Not the Pinnacle of My ExistenceComplications Ensue
Complications Ensue:
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Saturday, October 30, 2010

If I may grouch a bit about doubleplusungood programming in games ... MASS EFFECT was telling me that my Pinnacle Station downloadable content is corrupt and has to be deleted. Then when it's deleted, it tells me I can't play my game without it. I need to download it again. Then when I download it again, it only works when I'm signed into Xbox LIVe.

My Xbox LIVE connection is flakey. Unclear why. I thought it was an ethernet jack problem. (Q. How many programmers does it take to screw in a lightbulb? A. That's a hardware problem.) But it wasn't, because if I use a workaround to connect my Xbox to Xbox LIVE through my computer via Ethernet cable, rather than directly to the router, it works fine, if slowly.

Point being, I can't play my game.

Here's why this is stupid: at no point has my character gone to Pinnacle Station. Pinnacle Station is utterly irrelevant to the game. If the game were cleverly programmed to take into account the possibility of corrupt content and flakey Xbox LIVE connections, it would simply wait to see if you tried to fly to Pinnacle Station, and then tell you to sod off. Instead of invalidating my ten hours of gameplay, which I can't access now.

But ultimately, I find out what I suspected all along: this is some idiotic evil Microsoft problem.

You see, this is not my original Xbox. It's a refurbished Xbox after the first one died under warranty.

It turns out that you can't use your downloadable content from your original Xbox. Not unless you manually transfer the DLC licenses.

WTF? The content is all on your hard drive, not the Xbox. Why should it matter what Xbox your content is on? It should only matter what hard drive it's on. I suppose this is some arcane way of making sure you can't pirate free DLC.

Why would you do that? Why do I feel like an abused wife every time I use a Microsoft product?

UPDATE: Good technical point, Greylocks. But then why doesn't MS transfer the DLC licenses automatically when they swap the consoles? Rather than requiring the owner to figure out what has gone wrong with his DLC when his game doesn't work? If I migrate from one Mac to another, iTunes simply says, "Hey, this is a new Mac, do you want me to transfer your iTunes account?"

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There's a fairly lengthy list of technical and economic reasons why tying licenses to hard drives won't work. I shan't go into all of them here.

The big one, however, is that even if one were to build an HD that had the smarts to know that the stuff stored on it is not licensed to be on that drive, hacking around the DRM wouldn't take much more than replacing the HD's onboard microprocessor with one that simply doesn't check the validity of the installed copy before loading it into the main box. So you'd still have to have some kind of hacker-resistant DRM in the main processor anyway.

Also, building those kinds of smarts in the HDs would significantly increase the cost of the final product. The XBox, like everything else these days, uses commodity hard-drives. It doesn't make economic sense to do otherwise.

Finally, hard drives have a much lower Mean Time Between Failure than components like CPUs that don't have moving parts. (At least, that should be the case in well-designed systems.)

I'm not defending MS here, just trying to explain why tying licenses to HDs isn't practical.

By Blogger Greylocks, at 1:11 AM  

Fair enough. How about then automatically transferring the licenses when Microsoft ships me the new console? Since, obviously, I no longer have the old one?

By Blogger Alex Epstein, at 7:17 AM  

That page you linked says the following:

"Note that if you received your new Xbox 360 as the result of a refurbishment or repair, the licenses have already been transferred as part of the repair process. You probably do not need to use the license transfer tool, but you will need to download the content (such as Xbox LIVE Arcade Games, game add ons, etc.) again. Check the repair and refurbishment instructions page for more information."

So I'm guessing the refurbishment guys messed up the transfer?

By Blogger deanareeno, at 8:01 AM  

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