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Xbox crackdown irks "mod chip" fans

Several game players are left in the lurch as a result of Microsoft's apparently successful efforts to shut down one of the leading sellers of hacking tools for the game console.

Many game players have been left in the lurch as a result of Microsoft's apparently successful efforts to shut down one of the leading sellers of Xbox hacking tools.

Customers of Hong Kong-based Web retailer Lik-Sang report they've heard nothing regarding dozens of orders they placed with the site shortly before it went offline last month.

Lik-Sang was one of the top worldwide retailers of "mod chips," devices that when soldered to a game console's main circuit board will disable security components. The chips typically allow a game machine to play legally and illegally copied discs, run unauthorized software, and play game discs intended for other geographic regions.

Lik-Sang offered a variety of specialty and gray-market game gear, including mod chips for Xbox, Sony's PlayStation 2 and consoles with mod chips already installed by Lik-Sang technicians. The company went into the manufacturing side of the mod chip business last August when it acquired OpenXbox, a mod chip design intended to allow upgrades.

A Microsoft representative at the company's Australian headquarters confirmed to CNET last week that the company had taken legal action against Lik-Sang but declined to provide details.

Lik-Sang's Web site has been down since Sept. 20, replaced by a page that blames server problems for the shutdown. The company did not respond to repeated e-mail requests for comment.

Customers have also been stymied in getting information on the retailer's plans. Ted, a 30-year-old network administrator from Cliffside, N.J., said he spent more than $300 on a programming tool for his classic SNES Nintendo game console the day before Lik-Sang went offline.

Ted, who asked that his last name not be used, said he's heard nothing from Lik-Sang since the order was placed and skipped a chance to complain through PayPal--the online service he used to pay for the order--based on Lik-Sang's server pledges.

"I don't have an Xbox and could care less about that and the mod chips," he said. "In my case, we are talking about fair use and a console that is 11 years old."

David, a British pub owner who also declined to give his full name, said he sent Lik-Sang almost $400 for an Xbox with a mod chip pre-installed by Lik-Sang. He said he's heard nothing from the retailer since.

"I know a lot of people will say that I got what I deserved by dealing with a company who deals in pirate consoles--and to some extent I agree, but nobody likes to lose 250 (British) pounds," he said.

Domenick Verga, a college student in Phoenix, said he was charged $270 for a Game Boy Advance programming kit from Lik-Sang shortly before the site went down. He said he hasn't had any contact from Lik-Sang since he placed the order, although he seemed more ready to blame Microsoft's legal actions.

"I think it was wrong of Microsoft, if that is truly what happened," he said. "Lots of people are using the mods for good reasons. I just like to develop stuff and tinker with things. That is really what gets me going and the only reason I spend the time or money on this stuff anyway."

Hackers have latched on to mod chips as a conduit for running homemade software on the Xbox, leading to development of programs such as an Xbox version of the Linux operating system.

Though mod chips have bothered the video game business for years, Microsoft has been particularly zealous in fighting them. The company reconfigured the Xbox's innards partly to deter hackers and has sought to hire a mod chip expert.