Piracy, dodgy? Au contraire Rodney, au contraire!

Hey you, yeah you. You look like you play games. Want to get your Xbox chipped? You’ll never have to pay full price for a game again! Just think of all the money you will save, ifyougetcaughtthoughyourXboxgetsbricked… but think of all the money you will save! So what do you reckon…?

We all know piracy is bad and most definitely probably funds organised crime? Sorry, I momentarily turned into a Daily Mail reporter then. With the current console generation there has always been a risk that your weapon of choice, be it your Xbox, Wii or handheld device, will get bricked when the powers that be track you down and smite you from above with their mighty firmware updates. On the whole, however, I’d say that this generation of consoles has been the most secure so far, especially the PS3… until recently that is.

As anyone who reads any gaming news website undoubtedly knows, the PS3 and its security was recently hacked; actually, hacked is too mild a word. I think utterly and completely devastated would be a better description. A team of hackers known as Fail0verflow has demonstrated to the public a major flaw in the Sony machine that literally allows a user to do anything they want with their machine. Whilst Fail0verflow say that they don’t condone piracy, the flaw they have highlighted will indeed allow copied games to be played on any Playstation and there didn’t appear to be anything that Sony can do about it.

Without going into too much detail, Fail0verflow claim that they were a bit miffed when Sony decided to remove the ability to run Linux on the Playstation. A feature which, whilst not hugely popular, was important to the hacker community and so in order to allow Linux to run again Fail0verflow have, thanks to an extremely school-boyish error on Sony’s part, found out what the Playstation’s encryption key is.

This key when added, for example, to a custom programme will make the Playstation think that this programme is genuine and from Sony themselves thus allowing it to run and work unhindered. To make matters worse, this key can not be changed by Sony as it would render every single legitimate game currently on the market useless. It’s kind of like giving a burglar the master key to every lock ever made and then the law not being able to do a thing about it because he didn’t technically “break in.”

So with this obviously devastating flaw out in the open and the scores of piracy enabling programmes no doubt screaming their way on to the internet, with absolutely no risk of the Playstation being bricked, what does this mean for the future of the Playstation?

Now I understand that just because the ability to play pirated games is available, doesn’t necessarily mean everyone will go out and do it.  I’m sure that only a small minority will do so but, as we all know, it only takes one prick to ruin a perfectly good party and there is no doubt in my mind that people will make pirated games available.

Only time will tell what will happen but I’ve had a little think about one or two possibilities below:

Spore - the DRM prompted many to avoid completely.

Repercussions for Developers
It’s naïve to think that piracy has never been a problem in the past, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see a few developers starting to refuse to develop for the Playstation in the future. It has happened in the past with the PC so it sure as hell can happen again to the Playstation. In my opinion, as much as a lot of people hate DRM, the requirement of some PC games to be logged on to the internet in order to be played has done a lot to keep developers making great games for the PC . As these systems will not work on a hacked Playstation, I really cant see developers wanting to take what is already a massive investment in both time and money and see it ripped to pieces by pirates once the game is released. However, for the time being at least, this is unlikely to happen; modern game development is a long winded affair that can often take years so it’s highly unlikely that developers and publishers will be willing to waste all the money and effort they have already invested during a game’s development.

The publishers will likely be forced to take the hit in terms of sales figures but it’s the more vulnerable developers that are likely to suffer the most; the average developer receives approximately £3 from the sale of the average £40 game (SOURCE http://www.eurogamer.net/articles/2011-01-10-where-does-my-money-go-article )

Put simply, before the hack a developer of a relatively successful game which sold say 100,000 units could expect to receive £300k. If the same game was released after a hack becomes readily available and perhaps 10% of those sales are lost to piracy then the developer would stand to lose a massive £30k in profits. This doesn’t sound much compared to £300k, but that’s still salary for one or two people that the developer can no longer afford to pay. The knock on effect is that the next game the developer makes for the PS3 will be made with fewer or less talented people, affecting overall quality and, in turn, a poorer game will be made resulting in lower review scores and ultimately lower sales.

