Earlier this year, the PlayStation Network—along with Sony Online Entertainment—was on the receiving end of an epic cyber-attack, perhaps at the hands of infamous hacker collective Anonymous. While the reverberations of this are still being felt across the industry, we thought it would be interesting to examine what would have happened if Xbox Live had been targeted instead.
First of all, we must take into consideration that while the PlayStation Network was down, fundamental online functionality of the PlayStation 3 wasn't really affected. While both the Xbox 360 and PS3 go through the same steps to connect to their respective services (Network > Internet > Xbox Live/PSN), the Xbox 360 doesn't make use of the internet without a verified connection to Xbox Live. In contrast, the PlayStation 3 had nearly full access to all online functions that didn't deal directly with the PlayStation Network. This meant that while the PSN was down, users still had access to Netflix and the online browser.
It's worth noting that while Netflix "required" a PlayStation Network connection, users only had to attempt a sign-in or two to get the service running despite the fact that the Network wasn't actually up. Had Xbox Live been interrupted instead, none of those services would have even appeared on the dashboard. There wouldn't even be a way to "fake" a sign-in after trying to start the app, as the option to start it wouldn't even be available. Some PSN users might have found that while the network outage was in full swing, game updates could still be downloaded. Unfortunately, Xbox Live users wouldn't be as fortunate here, much for the same reason they wouldn't be able to connect to Last.fm or Netflix.
One area where Xbox Live would be equally crippled is the Marketplace. Sadly, Call of Duty fans on Xbox 360 might be forced to bear the shame of watching their PlayStation counterparts enjoy a taste of "timed exclusivity." (As a side note, this is probably one of the most ridiculous, irresponsible marketing practices in use today. It only gives one side of the console war the "well I got it first" trump card.) Fans of games like DiRT 3, which required an online pass to access some of the features, would be stuck with a temporarily incomplete product.
The real question comes, though, when we consider the issue of time. How long would it have taken for Microsoft to publicly acknowledge the issue, notify its customers, and bring the issue to a close? For a bit of context, we can look to a similar incident that took place in the winter of 2007. It involved dropped service for Xbox Live subscribers at all levels, though there are a few differences we need to take into consideration. The break in service, which started on December 22 and lasted for 11 days, was the result of high traffic following the release of Halo 3 and the influx of new users, not a high-level cyber-attack. It's also worth noting that some users reported spotty service, indicating that it wasn't technically a complete outage. So, to be fair, this isn't an "apples to apples" comparison by any means. It does, however, give us some idea of how Microsoft might choose to respond under similar circumstances.
The initial response, issued by Larry "Major Nelson" Hyrb on December 24th, assured gamers that a fix would be coming in the following days. This was followed by a series of jumbled conflicting announcements about when gamers could expect Xbox Live to go back online. On the 29th, Hyrb blogged vaguely: "The entire LIVE team has been working day and night to ensure that you can have a great LIVE experience." Service was mercifully restored on January 2, 2008.
There are at least two ways of viewing this situation. First of all, it could be said that Microsoft dealt with the situation quickly and responsibly instead of allowing customers to speculate endlessly without any official information to go on. After all, the service was only out for eleven days and subscribers had official word on what was going on within 48 hours.
It could also be said, however, that the fact that the situation even occurred shows that Microsoft would not have been prepared for the kind of attack Sony faced. Xbox Live went down essentially because people were using it. That's sort of embarrassing. It's like saying "My car broke down because I put gasoline in it." It's slightly absurd. It's worth noting that service has improved tremendously since then and the confidence of gamers has also risen as a result. Still, you can't help but wonder…
Personally, I think that the response from Microsoft might have been a bit quicker, having dealt with a previous, though much less severe, outage. They also have tons of experience with building and maintaining networking platforms, which may also give them a leg up over Sony as far as their response time is concerned. It's also worth noting that while previous mishaps might inform Microsoft on how to react in the future, they don't ensure a successful response to every situation, especially one that is deliberately caused. Rest assured, the reaction of the general public would be harsh, though, and it might be difficult to recover the trust of gamers in general. This is why I'm also willing to bet that the hackers in question would probably have been offered jobs long before it came to this.
CCC Contributing Writer
*The views expressed within this article are solely the opinion of the author and do not express the views held by Cheat Code Central.*