Microsoft’s XBox Live service turns 10 this year. Originally introduced in November of 2002, the XBox Live service opened up new options for online play of the Microsoft platform, combining console, desktop and mobile game connectivity. However, a suit filed in Texas this week alleges that the service is in fact a mechanism designed to allow children to run up giant charges on their parents’ credit cards unchecked.
The suit alleges:
To verify that its users under 18 years have their parents’ consent, X-Box Live asks for the input of a valid credit card to authenticate address and name information. This also allows children to subscribe to the X-Box Live gaming service, with payments processed through parents’ credit cards.
What Microsoft fails to disclose is that once the credit card info is input into the system, the credit card info is saved and used to pay for purchases that children and those under 18 years make. These purchases are made without parents’ consent or verification. These purchases are for up-armor, extra lives, increased health, or more powerful weaponry.
These purchases are made through controller inputs on a screen and take several seconds. These purchases are typically made to beat or continue in unbeatable games, whereas the player cannot continue in a game without the additional purchases. As the purchases can be made rapidly, a child can quickly charge hundreds of dollars to the parents’ credit cards, without the parent’s consent or knowledge.
This writer happens to have a subscription to the XBox Live service, and a 10-year-old son, so decided to test these allegations for himself. The first test: credit card info, correct; one can use a credit card to subscribe, but it is not the only method available. At most grocery and convenience stores one can purchase pre-paid XBox Live subscription cards, such as this one:
Now, to the claim that purchases require the credit card. This is also false, you can purchase what are called “Microsoft Points” which come, as with subscriptions, as a card you can purchase at your most convenient store location:
If you attempt to purchase from the store without any points on your account, the service will pop up with this message (which happened when I attempted to purchase a 1969 VW Beetle for the game Forza Motorsport 4):
There is also another avenue which the service offers, that of parental control. A parent has a huge range of features to allow, or restrict, a child’s access on the service. This can limit their online access or their purchasing ability. If my son attempts to access any area I have put on restriction, this is the screen which pops up:
As for the allegation that the games require purchased add-ons in order to complete, the majority of games available on the service are not created by Microsoft. The company has limited control over what these games require or do not require for their gameplay. Instead, you find games produced by hundreds of companies, which offer their products through the XBox Live service. Microsoft does not design or develop the majority of these games. All they can do is approve, or deny, their placement on the service, in the same way a physical store can approve, or deny, a game’s presence on their shelves.
The best safety system is meaningless if it is not used. The XBox Live service offers ample parental control options, but those options are meaningless if the parents do not make use of them. The suit alleges that these protections are non-existent, that the service requires unlimited access to credit card information by child accounts, which is not true. If used properly, the XBox Live service is a good way for parents to regulate their child’s online game access.
Some, of course, will call this a frivolous lawsuit and call for tort reform to attempt to block it. While the grounds of the suit are weak, however, the right to protect oneself from malicious or neglectful industry is a critical one for this nation. Some frivolous suits are inevitable, and the court system will process them, and reject them as needed. But restricting access to a critical system due to the abuses by a small minority would do far more harm than these simple, and easily discredited, suits.