Just to make it abundantly clear, I’m aware that this is all a bit broad brushed and a tiny bit sensationalist (sorry I turned into a Daily Mail journo again), and I know that some people may be thinking that a game pirated is not a lost sale as that person would never have paid full price for the game in the first place. Normally I would subscribe to this school of thinking but piracy has never been an issue for the Playstation in the past so now I think they have become valid arguments and it’ll be interesting to see how it unfolds.

Repercussions for Sony
It’s probably fair to say that, initially, hardware sales will go through the roof. Whilst there won’t be scores of people clambering over one another to buy themselves a Playstation, we will definitely see a marked rise in sales as it’s not rocket science to work out that in order to play copied games you still need a Playstation and those who previously avoided the Playstation due specifically to its seemingly robust security will want a piece of the action, which obviously isn’t so bad for Sony in the short term. I’d be willing to put money on Sony having the highest hardware sales year on year for the remainder of the current console generation.

In the long term, however, if a high enough percentage of people decide to pirate their games then it’s possible that Sony will find that nobody is willing to produce games for them, as highlighted above. A lack of quality new titles will obviously have an impact on the Playstation’s creditability in the future.

Depending on the damage caused, Sony may have to work hard to restore confidence in their brand name, especially when the time comes for the PS4 to be released. While this doesn’t sound too difficult, people have long memories, especially if you’re a developer and you’ve been shafted out of a fair few quid.

OK, maybe not ALL the time!

Hopefully, I’m completely and utterly wrong and PS3 piracy won’t become rampant in the near future. Hopefully developers will still continue to make great games for me despite the piracy and I can hopefully continue to enjoy exclusives like Uncharted and LittleBigPlanet. That’s a little too much hoping for my liking, but I for one plan to continue to support my beloved Playstation and buy my games legitimately, and I just hope you lot will too!

Oh yeah, before I forget,

Dear Fail0verflow,
Linux sucks.

Last five articles by Ste



  1. Edward Edward says:

    The one thing I never got was this:
    If Linux was so great…
    Why not buy a PC and install it on there?

    Otherwise, great stuff, Ste :)

    Also, I think I know Markuz too well now. I saw the Pong image and laughed, but I wasn’t at all surprised by it. ;)

  2. Samuel Samuel says:

    Linux is great, and I do run it on my computer, heh.

    I have to admit to being somewhat ambivalent about this. On the one hand I don’t even own a PS3, but I do have a PS1 and PS2, not to mention my Gamecube, all of which I used to import games from Japan and the US for due to some of my more niche gaming interests. Having a hack to get around the consoles’ protections was vital for me or I’d have needed three different machines for each system, for each region. That wouldn’t have been practical. I never got my consoles chipped, but I did get Freeloader disks that bypass the security temporarily.

    Being able to use a Freeloader is sometimes important, then, and has a legitimate use. I’ve never pirated console games, though my Freeloaders would have allowed me to, simply because I want my collection of games on display. So some developers actually made more money out of me because I’d gotten around the security. On the PS3 I don’t think they have region protection so in this specific instance my argument falls down a bit, but if this had happened to the Wii or the 360, I’d definitely be leading the calls for access to this sort of hack, as there are still games released abroad that never make it to Europe or the UK that I want to play. I did have a Freeloader for my Wii, in fact, but Nintendo put the kibosh on it with a firmware update. My console wasn’t bricked, but my Freeloader disk, and several games I had imported, entirely legally, were rendered useless.

  3. Richie rich says:

    Odd one this. I had a chipped PS1 and PS2 (albeit with plenty of originals) but went completely legit for the 360 and have enjoyed the machine more for it. Even with the promise of sticking one on Sony and having ‘free’ games I still wouldn’t bother with a PS3.

    Moral? Piracy sucks.

    Still, LOL @ Sony.

    Their response to all this was to try an update that would ban the hackers – although the hackers could unban themselves and, worse, ban legitimate users. Also, they want to introduce a five-use DRM code. LOL. It’s over, Sony.

  4. Joeydale13 says:

    Great article Ste,

    I have always been dead against piracy of any kind. I wont watch pirated films, i won’t download music for free and I certainly wouldn’t ever want to play a pirated video game.

    For me, there is a team of people who have worked hard to create the best game that they can and they deserved to be regarded with people paying full price for their product (except Conflict: Denied Ops – pirate that bad boy to hell).

