Xbox 360 Owners Say They Were Banned For Downloading Free Games

Xbox 360 Owners Say They Were Banned For Downloading Free Games

So, for a while now, and very much on the down-low, some Xbox 360 owners have been downloading free games, taking advantage of a loophole in Microsoft's Xbox Live marketplace. I hope they enjoyed it, because a bunch of them are now saying they've had their consoles banned for their troubles.

Here's the situation: for around five years now, select games have been appearing as free downloads in obscure markets like Oman and Bosnia. Savvy users in places like the USA were able to create fake accounts and download those games without paying a cent.

Having got away with this for years, in the last week users have been reporting that Microsoft has finally dropped the hammer on those found to be taking advantage, issuing Xbox Live bans on the consoles (note: just the console, not the account) responsible.

While refusing to address this situation in particular, a Microsoft spokesperson did issue Kotaku with the following statement when asked for confirmation on the bans:

Microsoft's commitment to combat piracy and support safer and more secure gameplay for the more than 48 million Xbox Live members remains a top priority. We can confirm that attempting to exploit Xbox Live for financial gain — for instance, intentionally using false or deceptive information to create an account for the sole purpose of accessing content you would otherwise have to pay for — is fraudulent activity and a violation of the Xbox Live Terms of Use. However, we do not comment publicly on individual cases.

Sucks for those affected, but hey, they did sign a Terms of Service agreement to join Xbox Live, and they were engaged in "using false or deceptive information to create an account for the sole purpose of accessing content you would otherwise have to pay for", so...such is life.

Urgent Announcement for ANYONE who used alternate region accounts! [Xbox 360 Achievements]

Xbox Banning Discussion [CAG]


    This is BS! Xbox LIVE users have been doing it for YEARS. I have multiple Xbox LIVE profiles which can access marketplaces in the UK, Japan, China, Canada and the US of A. My oldest account (minus my original AU profile) which I have been using to find and download free content (gamerpics, themes) is more than 4 years old. Second to that would be my CA account which is almost 3 years old.

    Now, why have they never done anything about the free gamerpic and theme downloaders? Because that's nothing to them, that's why. It never bothered them that people were acquiring a few freebies here and there. But when $20+ dollar games were being downloaded for free, then they decide to take a stand.

    I have purchased many games with my US account when that particular game wasn't available in Australia (delayed, banned, poor excuse etc.) and I know thousands of others who have done this. No bans there.

    By their logic, the 40c gamerpic I stole 4 years ago is on-par with the $20 Xbox LIVE Arcade title I bought and downloaded a few months ago because it wasn't available in my region at that time.

    I understand the users broke the ToS by creating the accounts, but is it really piracy when it's given away for free?

      if you look at it from a geoblocking point of view, then yes it really is piracy. You'd really need to get a look at the bigger picture of how things are structured in the xbox live world to have any idea though. I'm not professing to have any knowledge of their inner workings, but I imagine it's like we in aus got fable 3 for free if you're a gold subscriber, but in another country, they might get a different game. There'd be other financial factors involved too. If they give away one game to everybody, then they're never gonna make any more money off that game, cos everyone will just have it already. If they only give it to one region, then they can still make money from the other regions, possibly more than before as all the new players from the region that got it free will start talking about it, and bringing it in to the spotlight etc.
      So yeah, if you make a fake account in a different region to get a free game, you are (although not as directly,) stealing from them and more importantly, the developers. Wont somebody please think of the developers!?!!? ;)

        In the age of digital downloads, geoblocking based on anything other than compliance with local legislation is unjustifiable.

          I'm not saying I'm a supporter of geoblocking. Especially things like youtube and amazon and others when you want to purchase something, but I was merely pointing out that when giving away free stuff, it makes sense from a business perspective.

          Last edited 01/10/13 9:03 pm

        Agree with welbot. Hypothetically, if there are 10 different games available in 10 different regions, you're supposed to get one of them, not 10.

        Meanwhile, the headline and cover pic are pretty clickbaitey IMO. They were banned much more so for exploiting loopholes, not for 'downloading free games'. And why is halo in the pic, and not a console or a gamer? Clickbait.

      Insofar as 'piracy' in this case is actually 'copyright infringement' under the law, then yes, breaking the terms of service leads to piracy in this case, whether it's given away for free or not. The reason is because Microsoft has the right to dictate the conditions by which it grants users the right to access the game. If the conditions aren't met, or were only met deceptively, then the right is revoked and any access to the game is copyright infringement.

    god that's tight! imagine if sony did this to every one of the ps+ users who downloaded the games that were offered free in different regions but were made available to all for a very short amount of time free.. happens often btw. i for one would be peeved!

    ToS these days are BS. There should be a law that they need to be within a certain length.

