I’m not usually one to comment on rumours since most of the time they get us no where and have great potential to disappoint, something I like to avoid. Still if there’s a plausible root to a rumour that warrants investigation I’m more than happy to have a go at it since the sceptic in me loves debunking stuff and the geek revels in future possibilities that have their base in reality. Today such a rumour fell right into my lap with the usual lack of any official confirmation (or denial) and just a few tenuous clues as to how this reality could come to be.
That rumour was that Microsoft’s next iteration of Windows would be able to play Xbox games.
Of course the first part of any rumour is to try and track down the original sources to see if there’s any more information you can glean from them. After starting at Destructoid and working my way down the rabbit hole of back links I eventually came to these two sites who don’t even classify this idea as a rumour but give little else on the details. It’s long been known that Xbox Live would be coming to Windows 8 (much like it has come to the Windows Phone 7 platform) but the idea that you’d be able to load up your Xbox games on your PC or tablet device was a new and novel idea that no one had really considered before. Since this information is coming to us via reports of finding Xbox360 code references in the leaked Windows 8 builds it would be easy to write it off as pure rumour milling, but I think there’s a bit more to it than that.
I’ve long talked about Microsoft’s Three Screens vision for the future world of computing, an idea where no matter what your viewing device (being either that of your PC, portable device or TV) the experience remains the same. Windows 8 was the first step towards this with the Metro inspired UI that will be available across both PC and tablet devices alike. One piece of the puzzle was missing however, the TV, and if I’m honest I wasn’t sure what strategy Microsoft was going to go for in order to bridge the gap. The answer, I believe, lies within Xbox Live as with its debut on the PC it will become the very first Three Screens enabled application, being available on all of them with a comparable experience on each. Once the path is paved by Xbox live it should be a lot easier to bring further applications into the Three Screens world, especially if they’re able to bring the .NET platform to those same platforms.
One of the big questions that looms over this rumour is how a PC will be capable of playing Xbox games, especially some of the more recent titles. Many of the games on the Xbox and Xbox360 make heavy use of the specific architecture of the platform in order to gain significant performance benefits. Whilst you could emulate the entire system in software it’s more than likely that any recent title would run quite poorly, to the point of not being playable. Taking this into consideration I believe it’s more likely then that, at least initially, the only games that will be available will be those developed on Microsoft’s XNA framework. It can be argued that most of the games built on this framework are more than likely already available on the PC (indeed this is the main reason many choose XNA in the first place) but since there’s no market currently the visibility of such games is a lot lower than it could be. Thus the introduction of Xbox Live (along with its Arcade section) coupled with the availability of XNA titles is a very real possibility for Windows 8, but how Microsoft will go about this remains to be seen.
It will be interesting to see how Microsoft reacts to this rumour as whilst they’re not usually into playing the rumour game they’re definitely more loose lipped than say, their Cupertino counterparts. Personally I’m more excited about the possibility that Microsoft is pursuing their Three Screens vision with the beach front into this world being one of my passions. Whether this rumour has any shred of truth to it though remains to be seen and we could be waiting up until the betas before we know any more about it. Still with the amount of interest this has generated in such a short time it would be interesting if Microsoft didn’t pursue this at least in some fashion since it would be a massive step towards their platform unification strategy.
I readily admit that I’m a bit of a tinkerer. There’s something really enjoyable about taking something you bought and squeezing extra functionality out of it, especially if it unlocks something that no product currently fits. I remember after having my PlayStation Portable for a while that I heard of the many great things that could be done with it, so I set out to mod it. A couple days later I had it streaming live video from my PC over our wireless network which was quite an impressive feat back in those days. Today the device hacker scene is alive and well on almost any platform that can be exploited leading to a game of cat and mouse between the creators of said devices and those who would seek to exploit them.
