Mod My PS3: Does Anyone have a Right to Tinker?

August 30, 2010 § Leave a comment

On August 27th, Sony won a court case in Australia to block the sale of a USB dongle which gives users the ability to ‘backup’ PS3 games to their hard drive. Importantly this wasn’t the end of the battle, as it only prevented sales up until the 1st of September; in order to make this injunction permanent Sony must win another court battle. 

Below the news article on this story posted on Edge Online were numerous comments, most of them in defence of Sony, but a couple supporting the rights of consumers to do whatever they will with the hardware they’ve purchased. Against all the odds, in between the mess of bad grammar, spelling an ad hominem arguments here we have an interesting point worth discussing. 
Though the PS Jailbreak modchip is marketed as allowing users to backup their own games it would be naïve to think that this is all consumers want to use this device to do. In a completely innocent world it might be the case that PS3 users would buy this dongle to transfer their own games to their hard drives thus saving themselves the hassle of switching disks, but then it’s also legal to buy bongs and crack pipes in the UK so long as you want them for purely decorative reasons.
Here in the real world it’s easy to see the potential such a device has. At it’s most basic the hack could be used to transfer rented games to the hard disk and thus keep a game for the price of a rental. More industrious users could take the process a step further and transfer games to an external hard drive, and then use that to get the games onto filesharing websites. If others were to then download these games, Sony would be denied even the meagre revenue from a rental. 

Piracy harms the little guy. Whilst it’s very easy to think to yourself that you’re messing with the profit margins of huge corporations when you get around paying for a game, at the end of the day it’s not going to be those at the top that take a pay cut but the humble programmers and artists whose games just aren’t pulling in the revenue they need to. 
The effects of piracy aside, there is a genuine argument here to allow consumers to do what they will with the products that they buy. If you purchase a PS3 then why shouldn’t you have the ability to install Linux on it, or modify it to play ‘Everybody Loves Doghnuts‘ whenever you start it up? Unfortunately the freedom street is two-way, and you also want to have the freedom to make money should you choose to start up a company. Sony want to make money on their (admittedly very well manufactured) products and if something prevents them from doing that as effectively then they’re going to fight tooth and nail to stop it.

The OtherOS scandal was an interesting one because on closer inspection it wasn’t really Sony’s fault. PS3 owners initially had the ability to install Linux on their system, someone spent their time using this to pirate games, which resulted in the feature being removed. Don’t blame the Japanese consumer electronics giant, blame ‘Hotz’ for the fact you now can’t use a feature you were never going to touch anyway (Linux on PS3 was as slow as a decade old PC, and you had to view it at the resolution of your television – trust me, you were never going to take the plunge). 
Perhaps the one morally sound argument for being able to mod a console is allowing DIY developers to make their own ‘homebrew’ games. It’s interesting to see what people will make in their own time given a piece of hardware which is usually only available on a commercial scale. Being able to run home made games on a PSP is without a doubt a very cool thing to be able to do, because there wasn’t really any other way to do that on a handheld before Android came along. The problem is that if you want to play homebrew on your TV, there’s literally no reason you have to be using a console. It’s much easier just to plug a computer into the back of your television and do it that way, and then use a bluetooth dongle if you just absolutely have to use a Sixaxis. 

That’s really what’s at the root of my issue with the defence of this PS3 hack. People either defend it on the grounds that it lets you do things you can already do much easier on a PC, or on philosophical grounds which for 90% of consumers don’t actually matter. Sure, it’s not great that we can’t do whatever we will with our own hardware, but the roadblocks that presents to your average consumer are slim to none. 
When Sony announce that they’re removing the ability for PS3’s to play games with a firmware update I’ll get worried, but until then there’s very little practical reason to get self-righteous. 
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