Over Skype one evening, Hector Martin tells a story of the Playstation 2.
A group of hackers discovered a serious exploit that allowed unofficial — or, homebrew — software, to be run on the console. Unlike previous hacks, a memory unit and some software trickery was all that was required to make it happen. It wasn’t long before the pirates could do the same as well.
Sony, of course, was not amused. Due to the system’s design, the problem remained for months, unresolved until a new hardware revision could be pushed out the door.
But that was then.
This generation, there is no Playstation 2. Gone are the days when a device was hacked, and stayed that way for good. Instead, we live in a world where online updates are routine — where hackers hack, and exploits are found, but holes are plugged with ease.
Martin — now known by his online handle, Marcan — has since moved on. Administrator of Wiibrew.org, a repository of homebrew software and a development wiki for the Nintendo Wii, the computer science student has become a prominent hacker in the console’s community.
But compared to the Playstation, it’s clear that times have changed; in the war on piracy, a bug used by hackers is just as easily used by pirates.
Piracy’s wanton disregard for gaming copyright is an attitude absent in the homebrew community. It is instead replaced by the fierce creativity of its developers, and the curious minds of its hardware engineers – a sure sign that, while their methods may be similar, their intentions are most certainly not.
After all, homebrew by itself does little to hurt the console market — but with profits on the line, no hole remains unplugged. The constant battle with pirates to keep game consoles secure has left hackers and developers caught in the crossfire. And in the corporate world, it has become increasingly hard to tell the two groups apart.
But, as some point out, it is not impossible.
As consoles have changed, so too have the communities that surround them. According to one hacker I spoke with, there aren’t more gamers, and there aren’t more gaming consoles — but there are more hackers. It’s a changing dynamic, and one that has altered the way we think of our systems.
And if gaming companies listened, they might just learn something.