Agreement, or EULA that normally comes with every device I purchase, as I’d still probably be reading the one from my first iPhone if I did. But, things like this are covered, and we do need to be aware that companies are well within their right to do things like this if we breach a contract. As you can see quoted here:

Sony Computer Entertainment’s PS4 EULA:

If SCE determines that you have violated this Agreement’s terms, SCE may itself or may procure the taking of any action to protect its interests such as disabling access to or use of some or all System Software, disabling use of this PS4 system online or offline, termination of your access to PlayStation™Network, denial of any warranty, repair or other services provided for your PS4 system, implementation of automatic or mandatory updates or devices intended to discontinue unauthorized use, or reliance on any other remedial efforts as reasonably necessary to prevent the use of modified or unpermitted use of System Software.

Mostly I imagine that these types of actions are normally used against users who try to mod a console to allow pirated and/or homebrew games to be used on them, but it does also cover situations like these. In general I doubt that many of us will really have to worry about getting our consoles bricked, but we should know that there are real world repercussions for our actions. Not only does Sony reserve the right to disable your hardware, but they also have the capability for themselves, their affiliates and licensors to seek legal action, which can result in a lawsuit or even jail time, depending on the infraction.

With the Gears of War leak, it is interesting to see such a response by Microsoft, but I for one am glad to see it. With many users on the internet sitting behind the veil anonymity, the ideology that we are not responsible for ourselves becomes a bit too common. For Microsoft to move into E3 with one of their major titles already being in the public space, they are going to have a more difficult time garnering attention during the biggest event of the year. With them being already behind in the console race, the ramifications for something like this can have an almost immeasurable effect, even though many people just see it as another leak.

As many gamers keep complaining about titles releasing without proper testing, this is just another example of the real problems developers face with having to get a product ready for launch. If we truly want our games to not be patched and repatched post-launch, then we cannot as a community accept this type of behavior, for it does nothing but limit a developer’s ability to properly handle a product before it reaches the market. So, as I have said before, leaks do matter, even if you don’t see why.

How do you feel about Microsoft’s punishment for the Gears of War leak? What do you think of the sacrifices for an increasingly digital future? Let us know in the comments below, brick our Twitter accounts @Foolsjoker and @Finchstrife, and get your NDA for the information contained here at [email protected]

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