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Unacceptable anti-competitive and anti-consumer practices in game pass for PC

Hey everyone,

 

I have something I feel I need to say to you all regarding Microsoft and more specifically their Xbox Game Pass for PC. I first started using it after seeing a recommendation for it on the WAN show on LinusTechTips. What I am about to say is not written because I hate Microsoft, I don’t. It's also not that I have a fundamental problem with the Game Pass, it's been great for me, and I am glad it's out there. I am writing this piece because what I found while looking into the way the Game Pass is made to work is plainly unacceptable.

 

Recently, I wanted to look around the Xbox Game Pass game files because I was interested in moving a game I was playing courtesy of my game pass to another disk.

 

When searching, I quickly found that I was not able to get the path to the executable using task manager. I had to download a program (Process Explorer) to figure out the path to the executable. However, once I had the path, I found that I was still not able to get to the executable as the WindowsApps folder was hidden. I checked the ‘view hidden items’ box in folder options to show it.

 

In order to be able to navigate to the WindowsApps folder, I had to make myself the owner of the WindowsApps folder and all sub-folders. Only then I was able to modify my own permissions to be able to navigate into the folder - even though I am an administrator on my system.

 

I thought it would now be simple after that, sadly not. When I found the game files I was greeted with a lock symbol on all the files. I was not able to open any of the files from the explorer, I was not able to copy them, I was not able to view any of the file contents even though according to the windows permissions I had full control.

 

SO:

1. The WindowsApps folder is hidden

2. The executable path and game folder is hidden

3. The files themselves are locked down at OS level, there is NO way to get access to them EVEN if you are logged on as an Administrator. All you can see is a list of files.

 

This therefore means in order for me to be able to use the game pass I need to allow Microsoft to put files on my system whose contents and purpose are shrouded in complete secrecy. Basically Microsoft is putting stuff on my PC that I can never see. I have no idea what’s in there. Effectively no one outside Microsoft is allowed to know what’s in there.

 

Once I started to realise what was going on, ON MY PC, I needed to take a moment. This totally blew my mind.

 

I started thinking about what was really going on here, basically there is stuff on your computer that you can’t access. It would be like somebody dropping a mystery package in your house which unbeknownst to you is illegal drugs. Then the police show up, when you say “hey it's ok, cos I didn’t know it was drugs”, they are not going to say “oh in that case it's fine”. They are going to arrest you.

 

So on my PC, who is responsible for these secret files? In a system that lacks transparency, such as this system, who is responsible when it goes wrong?

 

Then I thought, hang on, this is totally unfair. This is clearly anti-competitive. Steam, Epic Games, EA, etc do not have a gaming dominant OS like MS does. Even if they wanted to play with the files on your PC, locking them further than windows permissions, they would not be able to. Once MS abuses their power as owners of your OS, they may well be able to trounce the competition, maybe put Steam or EA or whoever aims to set up an online game store, out of business. Then, once they control the market, they can hike the price. Jobs will be lost, competition in the marketplace could disappear and the consumer will suffer.

 

What if there is malware that manages to abuse this system, there is no way for you to clean it.

 

I like to mod my games, if I am paying for a game I like to be able to play with that game. Even mod it, add to it, change it, I don’t know, as a paying customer I should be able to use it as I see fit. I have paid for that privilege haven’t I? If I cannot mod my game or change it in any way (within reason ofc), be clear about that, in the same way be clear about putting hidden, secret files on my PC! Transparency is good for everyone!!!!

 

What if I wanna shift files around on my PC or to a new PC, it’s not possible to do that under this system without having to redownload it all.

 

Locking down at an OS just level feels so wrong to me. I bought all the hardware, I bought windows, I configured this system, it's mine, it's my hobby and I work on this PC, and chat on it to friends, why am I not able to access files on my own system? What is so important that they have to put secret locked files on my PC? Does anyone know what the files are? Who can even check except for Microsoft? Does Microsoft know they are clean? How certain are they about their full contents at all times? Let's be clear here, MS have had countless issues with system integrity over the years on their operating systems. So how can we be confident that they are able to ensure the integrity of these secret folders on my PC, which were mostly written by other companies.

