Tuesday, October 16, 2007

We're illegal aliens on Xbox Live....but thank you, Microsoft, for letting us stay.

Here's a little story that I might have never posted before on the blog. Did you know that there was a time when Filipinos based in the Philippines that are playing on Xbox Live could have been locked out from using the service? It almost happened. At some point this year, around May, I think....I recall that MS wanted to implement a new dashboard update. This update, together with some other tweaks to the Xbox Live service, could determine the user's physical location when he logs in to Xbox Live.

Prior to this, some users noticed that there was downloadable content that they couldn't download because they were only available in some regions. For example, the Dead Rising demo can't be downloaded if your gamertag is registered with the location as 'Germany'. That's because of the laws and restrictions on video games that are being implemented in that country. Gamers found a workaround for this.....they created new gamertags with the registered country as something else other than where they were physically located. So, technically, a German gamer could create an Xbox Live account, register the account as located in the 'United States', and there you have it. So gamers who previously couldn't download content locked out of their regions could now download it.

Obviously, Microsoft got wind of this, and that's why they created that new dashboard update that I was talking about earlier. With the new update, they could know where you're physically located and implement regional restrictions on your system. When news came out about this, there was a lot of speculation that they were going to lock out accounts that were 'out-of-region'. For instance, for us Filipino gamers based in the Philippines, Microsoft being able to determine our IP location gave Microsoft the option to lock us out; after all, we aren't officially supported/the Xbox 360 isn't sold in the Philippines. At that time I remember a lot of people at Pinoyxbox (PXB) were really worried about several things:

-Could they still log in to Xbox Live?
-Could they still download/buy content?

To get Xbox Live Gold accounts many in PXB paid real money to get MS subscription cards or applied for subscriptions online on the marketplace....the threat of getting locked out was really worrisome at that time.

Eventually, Microsoft clarified that what they were locking out was really the Video marketplace area of Xbox Live. This is because the content that was there was under certain restrictions in being sold in other places outside the United States. In a nutshell, there's a lot of legalese which prevents Microsoft from simply allowing anyone around the world from downloading South Park. Read this blog post from aceybongos, it includes clarifications on the issue....in particular, read the comments section and watch how the out-of-regioners battled Microsoft in the hopes that their $50 investment in Xbox Live would not go to waste:

The community at Pinoyxbox breathed a sigh of relief, thankfully they could still log in to Xbox Live. Later on it was found out that some game-related downloads were affected by these restrictions (for example, since I'm in the Philippines I can't download the Bioshock demo). It seems what is restricted for download by out-of-region accounts are the more 'controversial' content. I guess this is to prevent the aforementioned German gamers from making US accounts and downloading overtly violent games or games with mature content....But for the most part, Xbox Live and the Xbox Live marketplace is still open to gamers everywhere around the world. Thank you, Microsoft, for the consideration. At least we can still play and download content online.

Overall, I recall this episode because it's one of those issues that is the reason why I rally for official support for the Xbox in the Philippines. We can't really do anything when the main Microsoft office in Redmond makes decisions about Xbox Live, and with this incident we barely dodged a bullet. Thankfully a lot of other out-of-region gamers made their voices heard (not just Filipinos....the Greeks, actually, were quite vocal to Microsoft in letting them know how disastrous it would be for them if they did get locked out of Xbox Live.).

Xbox Live is one of those incentives for Filipino gamers to support the Xbox 360 and buy original games and unmodified consoles. Without Xbox Live, you're missing out on the complete interactive experience that the Xbox 360 has to offer. For instance, with a game like Halo 3, once you've completed the single player mode, you might just as well put it on your shelf, and some gamers will probably never play the game again. But because of Xbox Live, the longevity of your games is increased, and it's easier to justify the P3,000.00 that Filipino gamers spend on each video game when you can play the same game for several months on end. Had Microsoft locked out Filipinos from Xbox Live, I think Xbox 360 piracy would have gained more popularity, because the incentive to support originals would be lost. Thankfully, that didn't happen. And this is why the Pinoyxbox community is continuing to see such an amazing rate of growth in the installed base for the Xbox 360 in the Philippines. Right now, the sales of the 360 locally isn't completely spectacular, perhaps....but in comparison to rival game consoles available in the local market, I think that the Xbox 360 reigns supreme when it comes to sales of original games and unmodified game consoles. If Microsoft ever does officially launch the Xbox 360 in the Philippines, a lot of gamers that are probably thinking about buying a 360 will likely jump in without a second thought. This is because some of their worries about the console's hardware and Xbox Live support would be put to rest.

I hope that Microsoft is looking into a more effective way of implementing the Xbox Live service in the future (maybe for their console after the Xbox 360?). They really have to consider that their console reaches places that they never anticipated, and it isn't good for their brand or their reputation if they just decline to give service to customers who enjoy their products. Microsoft should know that a better, more globally focused approach for the Xbox brand will benefit them in the long run, and eventually help them win against their rivals Sony and Nintendo.

Now, another issue related to the lack of official support is the Red Ring of Death. But that, my friends, is for another blog post...

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