Why the latest PS3 crack is disastrous for Sony and for gamers

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's response

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: BBCNext-GenOneFaceInAMillion




  • theWanderingANBU - January 10, 2011 11:34 p.m.

    Even though it does not necessitate piracy, I think this is actually pretty bad for the PS3. Games are unfortunately turning out to be 59.99 and plus tax turn out to be round 66.00. But even so, the developer does not get all of the money. All that pays the distributor, the people who burn the games onto the DVD/Blu-Ray and enable it playable on the console, and the PR and so forth. So to those who believe Sony is getting ALL the money when we buy a PS3/PSP, they don't. They may get majority of it, but a lot of the money is dispersed and they even sell PS3 at a loss. In economic terms, they're working with the least possible loss accrued and in turn are working with the least marginal loss. So they're making a profit, possibly thanks to other transactions such as exclusivity to IPs, etc. but not on just the console. So in essence, pay the money to support companies and such. I know for me, if it's a BioWare game, i'm buying it no matter what. Or, if you can't afford it right away, save up money and wait for a sale. Honestly, why pirate it when you show a company you like them by paying for it. The logic makes sense.
  • Evilsafetyboy - January 10, 2011 8:35 p.m.

    If Geohot didn't hack it, some other hacker would've. Maybe someone already had but didn't post the master key. See, this why mankind is not ready for time machines, space travel, solar-powered flying cars and other cool stuff because we would just be greedy, not give a crap and screw it up for everyone else. If piracy continues and worsens, we'll have to make our own games (not counting Little Big Planet). I dunno about most people, but I barely have time to play the games I buy, let alone MAKE one...
  • michaelkaramas - January 10, 2011 8:24 p.m.

    funny cause the 360 was hacked right when it came out...its still doing fine as far as developer support goes...and that is comparatively easy to hack vs the ps3... dont see this affecting anything except maybe a new firmware for new consoles. Its just amazing the ps3 and sony were able to keep it quiet for 5 years. btw i don't home brew or anything...too much risk.
  • derangedmonkey - January 10, 2011 4:55 p.m.

    @FoxdenRacing - completely 100% agree. You said everything that alot of people were probably thinking!! :)
  • skyline19 - January 10, 2011 noon

    It's all very true, piracy will kill gaming. It's not like the film industry, were DVDs can be picked up for like £5 rendering piracy near pointless at times. That being said, I saw ME2 the other day for £10, now I don't know about you but ten years ago I would of been able to afford that on my paper round wage, so if people are moaning games are too expensive, wait around a year or a few months until they are on the cheap. Or just earn it, or become a student and get it for free! The prices on games decrease more rapidily than ever.
  • marcBRO - January 10, 2011 6:48 a.m.

    This wouldn't JUST hurt Sony, because if you could get free games on a console that is the price of Microsoft's Xbox 360 you would go for the PS3. This would kill all of the major console creators.
  • brickman409 - January 9, 2011 8:12 p.m.

    @celticwhisper AMEN BRUTTA
  • Octoboy - January 9, 2011 8:05 p.m.

    Justin, I agree 100%! What's so hard to understand, " If you love games, then buy them." Easy as that. There a few people I have more respect for than the people behind great games. And I want them to be rewarded for all their hard work, be it in dollars or sales figures.
  • TheElephantManchurianCandidate - January 9, 2011 7:39 p.m.

    Wonder if this will mean less PS3 exclusives in the future
  • Demondestroyer - January 9, 2011 7:05 p.m.

    Think of it like this the other systems have indeed been hacked, but by people who know what they are doing with the code anyone could do this it opens new doors for people who do not know how to do this making it easier come on people. Over time with this the ps3 gaming designers may fall. And the people that do hack have no life at all. I agree with @ Ryhbo there are limits.
  • aJAWSOMEocelot - January 9, 2011 11:04 a.m.

    Oh Justin, what a magnificent article.
  • Rivenscry - January 9, 2011 10:15 a.m.

