Thursday, November 17, 2005

Xbox Live Marketplace: Your E-mail

Thoughtful e-mail from you guys, as always, and I wanted to share some excerpts. Thanks for taking the time to improve the quality of the discussion.

First, several people e-mailed and made the point that some people will use the Xbox 360 without an Internet connection, hence requiring people to unlock core levels in a game by going online isn't feasible. Understood. I don't have a breakdown of the expected ratio, but there will still be a significant number of people in this generation not hooking the console to the Internet. The example of unlocking core levels was meant as a hypothetical extreme in terms of leveraging the anti-piracy technology. However, and this is again an example of Microsoft focusing on the carrot instead of the stick, they are making Marketplace so robust and attractive that it will make people want to use it.

Second, an anonymous Microsoft employee let me know that right now there is no cross-pollenation between games and Microsoft Points. Points are strictly purchased with real money and cannot be earned via games. I could see something besides Microsoft Points being used, but it's still an important clarification and thanks for the information.

Which brings up a question: why the hell aren't they? Creating the possibility of earning even small numbers of Microsoft Points via gameplay would create the most gigantic marketing frenzy ever. As part of a game's marketing budget, there would be a Microsoft points budget. All points that gamers earned playing a game would be translated into real currency and billed back to the publisher.

Think about it. A game comes out and it gets terrible reviews. A publisher might give it some juice by increasing the Microsoft Points award for reaching certain milestones. It would just be a marketing expense. People go wild over incentives that are tied to real money, no matter how tenuous or unrewarding that connection might actually be.

Here's just one (admittedly extreme) example: Microsoft works a deal with or some other vendor to have a catalog of products available for puchase via Microsoft Points. It's the twenty-first century equivalent of green stamps. The notion of people being able to play games to actually buy real merchandise would make people go insane with glee. All the merchandise would be overpriced, obsolete crap, but it wouldn't matter.

Don't stop there, though. Want a pizza delivered to your house while you're playing a game? Pause your game, check into Xbox Live, and order it online. No need to stop playing.

Of course, people could also buy all kinds of Xbox Live gear with the Microsoft Points they earned through playing games, which they'll wear, which becomes instant advertising.

Unlimited possibilities.

That then digresses into the problem of making sure people don't hack the system, which segues into an additional discussion about modchips. DQ reader Matthew Van Sickler sent me a series of excellent e-mails, and they started off with him mentioning that not all modders are pirates. Absolutely true, and I was looking at modchips from Microsoft's view of playing unauthorized game copies than in the larger world where people just like to do funky things with their consoles. So while I believe it's true that you must have a modded Xbox to play pirated discs, it is not necessarily true that all consoles are modded for that purpose.

He also talks about how the current generation mod chips function:
I think you're missing something in your analysis. Current XBox modchips have stealth features that either automatically turn themselves off when the LAN port is connected, or allow the user to manually turn them off before connecting. There are plenty of modded XBoxes playing on Live every day - the modchip is just turned off for that session.

I don't see any reason that 360 modchips won't have the same features.

He's right. First generation Xbox modchips don't have that feature, but succeeding generations do. My question back to him was whether a modchip could theoretically be detected even if it was turned off.
Even if they were simply going to detect voltage across a pin header, modchip makers would just make an external power switch for the modchip. I don't know how you could detect something that basically wasn't there anymore without power. Whatever MS can think up, some brainiac(s) with too much time on their hands will find a way to defeat it.

So there's an open question for you guys: under what circumstances can a modchip be detected, and is there a way to absolutely make detection impossible?

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