 

Locking down the files kills any possibility of using the Xbox Game Pass for PC on Linux. Linux is an open system and will likely never add support for such a closed system. What does this mean for Microsoft’s new stated love for Linux?

 

Upon further investigation, I found that this is an issue which dates back to 2016. I suspect it has been “flying under the radar” since then because people were not using the Microsoft store much until a lot more recently. However, with the massive amount of people now subscribing to the game pass on PC, these secret files are becoming much more relevant.

 

I think we as a community should review if the presence of secret files on customer’s PCs is acceptable. This is a conversation and a debate that needs to happen publically. I would love for the Microsoft Game Pass to succeed. I think it's great and it suits my gaming habits so well. But I feel it needs to be done fairly. Microsoft should not be taking advantage of the fact that they own the dominant gaming OS. It also needs to be transparent. Nothing that is on a private PC should be locked down at the OS level. We all need to be able to see everything that is on our systems.

 

Thank you all. Sources:
1. https://www.windowscentral.com/epic-games-co-founder-says-industry-must-fight-microsoft-uwp (2016)
2. https://torrentfreak.com/pirates-crack-microsofts-uwp-protection-five-layers-of-drm-defeated-180215/ (2018, I do not encourage piracy, what is important to take away from this article is the severity and lengths microsoft have gone to harming PAYING consumers in the process)

 

 

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Can't read all of it since the white background is hurting my eyes with dark mode but Microsoft does this with every app and game on their app store, I'm pretty sure. It sucks but not much you can do about it.

Make sure to quote or tag people, so they get notified.

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Uh... I don’t really see the problem. You can see the files and where they are but you’re mad that you can’t read the contents.

 

I’d hate to be the bearer of bad news, but the vast majority of programs are obfuscated even if you can open them to view in an editing environment.

 

I’d also hate to see you realize that most games dump 99% of their data into enormous blob files unable to be read or altered by the end user.

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i feel like this is just finding something to complain about.

 

Quote

What if I wanna shift files around on my PC or to a new PC, it’s not possible to do that under this system without having to redownload it all.

this is the only thing i agree with, this is the worst.

 

 

i would guarantee that 99% of people, even if the files weren't "hidden", wouldn't even know if there was something malicious installed in the game files. I don't even know people who go and check files after being downloaded from steam, or  any other game store.

 

 

and now, just for shits and giggles, i'm going to play devil's advocate and make an argument people love to on this forum when talking about other companies (i despise this argument by the way).

 

They can do what ever they like on their own platform. Their OS, their rules. yadda yadda.

 

Quote

Then I thought, hang on, this is totally unfair. This is clearly anti-competitive. Steam, Epic Games, EA, etc do not have a gaming dominant OS like MS does.

then you don't understand what anti-competition actually is...

Judge the product by its own merits, not by the Company that created it.

 

 

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MS Store does that with all programs you install from them, they don't install like regular programs

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8 minutes ago, TempestCatto said:

Where did you copy/paste this from? I ask because the formatting is not default; which usually happens when you copy/paste from somewhere else.

Fixed it, my bad. Copied it from Word.

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4 minutes ago, Vitamanic said:

Uh... I don’t really see the problem. You can see the files and where they are but you’re mad that you can’t read the contents.

 

I’d hate to be the bearer of bad news, but the vast majority of programs are obfuscated even if you can open them to view in an editing environment.

 

I’d also hate to see you realize that most games dump 99% of their data into enormous blob files unable to be read or altered by the end user.

Right, but you can still access/decode the blob of data if you desired. Here you cannot even begin reading the files.

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2 minutes ago, lexusgamer05 said:

MS Store does that with all programs you install from them, they don't install like regular programs

Correct.

