Very bad news for Sony, the PS3 is cracked

George Hotz is a very well known American hacker, famous for being the first to break the security of the iPhone. Now he has told the BBC that he has cracked the Sony Playstation PS3 and that he will post the details of how to do this on the interweb. You can read about his progress on his blog.

There are lots of ifs here. If what he says is true, if he releases details out into the wild, if it can be easily replicated by others, if it is used for widespread game stealing and if Sony don’t come up with an effective counter. If all these ifs line up then Sony are in enormous trouble. The PS3 is just over three years into what should be a ten year life. So the loss in sales revenue from games will add up many hundreds of millions of dollars. A billion dollar reduction in revenue is not impossible. Not news that any company wants to hear.

The main protection on Sony consoles has come from the media. Playstation 1 used CD-Rom, Playstation 2 used DVD and Playstation 3 uses Bluray. Each of these media standards was very new when the consoles were launched so blank media and burners were very very expensive. Over the life of a console the blank media costs tumble, burners become cheaply and readily available and the thieves get up the learning curve of how to crack the machines.

I was at Codemasters when Playstation 1 game theft reached critical mass. We very suddenly went from being able to make a good living from PS1 games to making a loss on every one. There wasn’t platform proliferation then, the PS1 was the main show in town. So it hit us very badly. The thieving caused 20% of the workforce to lose their jobs. I was there through all the trauma that this involved. Fortunately the company survived, largely because of a PC game called Operation Flashpoint that went to number one in every country with a chart. But time were bleak until the Playstation 2 got up to a big enough user base to provide us with a regular living once again.

Things would not be so bad for publishers these days if the Playstation 3 really is cracked. Now there are lots of platforms and lots of business models. The industry just moves resources away from platforms that are badly effected by stealing to ones that are less affected. So the thieves shoot themselves in the foot as much less money is spent developing games for their machine.

Of course the Microsoft Xbox 360 and the Nintendo Wii are also cracked. With the 360 Microsoft have the simple solution of kicking modified machines off their Live service. This is a very effective deterrent as Live is one of the main reasons for owning a 360. The Wii being cracked is less of a problem because of the casual nature of their user demographic who are less likely to be bothered with trying to steal. And Nintendo make latest release games look for known platform modifications and then refuse to play if the machine is not kosher.

Of course Sony also can and will come up with a strategy to counter cracked machines. But obviously the degree of success they achieve has yet to be seen.

Once again we are seeing that the public cannot be trusted with physical ownership of games. If they can steal without getting caught then there are tens of millions of people who are happy to do so. They have no morals. Gaming is going to move increasingly into the cloud. MMOs and most casual gaming are already there. What are now console games will increasingly follow.


  1. I can understand it is bad from a industry piracy point of view BUT it also has a good chance of making a good homebrew scene.

  2. Again, you come off shrill and unreasonable when you say “If they can steal without getting caught then there are tens of millions of people who are happy to do so. They have no morals.” The first may be true, but the second almost certainly isn’t – theft and murder, to take an extreme example, are different things. If you’re ranting, that’s fine – I’ll stop reading, and we’ll both be happier – but if you’re trying to *convince* people, you’re doing a very poor job.

  3. You keep confusing theft and copyright infringement. Stop trying to attach a stigma and you’ll be taken seriously (you did get my e-mail right?) I don’t like piracy any more than you do, but say it like it is and people just might listen to you.

    Either way, most of the time, at least in my viewpoint, when a console is cracked it’s usually because people want to be able to run whatever they want when they want to. For example, the cell processors used in the PS3 make excellent heavy computing tools. Why shouldn’t I be able to rig it to help with heavy number crunching? In fact, Sony was helping people do just that, and then broke the feature. (I’m referring to installing Linux on the playstation consoles.)

  4. The very thing you mention about moving away from platforms pisses me off to no end. I prefer PC gaming because I can have one machine that can meet all my needs for internet, word processing and spreadsheets, as well as gaming.

    My favorite game ever, Halo, was only available to me with the first edition. The rest as far as I know are for console only.

    I do firmly believe that if new game releases were more affordable (just like computer operating systems) there would be less piracy. Perhaps everybody has to give a little.

