Gamers by the millions turned out this week to trade their shiny gold rocks for Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 in what The Associated Press is calling the biggest-selling launch in the history of entertainment. Activision stock rose Thursday morning on this enthusiasm. And a reported million or so gamers remain banned from Microsoft’s Xbox LIVE service for modifying their hardware to play illegally copied software.
Microsoft told BBC News today that the banning is permanent, and that affected users will have to buy a new Xbox 360 console to recover their profiles and resume Xbox LIVE membership.
It’s no coincidence that Microsoft wielded its ban hammer on the eve of the launch. InformationWeek, which broke the story, goes so far as to say MW2 publisher Infinity Ward may have been involved in — or even behind — the dramatic move. (Pirated copies of the game showed up online before its release.)
But need they even have bothered? Or was this a way to maximize returns on their publicity machine?
Piracy is inexcusable. It is theft. It’s also everywhere. And to keep your intellectual property rights these days, generally you have to be seen to defend them.
But many players “mod” their consoles not to play stolen games, but to play backup copies of the fragile game discs they paid a lot of money for. Such backups are generally not permitted, however. Microsoft doesn’t make any distinction between this practice and piracy, and told the BBC: “We believe that even one modified console on the system is one too many.”
Microsoft isn’t saying how it detected the violations, and we’ll never know how many of the reported 1 million banned gamers bought or were going to buy Modern Warfare 2 legally. But we do know the company doesn’t seem to be hurting much today — just celebrating, and preaching. If they really want to say “game over” to piracy, a strategy that would win the trust of their consumer base would be to keep bringing prices down while finding a way to keep digital rights management from punishing those who just want a spare copy of their favorite game.