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7 minutes ago, Cyberspirit said:

Can't read all of it since the white background is hurting my eyes with dark mode but Microsoft does this with every app and game on their app store, I'm pretty sure. It sucks but not much you can do about it.

Fixed, sorry about that. Copied it from word, seems to have taken the background with it.

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4 minutes ago, Hazybeard said:

Right, but you can still access/decode the blob of data if you desired. Here you cannot even begin reading the files.

Not really though as they’re often encrypted to prevent data mining and cheating. Depends on the game, really.

 

Even if they’re not encrypted you would still need access to developer tools or someone that reverse engineered it and made a data mining utility.

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3 minutes ago, Vitamanic said:

Not really though as they’re often encrypted to prevent data mining and cheating. Depends on the game, really.

 

Even if they’re not encrypted you would still need access to developer tools or someone that reverse engineered it and made a data mining utility.

Yes, but you are not blocked from reading the actual bytes. You cannot in this case. I am not talking about understanding the bytes, that's secondary.

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It's originally made to prevent regular users from fucking around with system files. MS has been gradually locking things down. Too many people being tricked to delete important OS files.

 

MS pushed that kind of locked down files to everything from the Store(sandboxed I believe), for what I'm guessing is a sort of DRM and security feature, to prevent people from accessing and modifying the files easily to pirate the softwares as well as to prevent malicious app from doing harm to your PC ?

Yes it's a bit shady. Yes you can't really see or access them through normal means. Yes only MS can do this...

 

But no, it doesn't make them anti-competitive. I see it like any other DRM out there. It would be anti-competitive if Microsoft forced EVERYONE else to use their locked down mechanism for files, through their Store. Or if they plainly blocked every other services outside of their stores.

Just like how you can't run Steam or Epic games, without their respective client open. But in the case of Microsoft, they literally own the OS so they can push it a bit further as far as the DRM goes.

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7 minutes ago, Hazybeard said:

Yes, but you are not blocked from reading the actual bytes. You cannot in this case. I am not talking about understanding the bytes, that's secondary.

Nobody is preventing you from reading the bytes. Go download a Linux distro and live boot it if you really want to look at the gibberish in the files.

 

This isn’t that big of a deal though. It’s Microsoft implementing annoyances to dissuade you from tinkering with software you don’t own. Very common in the DRM era. 
 

If you want to argue the merits of abolishing DRM... that’s a different discussion.

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31 minutes ago, Hazybeard said:

Then I thought, hang on, this is totally unfair. This is clearly anti-competitive.

What a load of crock. There is nothing anti-competitive about this, Microsoft sandboxing the games away does in literally NO way hinder competition, whatsoever.

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51 minutes ago, Hazybeard said:

What if I wanna shift files around on my PC or to a new PC, it’s not possible to do that under this system without having to redownload it all.

This was never a recommended practice anyways unless you know for sure the program was portable. What's the issue here? You can't just copy the directory containing your Photoshop install from one PC and paste it on another PC expecting it to just work perfectly.

 

51 minutes ago, Hazybeard said:

What if there is malware that manages to abuse this system, there is no way for you to clean it.

Again, the recommended practice was always just to cut your losses and do a fresh install. There's no point trying to manually fix whatever damage the infection had caused. You'll always be spending more time chasing down gremlins than just starting fresh and reinstalling everything. 

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49 minutes ago, Hazybeard said:

What if there is malware that manages to abuse this system, there is no way for you to clean it

Antivirus-applications do get the permission to scan the files, so yes, you actually do have ways of cleaning it.

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3 hours ago, Vitamanic said:

also hate to see you realize that most games dump 99% of their data into enormous blob files unable to be read or altered by the end user.

... I think that's not correct, most of those "blob" files are easy to read, whereas with MS store apps you aren't so lucky cause they're locked down, on the OS level . This is because microsoft doesn't want their games to be modded or anyway altered otherwise.

 

Which in turn is very anti consumer and anti openness, the very thing why  most people play on PC rather than consoles.

