Yesterday Playstation 3 owners were greeted with that most annoying of messages: "A software update is required." So what new features did gamers get? Sadly, nothing. This was just a patch to close the loopholes that let the recent "PSJailbreak" device work on the PS3. PSJailbreak is a USB thumbdrive that apparently allows users to run illegal copies of games on their PS3 (or, let's be fair, to run backed up copies of owned games, without the need for the disk to be in the drive). PSJailbreak has been selling for $125-$150. (There has also been a free software version out there that runs on just about anything, as Kotaku shows us.)
If you purchased the device you now have two options: upgrade your PS3 and render the PSJailbreak inert, or refuse to upgrade and be shut out of the Playstation Network (though there are ways to work around that, I'm told). I suppose if you were one of the people who bought this device, you knew the chances you were taking. But what about the rest of us? Sony PSP owners have been down this road already. There was a vibrant "homebrew" community on the PSP and every time Sony issued a patch to shut down current homebrew techniques, the hackers found another way to open the OS back up. Many games were designed to check firmware version and if you didn't update, you couldn't play the latest (legit games). It was a geeky arms race that left legitimate PSP owners being forced into frequent firmware updates, and I suspect yesterday's PS3 update was the first volley in a similar arms race on the PS3. What this means is that us regular, non-hacker PS3 owners are also going to be forced to run firmware updates on a regular basis, just to lock out the hackers. While upgrading isn't as onerous a task as many make it out to be (I timed the update, it took 6 minutes from start to finish) it's still annoying. It's one of those "principle of the thing" situations. We didn't do anything wrong, but we're being inconvenienced. At the same time, I find it hard to fault Sony in wanting to do whatever it can to keep the pirates at bay. Back when the PSP was new and still relevant it suffered greatly from widespread piracy due to the homebrew hackers releasing custom firmware so frequently. So what's the solution? I don't know, short of convincing people to stop stealing intellectual property. Yeah, like that'll ever happen. I can't even find it in my heart to blame the people doing the hacking. The real hackers, I mean; the ones driven by the challenge of learning how a system works. Those who're interested in seeing what they can make the PS3 do. We need people like that out there in the tech world. It'd be great to think that people could be trusted to put these hacks to use responsibly (I'd love to install my games to my PS3's hard drive and not have to go rummaging for a disk) but the truth is, there's always going to be a contingent of gamers who will steal games if they can. Anyway, get used to updating your PS3 frequently for the next few years until the hackers run out of loopholes to exploit. At least it doesn't take very long.