  5. @ Joseph

    Does it really matter what you call it? It’s still an immoral and illegal action. Is it a bit of hyperbole to call it theft? Possibly, but maybe Bruce is just trying to get through the incredibly thick skulls of the ignoramuses here that want to get everything in life for free and benefit from the hard work of others.

  6. @ Dan Davies Brackett

    You state that Bruce saying these people having no morals is a rant.

    I don’t know how you were raised, but I was certainly taught it’s immoral to steal.

  7. @Joseph

    To the “homebrew” argument, I would have to disagree. The majority of people who use techniques that enable them to circumvent the “software authorization” built into hardware are not doing so for “homebrew” purposes. They are doing so in order to bootleg video games.

    For example, of all the people I know that owned a R4/M3Simply device for the Nintendo DS (~30), only two of them (counting myself) used the device to put Linux on the DS. I was the only one who used the device to try and develop a working graphing calculator application (as the DS hardware is substantially better than my appx. 15 year old TI-83 hardware.) Everyone else I knew used the R4 for bootlegging games.

    If you don’t like anecdotes, look at the traffic between sites that support “homebrew” and sites that distribute illegal copies of video games. The sites that distribute illegal copies of video games usually have an order of magnitude more traffic than the sites that host homebrew.

  8. Back in the Xbox days I decided to chip mine with the Xecuter2 Pro, this did NOT mean it was for piracy, this was done purely for Xport’s emulators, and the superb XBMC.
    At the time, you couldn’t do the same with a similarly priced PC, the cost difference was huge, so the Xbox made perfect sense for a cheap media centre.
    The PS3 would also make a decent media centre, with Blu-Ray, and hopefully RSX access, and a huge emulation and homebrew scene, the PS3 is an ideal choice. And, for £230, you couldn’t match the power of a PS3 with a similarly priced PC, to stick under the TV, especially when most media centre cases are absurdly expensive, and almost 1/3 the cost of most media centre PC builds.
    Don’t always assume that we all are pirates, most of us just love tech.

  9. @Robert — Piracy is unethical at worst. Making copies of something is nowhere in the realm of stealing. Piracy is an amoral issue altogether. Publishers ask people not to make copies. It is certainly RUDE to disregard that request, but you have to be out of your mind to consider making copies to be the same as barging into someone’s house and taking something valuable.

    @Steven — Copying is not stealing. You can come to my apartment parking lot and make as many copies of my car as you want. Just don’t steal it, please.

  10. @Bruce — You are incredibly ignorant and sheltered to think that hacking a console is done solely for the purpose of piracy. It’s not. I have a hacked Wii, but I have yet to pirate a single game. Care to explain my crime?

  11. @Robert

    What it is called is vitally important. When intentionally using incorrect verbiage, it weakens the argument and has the opposite of the desired effect. I agree that piracy is something that should be condemned. Calling it theft actually deprives Bruce of his strength of word. Calling it what it is, copyright infringement, allows his words to convey proper meaning, and in turn provides him with a stronger argument.

    @ Steven

    I was raised learning not to judge others. Just because Bruce hasn’t contributed to wordpress, or answered all of my e-mails doesn’t mean that he is an evil person. Even though he and I disagree about many things, doesn’t make him any less of a person in my eyes. I think what Dan was upset about was that it seemed like Bruce was grouping a bunch of people together and calling them theives, when they are really copyright infringers. I don’t think that people that steal a car should be grouped with people that download software illegally. However, you are free to have your own opinion.

  12. Call it what you want, copyright infringement, theft, whatever, it’s still wrong.
    You can get great games for around £20 now if you wait for a bit after release. I’ve even got a few high profile, just out games for £30. The people who steal (I call it stealing) are just greedy and would rather get three to four copied games for the price of one legitimate game.
    @ Joseph Bower – the reason systems are not open is because of the thieves, if it weren’t for them we probably could run a different OS on the PS3, and make back up copies for all our games.