Now I’m not going to be naive and pretend like there aren’t nefarious motives behind parts of the hacking scene. Indeed the main motivator for quite a lot of hacks that enable people to unlock certain bits of functionality is usually done in aid of pirating legitimate software. In fact for the Xbox 360 the only hack available is arguably only for pirating software, as Microsoft’s hard line on banning users who do it shows. Still the never ending game of cat and mouse that companies play with the recreational hacking crowd doesn’t appear to make much fiscal sense on the surface as the man hours required to try and protect such systems always appear to fail with little more than a couple weeks from a few skilled individuals.
Probably one of the platforms where this kind of behaviour is almost encouraged would be Android. For starters the entire system is open source so if you were so inclined you could write custom packages for it to unlock almost any functionality you wanted. It also seems that the vast majority of Android handset manufacturers only put mild roadblocks in the way of those seeking to gain root level privileges on the devices, akin to the CD in the drive checks of games of yesteryear. Still it seems that the trend may be shifting somewhat with the recent Droid X, touted as the best Android phone to date, employing some rather drastic moves to prevent end users from tampering with it:
Motorola has apparently locked down the phone to the point where any modification attempts — including “rooting” the phone to install unauthorized apps, or changing its firmware — could render it completely inoperable (or “bricked”). The only way to fix it is to return the phone to Motorola, reports the Android fansite MyDroidWorld.
The company is using a technology called eFuseto secure the device. It runs when the phone boots up, and it checks to make sure that the phone’s firmware, kernel information, and bootloader are legit before it actually lets you use the device. Here’s MyDroidWorld’s explanation:
If the eFuse failes to verify this information then the eFuse receives a command to “blow the fuse” or “trip the fuse”. This results in the booting process becoming corrupted and resulting in a permanent bricking of the Phone. This FailSafe is activated anytime the bootloader is tampered with or any of the above three parts of the phone has been tampered with.
Us device hackers know the risks when we go into them, it’s part of the fun! I remember when I was hacking my PSP for the first time I had to find files from a not-so-trustworthy source, a random I met on an IRC channel. Knowing fully well I could end up with a $400 paperweight I went ahead anyway and, luckily enough for me, it worked. However the trend towards vendors actively seeking to brick the phones should the user try to tamper with them feels like a kick in the teeth to me. Realistically it’s my hardware and what I do with it is my business and putting barriers in place just seems like a waste of both our time.
The argument can be made that they don’t want the average user attempting to do these kinds of things with their devices. There’s some logic to that as stopping the casual hacking crowd means that a good majority of the other nefarious activities will be thwarted as well. Additionally in this day and age the originators of the hack usually make it exceptionally easy to use like the Twilight Hackfor the Nintendo Wii which merely requires loading a save game, something everyone is capable of. Still most users are bright enough to know that what they’re doing is akin to taking a chainsaw to their device, something which the manufacturer will likely not appreciate nor cover under warranty.
Coming back to the piracy issue I still feel that this comes down to the perceived¹ value that customers are placing in the products being offered. The customers who are pirating your product aren’t the kind who are just going to up and pay for it if they can’t get it for free. Really you should be looking back on yourself to see why they’re pirating it as if it’s wildly successful with the pirates but not with legit customers it’s quite possible your product is priced too high or the channels you’re offering it through are too restrictive. I’ve been researching these markets for months now and it seems no matter how hard you try to ensure no one pirates your product you only end up hurting your paying customers, driving even more of them to those dastardly corners of the Internet where they pilfer your product for free.
In my mind there’s no question that the steps taken to thwart these would be hackers is not worth the time that’s put into them. For a platform like Android I actually believe these kinds of people actually help a great deal with the whole ecosystem of the platform, ensuring that power users get what they want whilst everyday users get dedicated experts to call upon at no cost to the original company. Who knows maybe I’ll change my tune when I start trying to extract money from the markets based on these platforms but if I do feel free to point at this post and lambast me for being an idiot, as I’ll be far too detached from reality at that point 😉
¹I have a habit of re-reading my old posts when I link to them and just noticed that I praised Ubisoft for taking the right direction when trying to combat pirates. After their last DRM farce I can’t really support them anymore, but the ideas in that post remain solid (I.E. increasing value with things that can’t be pirated).