As part of the next Xbox 360 dashboard update, Xbox 360s will no longer recognize "unauthorized Xbox 360 storage devices." If, for example, you purchased Datel's 2GB Max Memory Card (still available at Amazon.com and can expand up to 16GB due to a replaceable Micro SD card slot) to store data, it will no longer work. Such accessories are not officially licensed by Microsoft and while they've been usable in the past, as of now, Microsoft is eliminating that option.
Xbox evangelist Major Nelson announced the change late last week on his blog. The response from the Xbox community was mixed (the first comment on Nelson's post: "Maybe if Microsoft released larger storage options at prices that weren't completely ridiculous then customers may not seek alternatives"), though many did not even seem aware these options were available to them.
The change in policy is because of cheating, according to a Microsoft spokesperson I talked to.
"cheating...is the primary purpose and use of these unauthorized memory units"
"Microsoft goes to great lengths to protect the Xbox 360 and Xbox LIVE service from cheating, which is the primary purpose and use of these unauthorized MUs [memory units]," said the spokesperson. "Unauthorized MUs are not tested for compatibility or certified for safety and compliance standards and thus could damage customer’s Xbox 360 consoles."
This update does not affect the hardware's interaction with third-party hard drives and USB thumb drives. You can still store music, movies and photos on those devices and the Xbox 360 will read off them just fine. Licensed Xbox 360 memory devices are needed, however, in order to store (and move) profiles, game data, etc. Before, this was possible using the memory options provided by Datel and other manufacturers. Soon, it won't be.
"Memory Units without an official Xbox 360 licensed logo are considered unauthorized and are not guaranteed to work with your Xbox 360 console," said the same spokesperson. "All authorized Xbox 360 Memory Units are marked with an official Xbox 360 licensed logo. If you have specific questions about a 3rd party accessory, we recommend you contact that company for additional details."
I did contact a number of companies -- including Xbox 360 accessory manufacturers Datel, Logitech, Mad Catz, Hori and Nyko -- but other than Hori, none responded to my requests for comment. Hori does not manufacture storage devices, nor does it plan to, the company told me. To my knowledge, Datel is the only company who produces memory devices affected by this change that are easily found at retailers like Amazon.com. Datel did release a statement to CVG. It did not address the concerns raised by Microsoft about cheating achieved through Datel's equipment.
"We are following this issue and awaiting the outcome like everyone else," said a Datel spokesperson to the website. "If the Major Nelson blog is to be taken at face value then we're disappointed to see that Microsoft are taking these steps to prevent customers from exercising their freedom of choice. Everyone is looking for ways to make their cash go further at the moment and we believe that Max Memory offers a good value, high capacity, alternative to the official Memory Unit."
Based on Datel's statement, it's unclear whether Datel is interested in becoming a licensed distributor of Xbox 360 storage devices -- or if that's even an option available to them.
Major Nelson's recommendation to gamers using devices that will no longer be compatible was to purchase "officially licensed Xbox 360 storage devices or accessories." Gamers have few choices here, though, as Microsoft's own website underscores. There are only three storage hardware options on Microsoft's website: a 512MB memory unit for $29.99, a 60GB "starter park" for $99.99 and a 120GB hard drive for $149.99. Datel's 2GB memory unit is $39.99 but held 2GB of data.
I asked Microsoft if there were non-Microsoft but officially licensed memory units available to consumers. Microsoft confirmed there are no such options. Using an unauthorized storage device will not break your Xbox 360 when plugged in after the update, but the data will become inaccessible.
"Any users that have not recovered their profiles off of unauthorized Memory Units will not be able to recover their profiles following the software update," said the spokesperson.
The obsession over achievements means there are no doubt gamers who are using every possible loophole to exploit the system and jack up their score. In the interest of fairness, that should be fixed. But in all of the discussion threads I found about Datel's memory unit (like this one), there were simply consumers interested in a cheaper alternative to Microsoft's regularly criticized memory solutions. Does the possibility exist that gamers are using these devices to cheat? Absolutely.
But the message from consumers seems clear: there should be more memory solutions. Right now, there aren't. It's Microsoft's devices or nothing. Microsoft may be trying to protect people and the integrity of the gamerscore system, but in doing so, they're also taking away their freedom of choice.
That's something to be concerned about.
[image credit: flickr / malin-wahlborn]