An open letter to Microsoft about the Xbox gaming console system

While my previous letter looks forward to the Xbox next, this one focuses squarely on how things work at Microsoft and how they view the current modding community. Itís a pretty good read so go for it. Iíll integrate any comments I receive (and like), and Iíll forward it off to M$ (if I can find a good e-mail address to send it to) if the votes and comments all think its good.

Dear Microsoft Xbox development team,

I would like to take a moment to introduce myself and ask you a few questions. My online handle is networkBoy and I am a hacker (for lack of a better term). I subscribe to the ethos that causing damage is a bad thing, that forcing entry into a system with the intent to cause harm is not an acceptable activity for a hacker. I believe that piracy is something that should be frowned upon by the on-line community. I also believe that the on-line community can police and moderate its self, when it wants to. My tastes run more to the hardware side of things anyway. I have been fiddling with electronics since I was three years old. That is when I disassembled my fathers HP calculator. That unit was the first electronic calculator in his office (slide rules were the norm) and was the second generation of reverse polish units produced by HP. It took him three months to repair the thing (along with a couple ducats worth of parts from HP). He still has that calculator and I will be framing it when I inherit it.

It is with this same mindset that I view the Xbox. It is a magnificent piece of work in producing a (reasonably) stable, legacy free, PC. My two favorite games are Halo and Mechassault. I play both regularly, and have bought multiple copies of each. Itís kind of funny that I have Halo on the hard drive of all my boxes, and havenít even opened one of the copies I bought, but this way when I have a Lan Party or some such I donít have to worry about the disks walking away (controllers and cables are another story though). I absolutely love the possibilities in the LPC interface and with the serial eeprom (more specifically the I2C bus). I can do almost anything with my box I want using only those two interfaces.

So if I may, I have a few questions for you that I would really appreciate answers to:

Q1: I think we agree that outright piracy is wrong. The rub is that to prevent piracy you also have to prevent the ability to make backup copies (a very legitimate process). Would Microsoft consider that in exchange for the inability to copy games for backups, users could send in their game disks (for any reason and without receipt) and a small payment (to cover actual media costs, shipping, and administration; say roughly $7.00), and receive within a reasonable time, a new copy of the game disk?

Q2: Would you agree that piracy and illegitimate ďbackupsĒ (those made from game rentals) should not be tolerated and should be perused as copyright infringing acts? (Or does the cost of enforcement outweigh the benefits? If so a campaign to get users to police themselves or each other ala code of honor may work quite nicely)

Q3: Realizing that this is partially addressed in Q1 above; Is it wrong to make a copy of a game disk I purchased and have maintained (and will maintain) possession of, and use the copy for my daily operations, while the original media is stored in a safe location (out of my kids reach for example)? (Iím looking for clarification on the concept of backups).

Q4: What is Microsoftís stance on homebrew games and applications (piracy enabling apps aside), for example Xbox Media Center (XBMC), homebrew games, Linux, etc.?

Q5: Would Microsoft ever consider embracing the rather vibrant modding community rather than fighting against it? (realizing that the warranty is void, but not pursuing those who distribute homebrew apps and games.)

Q6: Do you agree with the following key points? Any comments?

Key points:

  • Piracy is very bad
  • Homebrew is very good
  • The gray area is homebrew that enables piracy
  • Backing up a game legitimately owned is not piracy
  • Backing up a game and giving away the backup in any form is piracy
  • Backing up a game and giving away the original is piracy
  • Backing up a rental game and playing it while not in possession of the original is piracy
  • Eliminating the ability to pirate games also eliminates the ability to backup games.
    • An exchange program for damaged media would be nice.
  • Requiring unmoded box (hence original media) on Xbox Live is acceptable
  • Requiring unmoded box (hence no cheating) on Xbox Live is good
  • Banning people rather than a simple kick-boot with a message why is not too cool, however.