Every school kid dreams of unlimited free videogames – it's the modern version of being locked in a sweet shop. But the triumphant proclamations of 'PS3 jailbroken' and 'Hacker claims PS3 is hacked for good' are potentially the worst news Sony fans could ever hear. So let's look at why this week in particular may be remembered in future years for all the wrong reasons.
So what's the problem exactly?
A guy called George Hotz (known online as GeoHot), said to be the man responsible for jailbreaking the iPhone, has published the PS3's master key online. This master key sounds like an item from The Legend of Zelda, and in truth it's no less mythical. It's a list of digital signatures that are used in software to tell a PS3 that the program it's playing is an officially licensed Sony product. Copy that and you can make a PS3 play anything.
'Chipped' consoles pass security through physical means (and can normally be combated through firmware upgrades), but the big deal about this latest hack is that it's supposedly undetectable by normal, retail machines. The codes are built into the hardware, so shop-bought PS3s will happily boot up pirated game discs or package files and believe they're 100% legit. They'll feed back to Sony's servers that everything's fine, allowing full online play.
It is even alleged that the only way to combat this breach would be to revise the hardware itself. You know, a mass recall by Sony where everyone sends their PS3s back to the manufacturer for a new security system to be installed. And that just ain't gonna happen.
Sony has responded to the issue with a very short statement, saying:
"We are aware of this, and are currently looking into it. We will fix the issues through network updates, but because this is a security issue, we are not able to provide you with any more details.”
However, the hackers say the entire console is compromised and that network updates will have zero effect. It's important to stress that GeoHot and the group of hackers he works with claim they do not believe in piracy – all they want to do is go back to not being restricted to Sony’s OS so that they can run independently created and developed software. GeoHot himself admitted he is worried about a lawsuit, but said:
"I am confident I would win since what I released was just a number obtained by running software on the PS3 I purchased"
However, there's no denying his Twitter feed once looked like this:
And now looks like this:
Know your arguments!
Sure, it's easy to argue the case for hacking a console in this way. Firstly comes the "we're only getting back what we originally paid for" argument. Sony's decision to remove the 'Other OS' option from PS3 via a firmware upgrade (downgrade?) annoyed a lot of people. Meiks is the only member of the GR UK team to have installed Linux on his PS3 and he rather bluntly describes it as 'shit'. It didn't use all the PS3's processors, ran like a 7-year-old PC and could barely stream an SD episode of Lost without breaking. As a result, very, very few people used it. But it sure gave people a reason to get angry when it was taken away, and a reason to start hacking.
The second argument is: "I don't believe in piracy – I'm only going to use homebrew on it." If you've paid for a computer of any sort, many believe you should be able to run your own applications on it. While this does infringe End User License Agreements, it's arguably harmless enough for bedroom developers to potter away with their 'GOTO 10's (am I showing my age there?) and I admit I am totally jealous of anyone who has Flash on their iPhone. Even so, if you break the EULA, you're breaking a legal contract, so you're always going to be on dodgy ground where the law's concerned.
The third argument is the oldest. "Games cost too much anyway - who are the criminals really?" OK, fine. But when everyone has easy access to free games and nobody pays for them, the developers get zero money. What's the point of having infinite access to free games when no developer can stay in business long enough to make new ones? That's the reality of it. With game budgets already so big that a single flop can destroy you (R.I.P. Realtime Worlds), the prospect of widespread piracy is a death knell. Oh, and shops 'mark-up' prices for a reason. They employ people. Probably even the parents of the gamers playing the pirated games.
The fourth argument is possibly the most stupid. "Sony's making money on every PS3 they sell, so if more people are buying full-price consoles to play the free games, everyone's a winner". Wrong. PSP may well have sold millions of units to people who want it to play old SNES games on the train, but this kind of market is not sustainable. Wonder why PSP's software line-up is so poor? Sales just aren't high enough to encourage devs to release their premium fare. And look at Nintendo DS' crash in software sales thanks to that damned R4 card. Game piracy will not make Sony happy. It's extremely selfish, highly illegal and no good for anyone in the long run.
What you can do
I'm going to sound like every anti-piracy advert that you try to skip past on DVDs, but it's at times like this that true gamers need to be resolute. So probably best to read this in the voice of South Park's school councillor, Mr Mackey. Don't get suckered in, mmmkay? If you love games, then buy them. It's healthy for the industry and you'll value them more.
What would we do if consoles died out because they no longer work as a business model? We'd probably make games ourselves. And then we'd undoubtedly hope that someone pays us for doing it. After all, all that hard work ought to be rewarded, right?
07 Jan, 2011
Sources: BBC, Next-Gen, OneFaceInAMillion