Originally shared this on twitter and it got jumbled out of order, so posting here which is **maybe** easier to read than a series of tweets.
Alright, Story Time.
The year was 2005. I was a kid who loved video games, mountain dew, and talking to girls on aim/msn I met via myspace, hotornot, & okcupid. 😂 It was just days before e3, and Microsoft had just announced the xbox 360, with ‘more details to come at e3’…
I was kinda ‘meh’ at the time because my focus was still mostly on my PS2, the one I refer to as the infamous ‘$7 PS2’ that I got a month or 2 after it launched. (Which is a whole other story.) Days later though I was glued to my TV watching G4’s E3 coverage of all the new games and systems while simultaneously refreshing yahoo news, IGN, and others for any other gaming news I could find out of E3.
It was during this that press releases started going out from Microsoft, Mountain Dew, & Yahoo about a new contest coming up:
they were gonna have a promo where they gave away a 360, every ten minutes, over a series of weeks. This was some of the best marketing anyone had ever seen for a console at the time, if not *the* best.
Upon going to the website, there was a form, where they wanted you to throw in your email address, and they’d contact you to remind you when the contest was coming up/getting closer in a few months. I dropped my email in the form, hit submit, and…forgot all about it… …until a few months later, that is. I randomly received an email letting me know the contest was coming up, how I could enter the giveaways by entering codes from mountain dew caps, etc. The email also had something extra: a code for a bonus entry, for getting on their email list.
…this was when the idea popped into my head. I cleared my cache/cookies, went back to the form, put in an alt email, hit submit, and waited.
30 seconds later another info email about the contest, with a bonus entry code.
The lightbulbs in my head were lighting up like the Rockefeller center christmas tree lighting. I ran some experiments with other test email addresses… success. success. success. It was almost too perfect.
So, I lock myself in my room like a mad scientist and start tweaking my process for obtaining these extra codes. I got it to where my system was watching the emails coming in, and automagically parsing just the codes out, and popping them into a csv I could open in excel. The system automation was doing all the work for me at this point.
“you must have had like 50-60 free entries!”
yee-up. Literally thousands of entries, without ever cracking open a bottle, a week before the contest/site even opened.
Opening day came, and the site basically worked like this: you’d enter your code, it’d add the entry credit to your account, and you could choose which 10 minute time slot over the next few weeks you wanted to enter. Put em all in one, spread em across multiple time slots, however you wanted to use your entries, the world was your oyster. Early on, prime time slots would start to have a lot of entries, (yeah, they even showed you how many entries you were against in your slot), and people would of course think “oh, i’ll put my entry in the 2:20am slot on thursday that only has 107 entries to better my odds” (which is what everyone would think, so the low entry slots would fill just the same).
That’s when it hit me: “why don’t I find the lowest entry slot right now, and dump these 4000+ free entries into it, so people will see this slot is overloaded with entries and not enter any further?” and of course, that’s exactly what I did. I dont recall the exact numbers, but I knew that when that slot was finally drawn, I was holding roughly 98% of the entries or something. So a win wasnt a 100% lock, but the odds were certainly in my favor.
The draw time came and went.
Hours went by. No email or notification of any sort. Hours turned into days. Did someone else get picked? Maybe they caught on to what I did and Disqualified me? I was half nervous, half assuming it was over, no win.
2 or 3 days later I crawled out of bed, checked my account on the site again, and was greeted with this: (btw, upon revisiting this screenshot years later, props to me for having adblock installed in 2005, haha)
ID DONE IT. THE WINNER WAS ME. I logged out. Logged back in. The message was still there. This was real. Being a kid who was broke af, this was huge. I wasn’t gonna be able to afford that console. I probably would’ve still been playing that $7 ps2 for another 2 years.
The excitement held me for a good few days. It was all I could think about.
That is, until I opened yahoo news 3 days later, and saw a headline among the lines of:
“HACKER STEALS ENTRIES IN XBOX CONTEST, GETS CAUGHT”
…my heart nearly lept out of my throat.
I took a deep breath, and hesitantly clicked the news link.
Turns out, some other kid had figured out what I also had. The article wasn’t about me.
Or was it? I quickly checked my account. Winner message was still there….
I read on further. If I recall correctly, this kid had figured out he could delete his account after getting the freebie code, and re-signup with the same email. They caught the bulk emails to same account all requested from the same IP address.
*I* on the other hand, was only marginally more smarter about it. The script i’d put together basically worked like this: It’d load the page, insert a ‘random string of characters @ domain-I-owned’ email address, submit it, switch to another proxy server, and go again.
I had a catch-all email address turned on for that domain. So if an email came in for an address that didnt exist (ie: dgjegfhdh @ domain dot com) it’d dump it into the catchall bucket. So all my entries of the form were spread across multiple ip’s / emails. (Because of everyone having gmail, yahoo mail, etc, the system didnt care that all the emails were from the same domain, there wasn’t anything unusual about that part of it.)
….I still wasn’t 100% convinced I hadn’t been caught though.
Until sometime in October I think it was, when a package from mountain dew arrived. It contained this mountain dew t shirt, this hat, and this hoodie that I showed earlier, along with a notice my xbox was on the way, and some cheaply printed ‘invites’ to my xbox party & coupons for dew:
I think the shirt and hat are long gone at this point, but I always made sure to keep the hoodie as a trophy/memento. Next up… was the xbox 360.
Sure enough, at around 4 in the afternoon on a Friday, the week before the console launched, this appeared at my door:
UPS clearly didn’t care about the embargo date, lol. Also love that they stated ‘2005’. You know in case of 2004/2006 delivery 😂
It was real. It was in my hands. I could play it the week before launch, I was one of a (relatively) small batch of people in the world who owned one. It felt…. goooooood. haha
In the weeks that followed the first ‘hack’ story breaking, many more followed. It was all over the news. People were cracked down on hard. But I… was likely the first to put together what I did. I had won before even the first person was caught, and wasn’t part of the rest.
I could’ve been smarter about it, but in the end, I was just smart enough, and emerged victorious. Very few people have known the details of this story, until today. It was a long one, but hopefully a good one 🙂
Also: The game it came with was ‘Kameo’. Not gonna lie, it looked boring. I decided not to open it. So that first week I played XBLA games (a lot of geometry wars, peggle, etc.) I went to my local midnight launch @ Walmart. Clerk was confused that I  already had a unopened game I was trading for another, and  didn’t want a console. Traded for Need For Speed: Most Wanted, and picked up Project Gotham Racing 3. (Both great games)