One of the most anticipated titles of 2012, Halo 4, is now available – if you’re willing to break the law and possibly face a permanent ban from Xbox Live. As we reported yesterday, a stolen copy of Halo 4 has resulted in a massive online leak – allowing players with modded Xbox consoles to play the game’s single player content over two full weeks ahead of the retail release.

However, as Halo 4 spoiler videos flood YouTube, in addition to working with law enforcement to determine the source of the leak, Microsoft is also hard at work banning players who pirated the game and then logged into Xbox Live.

According to a growing discussion thread on Reddit, players who fired up Halo 4 on their modded Xbox 360 and then took the console online are seeing harsh blow-back from Microsoft – with many commenters reporting that their console has been hit with a “permanent suspension” from Xbox Live for “prerelease title play.” As usual, gamers in the thread are debating the word pairing of “permanent” and “suspension” which, on the surface, seems to indicate both an indefinite and temporary ban at the same time. That said, while Microsoft has been known to reactive “permabanned” consoles from time to time, a “permanent suspension” usually means that the hardware, and sometimes a corresponding online Xbox Live account, has been locked from online play and other functionality. As a result, depending on the infraction (and whether or not an Xbox Live user account was also banned), a player’s achievements, certain digital downloads, and even Zune access can be lost.

Even though the title has leaked, online play is currently not functional – so pirating players are limited to local campaign play. That said, a few infracting Xbox Live players were surprised to find their consoles banned – even though they didn’t play Halo 4 while connected to the online service. That’s because Microsoft uses a number of ways to determine Xbox Live infractions – including data logs that record while the console is offline.

Check out an image of the suspension notice below (click to enlarge):

Halo 4 Xbox Live Ban

Best advice? Don’t pirate games or risk the unfavorable consequences.

Despite the online leak, developer 343 Industries isn’t letting the problem undercut their enthusiasm for the game’s impending release.

Speaking to Polygon, Halo franchise director, Frank O’Conner, weighed in on the leak: “This is how surprised I am about this” O’Connor then shrugged his shoulders before asserting that its unavoidable that a major release like Halo 4 would leak online ahead of the retail release.

It’s easy to understand why the developer isn’t too fazed by the pirating – given that modded console players cannot participate in the online portion of the game. Plenty of gamers are excited to see where the Master Chief story goes in part four but there’s no doubt that many Halo fans consider multiplayer to be the most valuable part of the package – given the amount of multiplayer walkthroughs and competitive map details that have been officially released by the studio. Certainly some pirating gamers will get their Halo fix on the single player campaign but the leak timeframe is unlikely to have a major impact on sales – considering single-player only pirates aren’t likely to be canceling pre-orders (since the campaign component would have been available for pirating after November 6th).

In the meantime, for players who are willing to obtain the game legally, you can still pre-order your Halo 4 copy, watch new episodes of Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn, or count down the days until the David Fincher-produced Halo 4 launch trailer arrives.

Follow me on Twitter @benkendrick.

Halo 4 releases November 6, 2012 for the Xbox 360.

Source: Polygon and Reddit