Xbox Live Arcade Got DRM All Wrong

gaming, xbox comments edit

I love the Xbox Live Arcade. Being able to get five-to-ten-dollar games that are fun to play is a great idea. I dig it, Jenn digs it, everyone has fun.

The way it works is you sign in to Xbox Live on your Xbox 360. Once you’ve done that, you can navigate over to the Xbox Live Arcade section and you can buy cheap, fun games using “Microsoft Credits.” The game downloads to your console, and you play. Simple enough. I buy games, Jenn buys games, we play, it’s great.

That’s the key, though - we both buy games, and we both play. There’s no point in me buying a copy of Frogger, storing it on our Xbox 360 hard drive, and her not being able to turn the thing on and play. When I buy the game, I’m buying it so we can play. And that’s how it works by default - if I buy the game, anyone who signs onto my system can play the full version of that game. Sweet.

My Xbox DVD drive stopped recognizing discs recently and I had to send it in. I got it back yesterday, and the first thing I did was pop in a disc to something, just to make sure it all worked. It did, and that was cool. Then I switched over to the Arcade. That’s when the problems started.

Somehow all the games I bought were no longer available for Jenn to play. All the games she bought were no longer available for me to play. I mean, they physically showed up in the menu, but they all appeared as “trial versions” even though we had paid for them.

After much screwing around, I figured out that if her profile was signed in at the same time I was trying to play using my profile, everything was unlocked; sign her back out and the games she bought instantly become trial versions for me again. That’s patently unacceptable - I can’t keep signing her on just so I can play. It’s not just inconvenient, it’s dumb.

I looked at the “Usage Restrictions” you see when you download any game from the Arcade. It kind of explains what I was seeing, but until you experience it, it doesn’t fully make sense.

I called Xbox Live support to find out what to do. After spending literally an hour on the phone (about 45 minutes of that on hold while they were sorting things out trying to figure out how to address the situation), it turns out that the DRM they use on Xbox Live Arcade is all sorts of messed up.

When you buy a game, it’s associated with your user profile. It also automatically authorizes the console you purchased the game from such that anyone who plays that game on that console is unrestricted. (Don’t buy games at your friend’s house and stick them on a memory card to bring home, you’ll get nailed by this.) If you transfer the game from one storage unit (the hard drive) to another (a memory card), the DRM is changed so only the person whose profile purchased the game is authorized to play - they need to be signed in to Xbox Live for the game to be unlocked.

I’m not sure if this happens if you do something like originally download the game to your Xbox hard drive, take the hard drive to your friend’s house, then bring it back home. Does it recognize that you removed the media? Do you lose the machine-wide authorization? I don’t know, but I’d be interested in finding out.

Anyway, what the Xbox repair people did is send me a new console, not just replace the broken DVD drive. So the console itself was “new” according to the DRM, so it was like I bought a game somewhere else and brought it home.

How is this getting resolved? You’re going to love this.

First, you have to create a new gamer profile and make it an Xbox Live “Silver” membership. It’s free to create that new profile since the “Silver” membership is free, but there is a heck of a lot of data entry for contact information, not to mention the fact you need to give it an email address and password so it can sign on - just like a real profile. The representatives on the phone will tell you it doesn’t matter what email address you give it, but from experience I know they send account notices and such to that email address, so it should probably be legitimate. Of course, that means if you don’t have your own domain and/or can’t figure out how to set up email address forwarding then you’ll need to create a new, dummy Hotmail account or something. Super convenient.

Once you have the dummy gamer profile set up, Microsoft will credit that account with enough credits to go in and re-purchase all of the games you previously had unlocked. Getting that credit to come through takes eight-to-ten business days.

I asked why you can’t just credit one of the existing gamer profiles so you can re-purchase without going through that hassle. Apparently there’s something in the system that knows if you’ve played the game or not before and the account you re-purchase the games through can’t have played the games you’re re-purchasing. I’m not sure if that’s a technical misunderstanding on the part of the technicians or if that’s actually a legitimate issue. Regardless, the dummy profile thing was the set of instructions given to me by more than one technician during the call, so that’s how it’s going.

I’m not a big fan of Apple’s iTunes DRM, but the notion of authorizing/de-authorizing a machine might have come in handy here. Like I said, I dig the Arcade, but now I’m reluctant to buy anything. What happens if I want to get a second Xbox 360 for a different room? I can’t take the game up there because it won’t be authorized. Even if I wanted to accept that as a limitation, Jenn couldn’t take the game to the other room because I’d need my profile signed in so she could play.

Argh! You’d think that not having to fuss with a game disc would be easier, not harder, but it’s exactly the opposite. I can take the game disc to my friend’s house without having to fight DRM. I can get a second console and play the game disc on either one without having to screw around signing in profiles or setting up dummy accounts.

The only exception I’ve found to this odd DRM rule is the Hexic HD game that comes standard on Xbox 360 hard drives. It was unlocked for both of us from the get-go, even after we hooked up the new console, so I’m guessing there’s just no DRM attached to it.

Come on, Microsoft, I thought you were smarter than this. We just want to play the games we bought. Let us play.

*UPDATE * (Minor clarification) - The Xbox that the repair facility sent me back was a different one than I sent in; they didn’t actually replace the drive in my broken Xbox, they just sent me a new/refurbished one. Had they sent me my original Xbox, I may not have run into these issues.