As far as SPOnG is concerned, there are two types of hacking. A nice kind and a not so nice kind. Tinkering around with a console in order to sate your geek dreams is one thing. Getting a Commodore 64 emulator running on your Xbox and making the screen spool "I AM COOL" is a pursuit that, as long as you don't want a girlfriend, no one can really take exception to.
Though of course, there is bad hacking. Ripping games, dumping them on the Internet and rewiring hardware in order to make it play the illegally copied goods. There is something of a debate over piracy at the SPOnG office. It's wrong, illegal and you shouldn't do it. On this we are agreed. However, the claims that are made regarding the lost revenues due to copied games each year somewhat undermine this message. If Mr A has ten copied games, software publishers will have you believe that his second hand piracy has cost them ten full-price game sales. This is of course rubbish. It might have cost them one sale perhaps, working on the assumption that Mr A was paying four pounds per game, some people won't buy games if they can't get them cheaply or for free. Understand? That's why the second hand and trade in businesses are booming at the moment.
Anyway, politics aside for a moment, some less than pleasant news has been filtering through to us over the past few weeks, as various message boards claim to have ripped and dumped Xbox 360 game code directly from retail discs. One group – seemingly the driving force behind undoing Xbox 360 copy protection – know as Team PI Coder, has to date released almost the entire 360 catalog and made available an extractor tool with which other users are encouraged to do likewise.
Right now, the rips are useless. When mastered to a DVD-R, the Xbox finds them unreadable. For now. You see, at this very moment, while you are reading this news piece, workshops the length and breadth of China, and other places, are working tirelessly towards a single goal – and that goal is to release a mod-chip for Microsoft's machine that will force the console to accept ripped game software.
From what we have been able to gather, the first mod-chips for the 360 will be available within a month. Speaking to us under terms of anonymity, one source close to the research and development of some well known current-generation chips said, “We've been seeing partial success from some corners [in China] though nothing that could go on sale yet.” This paints a dark picture of the console industry and the aggressive blight it suffers. “Everyone is working on a full-functioning 'do everything' chip that will take apart the 360 and let users do what they will, though we expect a first-generation bypass device that will allow back-ups within weeks. The first on the market is likely to be complex and might not be particularly good, though that's just a stopgap before real chips become available.”
There is some hope for Microsoft however, “Everyone is finding it difficult [to make the chips work correctly] as Microsoft's security is the best we've seen to date for a disc-system. It it weren't for the fact that DVD is used, it's likely that further development wouldn't have been worth anyone's time.”
Reacting to the escalation of IP aggression against its machine, Microsoft released a statement over the weekend reading, “We have made improvements on both the hardware and software side to protect Xbox 360 against piracy and modding. With Xbox 360, we had the benefit of learning from our experiences on Xbox. This allowed us to identify points of weakness that were exploited by hackers in the first generation and to eliminate those vulnerabilities in Xbox 360.”
So will the Xbox 360 escape its pursuers? Right now, it seems unlikely, and as huge resources are poured into cracking the new box, it seems a matter of when rather than if. The 360 does have its online functionality to further protect the retail unit as was released and Microsoft representatives have stated to SPOnG on several occasions that it believes it can second guess the areas it might see targeted and is proactively preparing updates.
We'll keep you updated.