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Daily Reaction: Are The Vita’s Anti-Piracy Measures Worth The Hassle?

August 28, 2012 Written by Sebastian Moss

Daily Reaction is a PSLS exclusive feature where Sebastian Moss & Dan Oravasaari discuss today’s most hard-hitting topics every single weekday.

With today’s feature-packed Vita firmware update locking down the Vita further, it adds to a growing list of blocks and restrictions put in place by Sony to prevent the handheld suffering the same piracy-riddled fate of the PSP. But at what point does the precaution stop being reasonable, and start being more off putting than piracy itself?

Seb: I totally understand why Sony is petrified of piracy – they lost a huge amount of potential revenue on the PSP, something that has also probably made it harder for them to gain publisher support on the Vita. But let’s not kid ourselves, these annoying restrictions aren’t going to stop the Vita being hacked. Want to use Content Manager? Sorry, you have to be online and have the latest firmware update… unless of course you use some software that hackers whipped up within days of the Vita’s release. These are mostly pointless anti-hacking features that simply serve to hamper normal consumer enjoyment while doing little to stop those with the technical knowhow – just as DRM on PC games has yet to really stop any games from being available on torrent sites within a week, but is still used to make paying customers suffer.

And sure, you could say “oh, but the Vita hasn’t been fully hacked yet, this is proof that Sony’s preventative measures have worked”. Sadly, that’s not really true. It’s proof that we’re in an era where 5 new smartphones are released every month and the hacking, modding and firmware community have moved on to focus on these devices. The community working on ‘unlocking’ the Vita is far, far smaller than that working on PSP. It will, however, be hacked eventually.

Dan: Sony really needs to be aware of what hackers are trying to do with the Vita, and figure out ways to prevent an outcome similar to the PSP. As it not only cost them millions of dollars, it also hurt their relationships with 3rd party developers, as they couldn’t develop for Sony’s handheld and be sure to see a return – even if the PSP had a growing install base. Although, with the Vita, Sony doesn’t even have an install base to move games, whether they are 1st or 3rd party. So for Sony to start removing functionality while trying to gain trust of the consumer, is absolutely ironic. Having done a similar thing during the early stages of the PS3 – by removing the OtherOS or Linux capability for fear of potential exploits – Sony not only lost the trust of consumers, they also brought on a challenge to hackers around the world, which we know did not turn out too well for them. So Sony really should have tried to close as many of these gaps as possible before trying to push their next handheld to market.

As hackers by nature are not normally a group of people set out to destroy a product or a company, they are more likely to expand the capability of pre-existing hardware or software. So by Sony trying to remove functionality, instead of trying to just figure out what other features people are wanting for their handheld, they are completely missing the point. With a hacked PSP, people were playing ROM’s, expanding its video playing capabilities, and adding to a sizable homebrew scene, all for the sake of adding functionality. So if Sony could actually expand it’s functionality in a way that modders would, then people wouldn’t need a reason to install custom firmware at all.

Seb: Well that’s not always possible, Sony obviously can’t purposely allow ROMs without getting into trouble and losing game sales. And they have to have some restrictions in place to ensure they get a cut of all games sold through the device, that makes sense. But I do agree, hackers love to use challenges brought on by perceived injustice. Like virtually no one used Linux on PS3, but hackers banded together under the ‘just cause’ of bringing it back. Today Sony showed they were up to removing features post-launch from the handheld, and it’s a dangerous slope that could give hackers the excuse they need to ‘open’ the platform up.

That’s one reason I’m particularly excited for PlayStation Mobile, which’ll allow bedroom developers with only $99/year to release games on the platform, taking away the excuse that they wanted to make a game for it but didn’t have the thousands needed for a dev kit.

But even with PS Mobile (and how open it is remains to be seen), there’ll always be someone trying to make a name for themselves in the homebrewing community by being first to unlock the Vita. And once that happens, it won’t be long before modified firmware appears online that allows you to download full games for free, illegally.

And the sad thing is, once that happens, don’t expect Sony to remove the restrictions that failed to stop the hack – they can’t without legitimizing the work of the hackers and modders that used the restrictions as the excuse for the hack.

This is not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when.

Dan: Well, I wasn’t actually saying for Sony to add the ability to play ROM’s on its handhelds to stop people from hacking the PSP. But just to realize that if a big percentage of the people who are breaking into the system, are playing old NES games, to not push big 3D titles. Instead, understand that as a portable device – people want simplicity and ease, not an epic drawn out experience. While, this may not be true for everyone, and given the power that has always backed Sony’s handheld’s – they could offer the best of both worlds. Instead, Sony ignored what had drawn so many people to custom firmware, and kept pushing out full console like experiences, and paid no attention to the reality of the mobile scene.

As many people actually used the homebrew scene to not only play free and unique titles, and add applications where there were none;, they also gained experience coding for a Sony handheld. By Sony not capitalizing on the power of open development at the time, they missed out on a potentially profitable concept – that is, until now. Thankfully, Sony has started to push PS Mobile, and hopefully they will decide to use it as an easy barrier of entry, and potentially reduce the need for anyone to hack their Vita. This is the first smart move we have seen by Sony to lower the need for the average consumer/home developer from opening up their products. Simply just by adding a great deal of super cheap, and free titles developed by the community, Sony could circumvent the whole hacked system issue, while keeping people browsing the PSN store (or variant). In closing its pretty simple, the Vita WILL be hacked in no time, and the fight needs to not be to stop hackers, but to give consumers no real need to do it.

So where do you stand on the matter? Do you mind having numerous proprietary ports and formats, being forced online by the system’s content manager, being locked to one PSN ID per device and more? Or is it all worth it if it delays hackers and piracy for as long as possible? Let us know where you stand on the matter, and be sure to send pics to Seb and Dan on pornterest.com.