    Don’t get me wrong, a lot of the time I resent paying full price for my products especially considering the amount of money floating around in the game, movie, music industry but I Just can’t bring myself to have anything to do with piracy – even though it is sometimes tempting during peak release times!

    Does that make me better than anyone else, no, well maybe a bit ;-)

  5. Ste says:

    Thanks for the comments guys. I heard about the 5 console code after submitting this article and I think it’s definately a bad idea. Especially seeing as the hackers will most probably be able to simply create a patch to get around it anyway and once again legitimate users will get screwed over again.

    I’ve also heard that Sony are currently developing a “hack proof” PS3 slim. Not quite sure how they are going to do this because as I mentioned in the article if they change the codes then every ps3 game previously released won’t work on it. It’ll be interesting to see what they come up with.

    It’s been over a month now since this all happened but I’ve not heard about any custom firmwares spreading across the net yet but I’m deluding myself if it’s not just a matter of time.

  6. Adam Adam says:

    It’s a shame that the custom firmware the guys developed allowed for Piracy to become a possibility on the PS3, I watched it happen on the PSP and it did nasty things to that.

    That a console allows for homebrew applications to run on it is magnificent, it really is. Gives bedroom coders the ability to fool around with things they might never be able to without enrolling on a course somewhere. It would be nice to think that the team behind it could have discovered this and agreed to keep it to themselves, maybe give Sony a heads up or something but I guess theres always some punk out their that wants notoriety out of these things and Sony were sort of giving people like that the push by changing their stance on homebrew.

    I had a custom firmware PSP and I loved it, I could copy all of the games I OWNED onto a MemStickDuo and never have to worry about carrying discs around. Not having to use discs also meant the motor and laser wasn’t being used and that the battery life was much much better. Not only that but with a lot of fiddling around, I was able to run my collection of PS1 games on it too. Low res old games on a small screen look great and are still fun.

    I understand that Sony would be pissed, I may have been legitamately making use of my purchase but all of the money I was spending on the PSP was going to bargain bin used PS1 games and none of it into the new releases for the console (which I never got much out of).

    Really great article Ste :D

  7. Mark R MarkuzR says:

    Were it not for Linux, this site wouldn’t exist… it’s run on a Linux box and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Ever. Having said that, a console isn’t built to be used as a PC – that’s why we have PCs. Why anyone would want to hack the shit out of a console so they could get it to mimic being a PC is beyond me, but people have their own reasons for everything. I imagine it’s more about the challenge than anything else. I also saw a high spec gaming rig that had an XBox 360 built inside it so you could choose between running it as a PC or as an XBox… great idea for some tech wizardry to pass the time but, again, it’s trying to force one thing into being another and it’s just odd.

    If Sony didn’t want people to hack the shit out of the PS3 to get it to run homebrew stuff then they should have allowed people to create their own code as Microsoft do. It’s a shame that it could potentially ruin the market for the developers of Sony games, and I imagine there’ll be a lot of devs with the attitude that Ste mentioned above where they’re hesitant to bother coding for the PS3 if it means people can pirate at will and they don’t get any revenue… but it hasn’t hurt the XBox at all and I know one particular guy who never EVER pays for XBox 360 games other than slipping someone a fiver for a copy. For the majority of us though, it’s all about supporting the devs.

  8. Lorna Lorna says:

    I roll my eyes every time ‘that’ pain in the arse delivery guy turns up at our door and then bangs on about his chipped Xbox – I just think what a prick he is and then think about the number of small dev studios who will be most affected by it. You raise some interesting points with regards to the future of the PS3 and whether devs will be so keen to invest their time and money into supporting the platform. Piracy did help drive down PC sales and I remember reading more than a few comments from various developers saying that it was an issue in terms of what return they would likely get from developing for the PC.

    It is a nasty problem and I suspect it will take a long time before Sony ever get the lid back on the can – if they ever manage it. I also fail to see the appeal in dicking around with Linux on the PS3, for whatever reason, whether it is running homebrew stuff or pulling the wings off to see how it works. It’s a fucking console. Still, MarkuzR raises an interesting point that if Sony had some sort of development playground or XNA type deal, then it may cut down on this sort of thing. Nice article!

Leave a Comment