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Recent 'Free Game' Soiree Results In Xbox Live and Console Bans

John Kidman

The month of September has been nothing short of interesting for Microsoft on several different levels, but those in charge of Xbox Live Enforcement have certainly been busy in the final days of this month. Xbox Live Enforcement are the digital detectives charged with keeping the virtual streets free from console or controller modifiers, foul-mouthed individuals and those bold enough to steal fellow Live members' accounts and information. This month's primary target? Marketplace Theft.


Xbox Live marketplace has had a long history of accidentally tagging content as free, particularly with respect to countries based outside of the United States. Desire a copy of Ghostbusters: Sanctum of Slime in 2011? GameFAQs users, along with members of half-a-dozen sites, took note that the Taiwan Marketplace had it listed as free for a few days. These mistakes have been going on for years, but in 2013 these errors began receiving more recognition as they allowed gamers to obtain the critically acclaimed Assassin's Creed III for free on the Chinese marketplace.


In September the 'free game' tags once again begin to pop up, except in this case users could create gamertags in enough countries to essentially fill most standard hard drive. Xbox Live users could create a Costa Rican account for a copy of Angry Birds and Injustice: Gods Among Us, or take a trip down to Bosnia for the recently released Rayman Legends. The treasure trove appeared to be in the country of Oman, where users could obtain a wealth of titles like Sonic Adventure, Capsized, Dark, ArcaniA and approximately a dozen other titles. It is safe to assume Xbox Live users could not pinpoint Oman on a map even if they were given the region [spoiler: it borders Saudi Arabia], but that does not stop anybody from creating an account for that particular region.


How did Xbox Live Users obtain these games for free? The Xbox Live Service does not exist in many territories, but the option to create live accounts for essentially every region still exists. Microsoft failed to place any sort of price tags on the games, leaving the games clearly priced as “FREE.” In order to access the games for download in those users simply utilized the built-in BING search bar located in the My Games on the Xbox 360. You may want to hold your horses before rushing over to those marketplaces trying to score some free games. Why? First, most of these holes have already been plugged. Second, the Live Enforcement Team appears to be systematically going through many accounts created or migrated to these regions and banning the accounts for Marketplace Theft. The Live Enforcement team notes that it is violating their Code of Conduct and are subject to permanent bans according to the Terms of Services.


The earliest debates occurred over at NeoGAF, but many simply speculated that these bans were in conjunction with various other infractions and the conversation essentially devolved into a discussion filled with false equivalence, absolute denial and enough smug to put San Francisco to shame. The majority of other websites curbed much of the discussion through moderation, but it is fairly safe to say that the permanent bans on Live users and the consoles housing these foreign accounts have become undeniable. The reluctance to step forward is understandable for many of the existing cases because the consoles and the foreign accounts are banned, but the owner's primary Gamertag appears to remain intact for the time being. The numbers are climbing with each passing day as more users on websites like CheapAssGamer, NeoGAF and foreign sites step forward to post their experiences and the visible increase in “marketplace theft” posts on the official Xbox console ban forums, Unfortunately, the amount of users who openly admitted to creating accounts for free games leads to a logical conclusion that the enforcement team will have plenty to occupy their time for the month of October as we near the release of the Xbox One.


The punishment levied is well within Microsoft's right under the Terms of Service agreement, a standard agreement which essentially gives them the right to any action they deem appropriate with no recourse for the customer. These types of agreements are a standard practice for any modern company, including Sony and Nintendo, especially in a land ruled by boiler plate language. That being said, Microsoft certainly has less draconian methods of handling clear issues at their disposal, especially when the 'questionable' actions stem from within the confines of Xbox Live Marketplace infrastructure. For example, when Microsoft released the Halo 4 map pack for free and simply anointed it as a 'promotion' or simply removed licenses for other mistakes. Some companies have even honored glitches in their system when their system allowed for it to occur and processed the titles as free.


In this particular instance a ban is certainly feasible as the users knowingly went in search for free games and essentially cost the company money by forcing them to go through and remove licenses or delete accounts. The bans may even be warranted, particularly for the extra-regional accounts, but permanence and annihilation of the console are two aspects which certainly should have been re-evaluated considering the proliferation of information via major gaming sites, deal sites and countless user forums compounded by such a significant delay in stopping the problem and that the consumer did not need to exceed the confines of the console infrastructure. All of this is not even considering the timeliness, which could not have occurred at a worse time, as Microsoft is entering the most hostile console retail environment since breaking into the market with the original Xbox console. One thing is certain: the adage that "if something seems too good to be true... it usually is" seems to definitely ring true in this situation.


Do you find the use of accounts in different regions to receive discounts, benefits or abusing promotions and glitches to be a particularly moral issue? Do you feel the punishments being dealt, permanent console bans, are both warranted and justified?

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