It turns out Microsoft had a cool trick to help them track Xbox 360 NDA breakers. A sneaky feature was embedded into Non Disclosure Agreement’s beta consoles which allowed Microsoft to identify if users were going to leak any unapproved data.
A former Microsoft employee posted on Twitter revealing this nifty little secret. It turns out he was able to embed the serial number of Xbox 360 consoles onto the dashboard. Those little rings which pleasantly rippled from the Xbox 360 logo on the bottom right hand corner of the screen were the key to finding people’s console identities.
One of the most fun jobs I ever had was figuring out how to embed the serial number of your Xbox 360 into rings emanating from the bottom right, so we could track and identify leaks pic.twitter.com/i8knGgMTvz
— Cullen (@cullend) December 9, 2018
It turns out that a combination of three different ring widths combined with multiple clusters and distant combinations held the six bit serial number, which ends up being something like a barcode. A screenshot could then be mapped to a cipher to reveal the serial number.
It’s clarified further down the Twitter thread that this enhancement was only included on beta consoles with an NDA. So thankfully if you’ve posted screen shots online of your own Xbox 360, your serial numbers are more than likely safe. Jason Short even confirmed that more than one internal Microsoft employee was busted for leaking Xbox 360 data under NDA thanks to these identifying rings.
It’s by no means uncommon for video game companies to protect their content through these kinds of methods. You may have noticed many alphas and betas you participate in will have some kind of moving watermark. Some go for something subtle like these sneaky rings but others are more obvious like blatantly displaying your username all over the screen.
These are all methods to catch people who have agreed to not disclose information but choose to anyway—so maybe think twice about all those Anthem alpha screenshots and wait for the open demo instead.