Mod-kits lay open world of options for Xbox
Xbox game consoles installed with a 'mod-chip' have been on sale in Hong Kong for about a week, allowing buyers to play more games than manufacturer Microsoft intended, including copied games and Xbox games from multiple regions.
The Xtender, the first of three such chips expected to hit the market this year, can be bought pre-installed in grey-market Xboxes at popular Hong Kong computer malls such as 188 Wan Chai. Modified consoles and chip installation kits are also being sold via mail order at sites such as divineo.com and genomods.com, which cater for a world market.
Because Microsoft has yet to officially release the Xbox in Asian markets outside of Japan, all Xboxes bought in places such as Hong Kong are parallel imports and not supported by Microsoft. Consoles brought in from the United States and Japanese markets play only games released in their respective regions.
But the modified Xboxes allow gaming fans to play games regardless of region, as well as games that have been copied or downloaded. Other Xbox mod-chips expected in the coming weeks go by names such as Enigmah-X and Messiah-X and can be pre-ordered on the Web for up to US$79, not including shipping. Manufacturers of the various mod-chips claim, through Web sites dedicated to the hacking of game consoles, that the chips disable Microsoft's ability to track user behaviour when the Xbox is connected to the Internet as well as disabling a copy-protection scheme Microsoft designed in conjunction with Macrovision.
The audience for such chips includes people who want to play home-made games, those who want to play games released by companies not officially working with Microsoft and those who simply want to play pirated games. Self-installation is not for the faint of heart, as it requires soldering dozens of wires - opening an Xbox automatically voids the warranty.
Unmodified Xbox and PlayStation consoles are selling for about HK$1,400 in Hong Kong, while modified packages sell for up to HK$2,300.
Hong Kong's games stores are devoting more shelf space to the PlayStation and its games.
Consumer interest is also higher, largely because more games have been developed for the PlayStation and are readily available as imports from Japan.
Aside from Xtender-installed Xboxes, retailers are selling PlayStations modified with a chip that does not require disc swapping, as was the case with previous chips. Most industry observers expect the mod-chips' impact on overall sales through legitimate channels to be minimal.
Modified grey-market versions of the PlayStation have been on sale in Hong Kong for some time - and Sony has only recently decided to provide customer service in the SAR. Its official worldwide PlayStation sales figures have already hit the 30 million mark.
Xbox, by comparison, has sold four million units and sales are said to be slow in Japan. GameCube, a competing console made by Nintendo, trails both PlayStation and Xbox.
All three manufacturers recently slashed prices in a bid to grab market share.
The Xbox is software manufacturer Microsoft's first big bet on hardware and home entertainment. The company plans to spend US$20 billion building and promoting an online gaming business built around the Xbox. The consoles are sold at a loss, and the company makes its money on selling software licences and the annual US$50 online gaming subscriptions.