Being a huge proponent of modifying the original Xbox, I’ve been following the news surrounding Xbox 360 modifications. This past week brought perhaps the biggest 360 news since the first hack; Microsoft began banning modified consoles on Xbox Live. Surprisingly, I completely support Microsoft on this initiative.
360 Mods Are Not Legal
In the past, modding an Xbox brought more legal functionality to the device. Modders could install Xbox Media Center, a program that supports nearly all media codecs. Modders could run a host of other applications such as Linux or MAME. Finally, modders could backup games to the hard drive, preventing wear and tear on discs and bringing speed benefits to games such as Morrowind.
Unlike the original Xbox, 360 mods have all evolved around piracy. Modders cannot run their own applications (yet) and can only play “backed up” games, but even the argument of game backups does not apply. Modders cannot just drop a game in their console and copy it to the hard drive. A legal backup involves taking a 360 DVD drive and connecting it to a computer. Then, running the disc through a number of applications before finally burning a copy. Anyone wanting to legally backup a copy would be nuts going through the process, resulting in the majority of people downloading pirated copies.
For the most part, banning 360 modders is only preventing piracy. Modders should not be upset since their activities are not legal in the first place. However, while I agree Microsoft has the right to protect their console, I can sympathize with modders on the recent 360 bannings.
The Modding Scene Has Changed
Unlike the original Xbox, 360 mods cannot be turned off easily. A modder cannot choose to play a pirated game offline and then play a legal game on Xbox Live; the modified DVD firmware is always running. Besides, all 360 games are Live aware, meaning simply earning an achievement requires a connection to Xbox Live.
Secondly, many of the predominate Xbox 1 modders are now working for Microsoft preventing 360 modifications. Potential homebrew hacks such as the hypervisor vulnerability have been closed before modders could even make an attempt at legal homebrew.
Finally, I lied. There are quite a few “alternative” hacking methods, such as replacing a broken DVD drive or quieting down the 360, all which require DVD drive modifications.
In short, I believe Microsoft has the right to block modified consoles from Xbox Live. They are trying to prevent another Halo 2 modding catastrophe, and I support them for it. Unfortunately, the banhammer means the few legitimate modifications are cut short, but it is a necessary evil in the fight against piracy.