    He broke the law, and yes, clicking "I accept" is a legally binding contract. That's what it's for! Really though, why would you want unlimited free games, wouldn't that just fill up your hard drives? (Yes that sound stupid, but its true) Sony, I'm siding with you on this one, I mean come on, this guy actually thinks he's getting off the hook after he illegally butchered the PS3's hardware, then releases the method online. He does all that and his excuse is, "I want to be able to run my own operating system on it, it was never meant for piracy". What an moron! (because I don't like to swear) "Voice of Survival, out!"
  • MyriamD - January 9, 2011 3:09 a.m.

    @elseftoni1983 Intellectual property protection is copyright and it is for if someone tried to make their own version of the PS3 software and pass it around. A homebrew game isn't any part of the sony software, and that's the only thing covered by this number - making Sony play a game that isn't from them. Custom firmware is a whole other ball game from the article subject, and probably is as old as the system. Anyway, like people said - this was plenty doable in Wii and 360 land long before. Ignoring the moral issues behind piracy, the article is about that number, from the 0verflow guys, and about the PS3 - and everything related to the PS3, including the game market itself, will probably be fine. Incidentally, I agree with how the lack of PSP games is the PSP's own damn fault. I do hope things get better for the DS though. Poor Ninty. (Someday I'm just going to start giving devs donations with tags like "thanks for game foo" and nabbing it, and maybe one for their publisher too (but not Activision till they get their bloody act together), if it's between that and picking up the game used. Freaking used game market is much more harmful than piracy to devs, which is probably why preorders are so damn important now. Used controls both the "cheap gamers" market and the "ignorant people who probably wanted to support the dev" market. I'll save fifty for the guys who made 9 persons 9 hours 9 doors, and another 50 for Clover - err, Platinum Games. (I wub you Okami <3 I like you too, Bayonetta (which I sadly bought used. Probably Okami too, now that I think of it).))
  • elseftoni1983 - January 9, 2011 12:34 a.m.

    i thought that the ps3 classed as an intellectual property, we may own the unit but the product that is the ps3 still belongs to sony, any modifications or hacks should be covered in the EULA laws mentioned in the article, forgive if i'm wrong but thats the way i understand it.
  • g4m3rk1dd - January 8, 2011 11:07 p.m.

  • imtrappedinaninvisiblebox - January 8, 2011 11:05 p.m.

    The third argument is exactly why I bought Minecraft and did not try to pirate it. It was made by one person, and I gave the money basically directly to him. People need to realize that they are giving other people credit that they need, not that other people are cruelly taking their money.
  • celticsfan645 - January 8, 2011 10:12 p.m.

    @celticwhisper always good to see someone else who likes green* *(green is a metaphor for the greatest basketball team of all time**) **(Boston celtics) Unless your irish, but then again thats pretty cool too
  • FanofSaiyan - January 8, 2011 9:36 p.m.

    The real question is not what is happening now, but what will happen in the future. Who's to say the same thing won't happen to the Xbox 360 and the Nintendo Wii? This could create a dominoe effect of hardware piracy... I think that's the real issue Justin is trying to get at.
  • mx2000 - January 8, 2011 9:11 p.m.

    @Mangrail: I wholeheartedly agree. Piracy is bad and wrong, but this whole "piracy equals abandoned plattforms, no games, jobless/homeless developers, dead kittens" scare is entirely baseless. Seriously, its not like this is the first plattform to be hacked. Piracy on the PC has existed for the longest time. And there are still games being made for it. Excellent games in fact, even PC exclusives. Xbox had its fair share of piracy, same for PS2, etc etc. As it turns out, its not the number pirated copies that matters, its the number of copies *sold*. So, no this is not all that disastrous for Sony, and even less so for gamers (give me one historic example of a plattform that died because of piracy...). One more thing: Most of us here probably have a steady source of income. Remember that time when you where a teenager, with little cash and a lot of time? Raise your hand if you've never pirated a game, or played a game someone else pirated (as in: not a single one, since your birth). Well, guess what, there are cashless teenagers today too... Let's tone done the moral panic talk a bit, ok? Piracy is not the end of the (gaming) world (if it where, it would have ended several times over by now).
  • philipshaw - January 8, 2011 7:19 p.m.

    The argument at the end is spot on, if you love games, then buy them so the developer can make more

Showing 1-20 of 113 comments

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