About a fortnight ago, Sony announced that they would be removing the PlayStation 3’s “Install Other OS” feature, which allowed users to install Linux on the system, via a firmware update. While it wasn’t explicitly stated — Sony cited “security concerns” — it is widely assumed that the measure was taken in order to combat the potential rise of piracy on the device, due to a hack pioneered by iPhone hacker George Hotz.
Following the announcement, the denizens of the Internet were quick to point out that Sony were removing a feature they had paid for while purchasing their PlayStation 3s; some so violently offended by the move, they suggested that they hoped that the measure would drive the hacking community to pursue PS3 hacking and piracy more aggressively. More disturbingly, it would appear this is a sentiment Hotz has resorted to using in defense of his actions.
“Note to the people who removed OtherOS,” he writes on his blog. “You are potentially turning 100000+ legit users into “hackers.” There was a huge(20x) traffic spike to this blog after the announcement of 3.21. If I had ads on this site I guess I’d be thanking you.”
In another post, he writes, “Hacking isn’t about getting what you didn’t pay for, it’s about making sure you do get what you did.”
He goes on, “And this is about more than this feature right now. It’s about whether these companies have the right to take away advertised features from a product you purchased. Imagine if an exploit were found in Safari on the iPhone, but instead of fixing it, Apple decides to pull web browsing altogether. Legally, they may be within their right to do so, but we have to show them it’s the wrong move for the future of the product and the company.”
The first obvious flaw to this theory is, of course, that we, as consumers, are in no position to decide what is in the best interest of a company. Sure, as consumers, our opinions are valid and our suggestions and feedback critical to future expansion. However, the majority of us don’t have the insight or the incentive to truly be aware of what is and isn’t good for the future of a company that provides us with services.
Making games is a difficult business. Not only do you have to remain profitable, you also have to pay and reward your staff for their effort. It’s easy to point to a company like Nintendo and say, “Well, they’re making money hand over fist. How hard could that be?”
If you took a look at NCL’s working hours — and I don’t mean their “official” working hours — or any other company’s for that matter, you’d probably look at this situation from a different perspective. Every single day, there are people that sacrifice their personal pleasures and families to give us the content we enjoy. Sony are no different. One certainly can’t blame the company for attempting to nip a potential problem in the bud before it has a chance to bloom, especially when it’s a feature as niche as this. Especially in light of what happened to the PSP.
There’s little doubt that this move was not easy for them to make. It never is. They’ve been in this business a long time and they saw the complaints coming from a mile away. Will they look back some day and regret their decision? Perhaps. But it’s impossible to be 100% accurate when finding potential solutions to potential problems.
The other statement that rubs me the wrong way is about how hacking isn’t about getting what you didn’t pay for. This is an utterly bizarre notion. Hacking most certainly is about getting what you didn’t pay for because it involves making a device do things it wasn’t intended to. Really, if we’re going to be idealistic enough to suggest that hacking doesn’t promote piracy, in the name of fairness, we should also be idealistic enough to understand that Sony are reacting the way they are not as an “evil corporation” out to spite its consumers, but to protect themselves and their employees from a very real threat.
Hotz might be young, but he isn’t stupid. He most certainly understands the consequences of his actions. Regardless of how he justifies himself, at the end of the day, his “hobby” ultimately puts the welfare of thousands of people at risk. It also endangers the rights of legitimate consumers, as this Other OS business has demonstrated. Remember, piracy is a large part of why PC gaming changed so drastically over the years. Are we really going to feign naivety when it suits us?
To conclude, take a step back and look at what Hotz is trying to justify. His hack wasn’t a reaction to anything, which is how he presents his argument. Rather, it’s part of a larger problem that plagues the industry as a whole today. Hacking in itself isn’t wrong, but there are more productive ways to use those skills, whether one wants to admit it or not.