Xbox DRM Issues - Resolved For Me. For Now. Knock Wood.

Five months it's taken to get to this point... but it looks like I can finally say that the Xbox 360 DRM issues I've complained about in the past are currently resolved. First, a brief summary.

  • In August, my Xbox 360 died and needed to be sent in for repair.
  • In October, I got a replacement console (different serial number), which Microsoft sent in lieu of having me wait for my original console to be repaired. Plug the hard drive in and it looked like we were good to go.
  • In early November, we realized that other profiles on the console (for my wife and older daughter) couldn't play the Xbox Live Arcade games we purchased. They were stuck in trial mode... further, my profile (with which the games were originally purchased) could only play them when logged in. I called the 800 support number and was told that they needed to "re-associate" my console's serial number with the licenses for those games -- and that it would take 2 to 4 weeks. I was (and still am) stunned that it wasn't a quick, 10-minute fix but didn't have any choice. So I waited.
  • Around the holidays in December, it still hadn't been fixed so I called again. This time, I was told that it would be fixed but that there was NO timeframe at all provided. "Hopefully soon" was all the support person would tell me... that is, until he hung up on me. This was the low point, as the Xbox Live service was offline a LOT over the holidays, which meant that NOBODY in the house could access those games.
  • In January, I emailed Major Nelson about it (as he requested people do in a thread on the Xbox forums). No response. Oh, and to apologize for all that downtime over the holidays, Microsoft gave away a free Xbox Live Arcade game. Ironic, huh?

A few days ago, I checked back in on a MASSIVE thread over in the Xbox forums. As of this post, the thread's up to 150 pages - PAGES! There were posts that kept track of who had been hosed by this issue for the longest period of time. Lots of people were in the same boat as I am, waiting several months. But over a period of a few days, some of those people were reporting that they had suddenly been able to access their Xbox Live content. They simply had to re-download it to their console (which re-fetches the license info), after which it worked as it finally works as it should have all along. That re-download step is something I've done just about every week since August - it's what the support techs said "should" resolve the issue. Until this week, it didn't.

As of Thursday, though.... it looks like it's working as it should. And an 8-year old little girl can FINALLY get back to her quest for Marble Blast Ultra achievements. A hardworking housewife can wind down in the evening with a little Bejeweled.

Throughout this saga, it became clear that this was a big problem for a LOT of people. If the failure rate for the 360 is truly 16%, then that's nearly 3 million consoles that have failed (based on Wikipedia's figure of 17.7 consoles sold). Even if you assume that just a third of those has ever been used to purchase Xbox Live content (Arcade games, TV shows, movies, etc), then that's almost A MILLION people who could be affected by this problem. Clearly, this is a major failure on the part of Microsoft.

itunesdeauthorize How SHOULD it be handled? Ideally, the content wouldn't be DRM'd at all. My opinion is that DRM punishes the people who want to do the right thing, while the IP thieves are always going to find some workaround.

But if being DRM-free isn't an option, then it should be handled the way it's handled on my iPod. I can choose to "De-Authorize" my iTunes music on my computer and my iPod. If I get a new computer or iPod, I simply Deauthorize the DRM'd content on the old device and that frees it up to be played on the new one. If a hard drive on a computer fails, or an iPod simply dies, and you don't have the ability to Deauthorize that device in advance -- well, a quick email/call to Apple resolves it IN MINUTES as they re-set the authorized playback devices for you.

Ideally, that should have been done right away when Microsoft sent me a replacement console. By the time it showed up in October, my content should already have been associated with the new ID. Worst case, it should have been handled quickly when I noticed it and called in November. Apple can do it... and they're not even a database company.

Jeff Atwood wrote about the issue earlier this month, when he realized that the DRM content he'd purchased on an Xbox 360 at his office couldn't be used on the Xbox 360 that he bought at home. To get access to the content he'd already paid for, Jeff opted to purchase it again -- to the tune of $140 worth of content. I disagree with his solution, as I think it punishes someone who's simply trying to do the right thing... but a guy with a Rock Band addiction might be forgiven for overpaying to get his fix.

The "Official Xbox Magazine" site named this issue the Number One thing for Microsoft to address in its 2008 New Years resolutions. Couldn't agree more.

Consumer advocate site "The Consumerist" posted an item on it this month as well, detailing the story of "Kevin." This guy has apparently been told by an escalation tech at Microsoft that he can "hopefully" expect it to be resolved "some time in 2008"! Unreal.

And there are no shortage of individual blogs detailing similar stories.

Understand - I'm pretty much a Microsoft guy. A fairly happy Windows user. A very happy Windows Home Server user (gotta blog that experience still). A .NET developer. A development manager using Microsoft tools (by choice). I know there are lots of horror stories out there and no shortage of anti-MS vitriol, but most of the time, I'm pretty happy with things.

It's unbelievable to me that this issue has allowed to get so big... and that the frontline support technicians aren't able to resolve the problem during a quick phone call.

Now that it's fixed, let's hope the replacement console isn't in the 1-in-6 that will fail the way my first one was. In the meantime, if you need someone to beat up on in Guitar Hero III, my gamertag is OneLeftyFoot.