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Microsoft remotely blocking pirated video games in Windows 10

View profile for Peter Dalton
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Windows 10, Microsoft’s recent update to its Windows operating system and has been garnering generally positive reviews, after the misstep that was Windows 8. One new feature which wasn't widely publicised by Microsoft, but has been picked up by various gaming outlets, is Microsoft’s apparent ability to remotely block pirated games which users attempt to run on the new operating system.

In fact, this isn't a feature Microsoft has announced at all; instead, it's been dropped somewhat quietly through an update to the Microsoft Services Agreement EULA for Windows 10 (and surely accepted by virtually every user; reading the EULAs for almost any software release having become akin to pulling teeth).

The newly inserted wording reads: "We may automatically check your version of the software and download software updates or configuration changes, including those that prevent you from accessing the Services, playing counterfeit games, or using unauthorised hardware peripheral devices.”

Microsoft haven't commented officially on the change, so it's not clear whether this is a current feature, or something they are planning to implement. After years playing second fiddle to Microsoft’s Xbox, Windows 10 marks a renewed push by Microsoft to promote PC gaming. Piracy has always been associated with PC gaming, primarily due to the open nature of the platform, so Microsoft may well be hoping that this move will increase the attractiveness of a PC release to developers.

I’m in two minds about how this move will be received by the PC gaming community. On the one hand, committed PC gamers are often the most ardent critics of those who choose to pirate games, rightly seeing it as ultimately hurting the ecosystem. However, the open nature of the PC has always been one of the most important benefits of the PC over its console brethren. Many may dislike the very principle of Microsoft having a say about what software can and can't be installed on Windows.

The reference to “unauthorised hardware” is also worth noting. Historically, anyone can build a PC from whatever components they choose. Does this mean Microsoft is going to start certifying certain components as “Windows compatible” and blocking the rest? Such a move would surely go down badly, and may push users to alternative operating systems, such as the open source Linux. Most commentators are assuming that this is targeted at hardware which might help gamers cheat, such as modified controllers, which would also make sense if Microsoft is hoping to promote cross platform multiplayer gaming.

In any event, this is an interesting development and may be a signal of how Microsoft intends to develop Windows 10, and due to its dominance, the PC market in general. It is worth noting that the Microsoft Services Agreement isn't the same as the Windows 10 EULA itself and may only apply to Microsoft published games; however this could well be an indication of the direction of travel.

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