    This kind of behaviour could be perfectly acceptable on different services and the owners would probably just issue tighter restrictions on those sorts of loopholes instead of handing out bans. You expect me to read twenty pages of gibberish just to rule out doing that sort of thing? Not saying that it's not a shady thing to do, but it's not really hurting anyone, and going by that logic people could get banned without having any knowledge that it could happen.

      Also when does it become bait and switch? There are so many updates to the TOS and if I choose to not accept the latest I am prevented form using the system the way I had agreed to previously.

        Even without updates is it really reasonable to wait until you get home and start using the product to say 'you can only use it if you're willing to let us go through every last file on your computer'? Shouldn't that be written on the box or explained when you're exchanging money for the item? As it stands I'm not coming to an agreement with Microsoft I'm simply being told.

      If you're setting up fake Bosnian Xbox Live accounts for the express purpose of downloading a game that is only free on the condition that you're in that region, I'd say it's very unlikely you don't know what you're doing. It's essentially fraud.

        If you're setting up fake US Netflix accounts for the express purpose of watching a movie that is only available on the condition that you're in that region, I'd say it's very unlikely you don't know what you're doing. It's essentially fraud.

          Isn't it legal to do that in Australia? Any measure to circumvent geoblocking is fine in Australia as far as I know. I know it was recommending to the government but not whether it was followed up on.

            As far as I know, T&C are treated as a contract. As long as the conditions aren't themselves unlawful in Australia, violating them is a breach, and the relevant breach clause in the contract would apply. Companies are free to dictate the terms under which they'll sell you their product, and they're free to refuse service based on your country of origin if that's what they want to do.

            Choice's page on geoblocking is quite unusual. They recommend it and say it's a legally grey area, but they acknowledge that the company is free to shut down your account, including losing credits and access, as they see fit if they find out. The reason they recommend it seems to be because they don't believe the law should apply to this situation, which is frankly a pretty irresponsible position to take from a position of trust.

      ToS these days are BS. There should be a law that they need to be within a certain length.

      I don't think it's unreasonable that they should be required to provide a third party professional with the appropriate legal background to go over a ToS agreement longer than three pages and broad stroke it/answer any questions you may have, at their expense of course. It's not very practical but neither is a 25 page agreement that you're pretty much forced to sign even if you don't agree to those terms.

      That said these people were clearly gaming the system. It'd be one thing if they were getting banned for doing this to get reduced prices from a different region or early access to content, but they'd have to be pretty thick to think Microsoft would be ok with them just faking their location to get free games.
      It's like taking the entire tray of free samples because there was no '*limit one per customer' sign and then getting huffy at security for kicking you out. Take two or three and you're pushing your luck, but common sense says not to take them all.

        I don't necessarily disagree with the punishment - I disagree with the principle.

        It'd be one thing if they were getting banned for doing this to get reduced prices from a different region or early access to content

        Under the ToS, these and what the banned members were doing are indistinguishable, they're both for "financial gain" according to MS. This is what I have a problem with.

        And if MS are so petty about a few free games (if they're free, surely they can't be big moneymakers anyway - I'd love to know what these titles were), then why are they giving them away for free at all? In any part of the world?

    To do it now, after 8 years? That's the issue. Give people warnings or cancel the OS accounts they used. Don't ban the machines because you want them to buy new ones... (Ok that's very aluminium hat) but it's still suspect., I don't think you are far from the truth. New console next month, turn existing consoles in to bricks but leave gamer tags intact. I mean who will go buy another 360 with the Xbone just around the corner? And if the gamer tag was banned, who would bother upgrading if they couldn't transfer their hard earned account to the new system?
      Using the ToS as a weapon and forced marketing an evil way it's kinda brilliant

        I can see where you're coming from, but the XBOX One is an uphill battle already. Do they really want to alienate fairly core XBOX users right when they're deciding which console to buy? If they were putting that much thought into it they'd almost certainly reach the conclusion that it was at best a pointless exercise and at worst damaging to the XBOX One launch.

        I'd say the reason they're doing it now after eight years is that they've been overhauling the account tracking systems. Remember, the XBOX One was going to have this family plan stuff which requires accounts to be linked in new ways. As much as people seem to have convinced themselves it was going to be a golden age for digital downloads where one purchase gets you ten keys, Microsoft were definitely going to at least set up the protocols to allow them to be super super super strict about account linking (even if they weren't going to use them to that extreme).
        They've still got their eyes on becoming the iTunes of gaming, so it stands to reason that they're still working on tracking users as precisely as possible.

    Funny how many have obtained these games for free via glitches many times before and it's odd how Microsoft has started to ban people now, not 5 or so years ago when these glitches started to pop up.

      Just in time for them to upgrade to the Xbone. How considerate of them!

