Editorial: Dude, Where’s My Xbox?

One of those was mine!

One of those was mine!

I’ve been using my checkbook as a wallet for the past two months. The plastic cards tend to fall out once in awhile, but it hasn’t persuaded me to buy a real wallet for whatever reason. I don’t have my college ID anymore, which helped lower the cost of matinee movie tickets. And my replacement driver’s license, well, that was lost in the mail for three weeks.

Getting robbed sucks.

On the 17th of December I woke up to go sit on the pseudo-suede futon in my girlfriend Elena and I’s tiny living room. I had hoped to be lazy like usual that morning. But instead of seeing what was on TV, I only saw television and game console-shaped outlines of dust where all of my electronics were the night before. My Wii, DS, LCD TV, Xbox 360, wallet, camera and Elena’s laptop were taken. I flipped out, yelling to her, “Everything’s gone!” Our front door was barely closed, the robbers having entered through a kitchen window they pried open. I laughed about it later, that they had enough common courtesy to try and close the door as they sped away in the snow.

Robberies happen all the time—we’re not a special case. I realize we got off a lot better than some people in that neither of us was injured or worse. But what’s it like to be robbed as a gamer? What rights do you have when your consoles are taken away? After talking to Microsoft customer service, I’d argue your rights are almost non-existent.

The day after the robbery I called Microsoft’s support line to ask what happens if the robber logs on to my Live account with my stolen Xbox. The first representative I spoke with said having my “LIVE account hijacked is a serious issue,” but offered no options other than changing my Microsoft passwords and security questions, which I did. Because I had other things to worry about I left the conversation at that and hung up.

I called again a few days later, provided my customer service number from the first call and talked to a new representative named Mike. I asked directly this time if it’s possible to track the IP of the robber who, since my previous call, had logged onto my Live account a few times according to my friends. Friends who left some explicit and hilarious messages for the thief to read, such as “Give my friend his shit back you fucker!” I assume the thief tested the Xbox to see if it still worked, which it did, before he could sell it and the copy of Halo 3 that was still in the disc tray. Mike told me, simply, “No, no we can’t [give out IPs].” I was transferred to Mike’s manager, who told me the best they could do was suspend my Live access so no one can log on until I restored my account on another Xbox. As that was the best option to protect my remaining Microsoft points and account info, I agreed and dropped the issue there.

Over the next few days I kept thinking about Microsoft’s lackadaisical stance against physical console thievery, though they were very worried about Xbox Live account hijacking. Admittedly, it’s possible that someone stealing a Live account could have access to private and vital information and efforts should be made to stop that type of theft. However, Microsoft should also try to protect its customers who are victims of traditional theft. That said, I realize it would be a legal and financial minefield for Microsoft to swoop down, trumpets blaring, and save every person reporting their console as stolen. But what about documented robberies?

While local law enforcement are by no means obligated to track down every stolen game console lead they get (because really, they have so many other important things to do), if a customer like myself can provide a valid police case number and detailed, verifiable information to Microsoft, the company should turn around and cooperate with legitimate robbery cases without requiring a subpoena. The stolen console’s serial number would then be flagged by Microsoft so if someone logs onto Live while it’s flagged, the company can deal with the situation in a variety of ways. If modded and hacked consoles can be locked down via a console update, it seems fairly possible to do the same to stolen property.

A diplomatic and corporate approach would be to send the flagged Xbox a pop-up, full screen message saying the console has been reported as stolen. Even if the Xbox was pawned off and purchased by an unwitting consumer, this message would tell them they have stolen property so they could then pass on the information to Microsoft and the authorities. The pop-up could be removed by contacting Microsoft customer service and providing account information, the police case number, etc. Though this method would rely on the stolen Xbox being online at least once, it’s better than telling the owner, “Sorry, you’re on you own.” At the very least this would make it hard to sell a stolen console: The message would remain on the screen even when offline and over the console’s viewable screen area, making gaming impossible. In a perfect world, this notification would last through a data wipe, but to do that would mean it would have to be a built-in feature on new 360s, as a downloadable update enabling this security measure for current Xbox consoles could still be erased along with the hard drive.

Unfortunately, this “solution” is likely impossible. Microsoft would have to expand its customer service operations while creating a specialized console theft department as well. Tracking down leads, flagging consoles, obtaining court orders for IP addresses, dealing with police paperwork and working with victimized customers sounds like an incredibly expensive, painful and imaginary endeavor for the company to attempt. Especially in the current economic climate, with Microsoft already laying off 5,000 employees over the next year and a half, this idea seems even less feasible than ever.

And I, to be clear, don’t claim to have solved the problem of tracking down stolen gaming property. If Microsoft could have done something like this without legal repercussions and muddling their Terms of Service by giving out personal information, they would have. Police havesubpoenaed Microsoft for IP addresses before, the fact that the court is involved adds extra time and effort on already stressed law enforcement to make it a very rare scenario.

On the other hand, it’s fantastic that Microsoft keeps your profile information server-side, which protects your licensed content, achievements, friends list and a multitude of other things. At the very least, not all is lost in the event of a robbery. Though this is more of a feature and not necessarily an intended measure against thievery, I can only imagine the frustration of losing profile information in conjunction with game save data when a thief wipes the console to sell it.

A few weeks after the robbery I was informed by a detective working our case that they recovered the majority of my property, with only the Wii, DS and laptop unaccounted for. I was extremely lucky and am well aware of that. And though my HDD was wiped and the game saves were lost, it’s a fantastic feeling to know my personal profile and already purchased content are safe and easily restored to my once-stolen-but-now-returned console.

Which is a relief, because I didn’t want to pull out my replacement credit card from the makeshift checkbook wallet, so obviously visible in the pocket of my jeans, and pay for a brand new Xbox 360.

EditorialsAaron Thayer