 

 

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This annoys me because the WindowsApp folder always shows 0 bytes on disk, even when there's games installed on that drive. This can make it annoying to find out what games are taking up space on your drive and where they are located.

 

This folder contains Metro Exodus (approx. 70GB)

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27 minutes ago, Mark Kaine said:

... I think that's not correct, most of those "blob" files are easy to read, whereas with MS store apps you aren't so lucky cause they're locked down, on the OS level . This is because microsoft doesn't want their games to be modded or anyway altered otherwise.

 

Which in turn is very anti consumer and anti openness, the very thing why  most people play on PC rather than consoles.

 

 

They’re often encrypted, especially ones with online components. Even for the ones that aren’t, you’re not getting anything beyond raw texture data and audio without developer tools or reverse engineering.

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10 minutes ago, Spotty said:

This annoys me because the WindowsApp folder always shows 0 bytes on disk, even when there's games installed on that drive. This can make it annoying to find out what games are taking up space on your drive and where they are located.

 

This folder contains Metro Exodus (approx. 70GB)

 

That's annoying but I think you can still open that folder and it then shows you what's there and the "properties" work too iirc.

 

Lol something like that always comes up when I just turned off my PC and I can't check...

 

It's also one of these points where Windows outright lies to the user  ("0 bytes") ... good old "security through obscurity" which by itself is a security risk imo because users will try to find ways around this stuff with "3rd party programs" which by themselves aren't necessarily "secure".

 

 

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4 minutes ago, Vitamanic said:

They’re often encrypted, especially ones with online components.

yes, that's the point of them being "blobs".

 

5 minutes ago, Vitamanic said:

without developer tools or reverse engineering.

there are programs for this usually, game engines aren't exactly "secret" , how do you think games get modded? it's a non issue, usually doesn't even take 1 day for the tools being available.

 

8 minutes ago, Vitamanic said:

you’re not getting anything beyond raw texture data

hence this is not correct for the vast majority of games , you can check on nexus, pretty much any mildly popular game has mods  and if not on nexus it's probably elsewhere. Online is a non factor also (except the game has VAC)

 

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6 minutes ago, Mark Kaine said:

That's annoying but I think you can still open that folder and it then shows you what's there and the "properties" work too iirc.

Yeah, you can. It was just annoying as I was going through all the other folders on the drive (uPlay, Origin, Steam, etc) trying to free up some space on the drives and they all show how much space on the disk they're taking up. I couldn't figure out where a few hundred GB was missing. Was a hidden Windows folder which showed 0 Bytes which had a couple of Xbox Pass games in it.

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Not trying to sound stupid, but don't they lock the files so you can't pirate them? (example being copying the files over to a flash drive, then redistributing it) You don't really own the game after all, they just lease ownership to you under a subscription. Now, if this were paid games then I'd be saying something different, since you bought permanent ownership to that copy.

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8 minutes ago, Spotty said:

Yeah, you can. It was just annoying as I was going through all the other folders on the drive (uPlay, Origin, Steam, etc) trying to free up some space on the drives and they all show how much space on the disk they're taking up. I couldn't figure out where a few hundred GB was missing. Was a hidden Windows folder which showed 0 Bytes which had a couple of Xbox Pass games in it.

it's just bad practice, when I replaced my non OS drive I noticed it had a couple of windows"apps" folders on it which I couldn't delete whatsoever... what I think happened is that I downloaded a program from MS store and that just stored stuff on my secondary drive... and that program later stopped working randomly after a windows update... but that got never fixed with another update,nor did windows delete these now useless folders, basically taking the drive ransom... 

I eventually had to format the drive to get rid of these folders... they weren't even big, 100mb or so, they were just annoying and I wasn't sure if they'd suddenly mess up other windows installs or what, as I now use that drive as a backup drive...

 

Long story short, it's a huge mess and I personally find this indeed unacceptable. ಠ_ಠ

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