Since the great Gears of War leak a couple of days ago, the internet has been up in arms over Microsoft’s reaction towards those who breached the nondisclosure agreement (NDA). One side of the fence suggests that those who leaked the Gears of War footage deserve every bit of punishment they receive; while the other side suggests that Microsoft was too harsh. Some are even expressing concern over the company’s ability to remotely shut off access to an Xbox One’s software.


The Great Gears of War Leak

What started the whole ordeal were a number of testers from contracting company VMC Games leaking footage for a Gears of War remaster coming to the Xbox One. According to an email sent out by VMC, one of the testers allegedly sent out a Snapchat of footage from the game, whereupon the person who received it shared it.

Here’s an excerpt from the email, as obtained by Kotaku.

“In one case, a member who was participating in that test shared a screenshot on Snapchat with their friend, who wasn’t part of the project, but tricked his friend by saying he didn’t believe him when he said they were working on the same project. Upon reception of the screenshot, the friend who received the Snapchat leaked it online, betraying his friend as well as his NDA with VMC Games.

While the tester who first took the screenshot didn’t think he was doing anything bad, he was still going against the NDA, and was part of the cause why the information got leaked. Because of this, both members were permanently removed from the community and addressed to our legal department, as per the terms of the NDA.”

Microsoft also took action against those behind the Gears of War leak by removing their profiles from Xbox Live. and permitting them from accessing any online features from their Xbox One.

“This being said, as per that agreement with the testers in fault, Microsoft also permanently disabled their Xbox Live accounts (as well as other suspected accounts present on their Xbox One kits) and temporarily blocked all of their Xbox One privileges – meaning that for a period of time which Microsoft decides on depending on the severity of the offense, their Xbox One is entirely unusable.”

Can Microsoft brick Xbox Ones?

A main concern circulating the internet is that Microsoft can remotely brick someones console whenever they feel like it. Following the Gears of War leak and Kotaku’s coverage, Microsoft offered clarification, stating that they did not ‘brick’ the consoles but only denied access to online features.

“To be clear, if a console is suspended from Xbox Live for a violation of the Terms of Use, it can still be used offline. Microsoft enforcement action does not result in a console becoming unusable. Suspensions for both consoles and accounts are determined by looking at a number of factors. To avoid enforcement action including suspension from the service, users should follow the Xbox Live Terms of Use and Code of Conduct.”


What can Microsoft and VMC actually do?

The Gears of War leak taught us a number of things about the digital industry that gaming has become: it drilled home that the companies from which we buy our products do indeed have the power to enforce their own restrictions on their software, and that legal documents are incredibly serious matters.

The second point is all it boils down to – NDAs are legally binding contracts that those who leaked the Gears of War footage broke.

By signing an NDA – the terms of which are specifically outlined in any situation involving such a contract – participants agree that they won’t divulge any information about the product or information to which they have access.

According to Rocket Laywer’s definition of an NDA, information being leaked – in this case the Gears of War leak – constitutes a breach of contract, after which legal action will be taken.

Microsoft’s Xbox Live Terms of Use state that those using Xbox Live can not ‘distribute’ any game, application, or other content accessible through the Xbox One and its derivative services. It also states the ramifications of doing so:

“If you do, we may cancel your account and your ability to access the Services, and pursue other legal remedies. We may take any legal action we deem appropriate against users who violate our systems or network security, this Agreement or any additional terms incorporated or referenced in it. Such users may also incur criminal or civil liability.”

Given the nature of the NDA signed, and that the Gears of War leak showed sensitive and unrevealed footage, it seems as though the offence constitutes ‘distributing’ content, as in the above clause.

All in all, Microsoft and VMC Games have every right to pursue legal action and restrict the leakers from accessing features on their Xbox One.

What happens now?

As a result of leaking the footage, those responsible are undoubtedly at the mercy of both Microsoft and VMC Games’ legal teams. Not only would they lose their positions at VMC, they would also lose respect in the industry; developers who worked hard on the game can no longer come out and reveal it with pride, and Microsoft now has to run damage control prior to their upcoming E3 conference.

Those who leaked the Gears of War footage saw 30 seconds of fame, whilst simultaneously throwing a spanner in the works of multiple international companies and ensuring they receive disciplinary legal action. Worth it? Not a chance.

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