I’m pretty much frustrated with Sony at the moment over their behavior with the PS3. It’ll take a bit of a history lesson to really understand why what they’re doing is so offensive to many of their open-source supporting fans.
In the beginning, there was Atari, and a few other assorted groups. Game consoles pretty much operated on the old model, you make money on the console, you make money on the games you sell, but other people can sell games too for your system. If you had a EPROM burner, you could make an atari 2600 game. It was a homebrewer’s paradise. Of course, this had other consequences. Many of those who talk about the video game crash of 84 say that the lack of control over the market lead to the crash. Atari’s president actually states otherwise in a recent article and says that the reason the market crashed was due to a lack of vision for replacing the 2600 and trying to milk the cash cow too long. In any case, the idea that the console maker needed to control the market became the prevailing view, and that lead to…
Nintendo, the original evil empire. Nintendo was not only hostile to homebrew and to third party developers not under their control, they were outright litigious towards indie developers like Tengen and Color Dreams. Their Gameboy system even tied Trademarks into their copy protection, a very weak technical block, but one that allowed even more leverage in litigation. Nintendo’s consoles dominated for about 9 years and pushed the home brewers to instead work in consoles like the Atari 7800, Amiga CD32, and Atari Jaguar. Generally under-performing and with low install bases. Nintendo continues their litigation to this day, but generally stick to going after pirates, rather than homebrewers.
The new best hope? Sony. Not exactly the shining knight given their litigious reputation in other fields, but surprisingly the SCE division of Sony was quite open to homebrew, and finally for two generations in a row, the number one console was also one of the more homebrew friendly. The PS1 had the NetYaroze system that cost roughly 2.5x as much as a normal PS1 and permitted full development for PS1, aside from the lack of CD access. Following this, the PS2 had the PS2 Linux kit, which cost roughly the same as buying another PS2, and added full homebrew support aside from the DVD/MPEG2 decoding chip which was locked away. It even had full API references just like you would get in the PS2 development kit if you purchased it.
When the PS3 was released, people were surprised that you didn’t even need to buy a kit anymore. The NetYaroze/PS2 Linux equivalent was built right into the PS3 from the day it was released. It was a bit more limited than its predecessors though. No graphics chip access at all, only display was through a slow framebuffer driver that limited you to the middle 80% of the screen. It was an interesting system for supercomputing tasks, and learning the CELL/BE and SPEs, but with that limitation it was nearly useless as a homebrew gaming platform.
Of course, the signs that Sony was edging away from homebrew was already evident with their PSP from one year prior, they had reverted to Nintendo-esque litigation and platform control.
The PS3 gained a reputation as being a difficult to crack, secure system. A few homebrew devs took it upon themselves to find a way to make it a useful homebrew platform and found a way to get access to the graphics chip. No piracy committed using this to my knowledge, but they did manage to open it up and do some rudimentary 3d support within PS3 Linux. Sony’s response? The next hardware revision, they removed the much vaunted PS3 Linux support then retroactively disabled it in all of the PS3 consoles. Sony had fully become Nintendo when it came to platform control.
Now, nintendo’s strategy has not been all that successful. The Wii is one of the most hacked consoles out there, and has pretty much been insecure from day 1. Microsoft also tried Nintendo’s strategy, and fairly early found their original Xbox console hacked and used to play homebrew applications. Sony’s PSP also has been an utter failure when it comes to security. Every closed system where there is no homebrew support has ultimately been hacked. The only two left were the Xbox360, which had rudimentary homebrew support through XNA, and the PS3 which had PS3 Linux OtherOS support.
So, what was the result of Sony’s attempts at improving their platform security by removing features? Their security measures are found to be faulty, and are stripped away. The keys needed to sign games discovered, and released widely on the internet. All as one could have predicted. What’s Sony’s next move? Work with the homebrewers to give them access without compromising the whole system? Nope! They double down, and start bringing down the wrath of lawyers on the homebrew community! And not just in a nice “take down the information” sort of way, but in a “we will confiscate every bit of electronics you own and ruin you” sort of way. A doomed repeat of a failed strategy that its originators (nintendo) don’t even follow anymore.
What’s worse, is that now some of the games they’re selling are requiring PSN logins before you can play them. This is a repeat of Ubisoft’s recent snafu with internet connectivity being required to play games, and will ding Sony for even more points in the court of public opinion.
SCE built up a lot of good will from about 95 until 2006 or so, and seem intent on squandering it all in a futile pursuit of eliminating all piracy. They who do not learn from history are doomed to mimic it I suppose.
I don’t suppose anyone might remind them of why their console was considered unbreakable for 4 years right? Or remind them that their enemy, and those who are committing piracy, are the pirates… Pirates. Not home brew developers. I didn’t complain when they blocked the Australian company from selling USB devices that allowed piracy, but now they’re blocking non-piracy related homebrew like a schoolyard bully. This Playstation Suite thing they’re advertising for Android seems interesting, and a way to do Homebrew on their new platforms, but how long until they neuter it? They’ve completely undercut their own credibility with all of the indie and homebrew developers with this charade…