    I think people fail to realise that some product are priced cheaper or more expensive depending on the market they are sold in. For instance, people in Bali could not afford the price we pay for our games so they prices cheaper, much like Russia. These countries may been given these games for free as it suited their market/economic flux. These 'players' would have known this and lied about their location and other such details to gain access to where the same product was most likely being sold for a price in their country. It sucks but that's the market. Geoblocking isn't good but sometimes, the rare instances it is used to help the less fortunate whilst maintaining the status quo for the rest of the market.

    Yeah because we all read each and every ToS and privacy policy we accept right? The Chaser guys did a great review of these

      I don't think you need to read the TOS to realize that creating accounts under different nationalities and posing as someone from different countries is wrong. I'm pretty sure that comes under the human TOS called common sense.

        No, it's only assumed to be like that by the overly judgemental and morally superior.

        Alcohol is wrong. So is gluten.... bad people.

          You sayin I'm judgemental and morally superior for being able to recognise that falsifying information is most probably against the TOS? It's just common sense.

        doesn't really matter if you read them or not, you agreed to them.

    I created a Jap account to grab ssome DLC that wasn't available anywhere else - free or otherwise - I wonder if they'll ban me?? If they do they may find they've lost a very lucrative customer for life.

    I wonder how many other people are thinking the same way right now. Really silly to alienate your player base right before the launch of a new console.

    Oh wait I grabbed it on my old console so technically they'd have to brick that one. Better call my mum and see if she can still play Risk.

      I bought Mortal Kombat DLC with my American account when it had been refused classification in Australia (I imported it). But to be fair, I did make my American account when I lived there so it's more or less legit. But I'd occasionally buy stuff that wasn't available in Australia like Trine 2.

    I was originally worried this was because of people downloading the free games they offer every month.

    I didn't realise it was about virtual border hopping.

    For a first offence I don't think a Ban is a very good idea, can't MS just deduct that game from their account, remove their score and give them a stern warning with maybe a week ban. It's a lot more effot on MSs part but it does look better when they are banned for constant offences not a one off.

    It's great that this unknown Microsoft spokes person has said this, however, it tends to contradict fact: There is nothing in the TOU which requires that a person nor console be in the region for which they create an account. Furthermore, there is no language which states you must pay your home territory's price - you can buy at any marketplace price so long as the game is universal (not region specific). XboxSupport via both chat and twitter have confirmed this is allowable behaviour and MS is dealing in bad faith by telling people it's allowable then banning people.

    I hear some of those people that may have been banned were banned for other matters (actual piracy via roms, modded consoles, etc).

    One of the issues is that some of the markets where the free games are coming from don't have a Marketplace, so getting the games is via some backdoor method, so it is more dodgy than seeing a publicized "FREE" banner in the open Marketplace. I don't agree with what MS are doing though, they left a hole, you plug it up and cut your losses, you shouldn't be punishing those that come through the hole.

    It's fine when these accounts are setup and the user is actively buying content and giving MS money, but as soon as there is a mistake on MS behalf and that same person looks to take advantage of it, MS get pissed and bring out the rule book!

    If creating foreign accounts to nab free games that were only there in the first place as a mistake didn't seem questionable to you, you probably should think harder next time. I love seeing people do shifty stuff like this then crying poor when they get banned. It's effectively fraud, in essence. Obtaining financial advantage by deception - in this case, scoring free games by creating fake accounts. No sympathy from me.

    Now I know the article doesn't specify where the banned console owners are from, but wouldn't they be protected under Australian law?

    Seems like a pretty cut and dry case of grey importing, same reasons big institutions like choice can recommend people circumvent geoblocking.

      Choice says pretty clearly in its article on geoblocking:

      It’s also important to note that circumventing geo-blocks may breach the terms and conditions of the company you’re buying from, and if discovered, your account could be cancelled, losing credit and access to your downloads.

      They recommend it, but they also make it clear you're not protected if you get caught and the company can (and probably will) cancel your account.

      Last edited 02/10/13 10:28 am

    Just another reason why sony psn is better, they dont ban you for this crap.

      Wait, so you're saying PSN is better because it doesn't punish people who exploit it? No wonder they got hacked and had data stolen.

        exploit? its not a exploit if there was no rules against doing it in the first place.

        Last i checked xbox live gets hacked by little cod kids shows how good of a security that has.

          What are you talking about? There are rules against setting up accounts in regions you're not in.

          Refresh my memory, when was XBL hacked again?

            March 2007 Xbox Live Hacked - accounts stolen
            2008 - Xbox Live down for weeks - rumors were it was hacked - Microsoft denied repeatedly, even though proven wrong.

            Hell, Even Major Nelson got his account hacked LOL.

    I find it funny that the internet was supposed to break down the walls of international trade but all it really does is make us even more aware that they're there.

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