  13. @ BuzzSaw

    Its the same old story. Yes, you have committed no crime. Unfortunately you are a rare breed. Many people who can, will pirate. Look at all of the comments who are in the same boat as yourself. They have a modified console or handheld in order to enable themselves to take advantage of their device to the fullest (or beyond its capabilities).

    Take a look at Cydia. Though it is a huge integrated open source community there are those out there who choose to use it for piracy.

  14. @Joey — But this issue brings up a very important point: the banning of things that MIGHT be used illegally. I know people who modify XBoxes to turn them into cheap web servers. I know others who use the Wii as a DVD player. Console makers go waaaaay beyond trying to prevent piracy; they prevent any foreign software from running on the machine at all. I don’t care what any EULA tries to claim; I paid for the hardware, and I will use it as I see fit.

    So, you think these things should be banned on account of “capable of piracy”? We should ban crowbars for being “capable of break-ins”. Cars should have an added tax for all the cars used as getaway cars in crime scenes.

    Yes, I know people who use the modifications strictly for piracy purposes, but that’s life. Again, I hold the belief that piracy should be dealt with on a social/innovative level, not a restrictive/technological one where the pirates remain unhindered, and paying customers have to deal with all kinds of garbage.

  15. @Buzzsaw

    Guns, in most countries, need to be licensed in order to be owned. But then there are people who have them illegally and do not shoot people. They also don’t get caught. I do think that it should be illegal, but enforced as it is now, which is hardly, to modify a console. Its not that big of a deal and that safeguard allows for people to enforce any restrictions needed. Such as the 360 live bans.

  16. i should be shocked and concerned ….

    …but it’s sony, so …..


  17. quote: Joseph Brower on 01.26.10 at 6:01 pm

    “You keep confusing theft and copyright infringement.”

    i’ve said this before in other posts , but it possibly bears(spelling) repeating.

    if you go into a games shop and ” physically steal a game”
    IF CAUGHT (and prosecuted)-in the UK.
    likely penalty is a fine, community service, or about 6 months in prison, for a single offence.

    illegal copy’ing or “pirating” of games.
    IF CAUGHT (and prosecuted))-in the UK.
    ..bearing in mind the “Gowers Review” a few years ago..
    maximum prison sentence. 10 YEARS.

    (will dig up the link from other post topic if any ask/are too lazy to google search it.)

    hope that clears up the confusion…though it probably causes more than it alleviates.

  18. Modding a console should not be illegal. Yes, a modded console can play pirated games, but a car can be used to kill people, to flee from the scene of a crime, to smuggle drugs in, etc, but cars are not banned. You can kill someone with a screwdriver, but screwdrivers are not banned, you can write death warrants or evil propoganda with a pen, you can burgle someone’s house with a ladder, etc, but these things are not banned because they have legitimate uses.

    And mod chips have legitimiate uses, such as allowing homebrew software, ported games, emulators, different Operating Systems, etc, to be run.

    And why should Sony (or any manufacturer) be allowed to dictate how you use their console, when you have paid for it and now own it? If you buy a pen then Parker don’t have the right to tell you what to write with it, Microsoft don’t have the right to tell you what to write when you use MS Word, the company who made your DVD player can’t say “You mustn’t watch romance films on this player, as they are boring”, etc.

    You own a console (when you’ve bought it), so morally you can do what you like with it. Use it, not use it, paint it blue and call if “Eric”, spray it gold and stick red spots on it and call it modern art, solder a light bulb to it and use it as a table lamp, use it as a step for reaching higher shelves, take and axe to it and break it up and throw it away, add extra functionality to it (if you’re technical enough) like a larger hard drive or whatever, and yes, mod it. You own it, you decide what you do with it.

  19. Have to say this about piracy though, it did force software companies and media companies to bring down prices to a more reasonable level. Did you remember the days when every CD was $30. Now I can get new releases at $10 at times. Now I don’t bother looking for a $5 pirate release but in the days when everything was so expensive, a student has to do what a student has to do.

    Same goes for the game industry. I don’t want anyone to go bust or lose their job and really appreciate a good game. If I remember correctly when I studied information goods economics, the incremental cost after development of information goods is close to zero that is why pirate companies jump in at such low cost but if companies had really good games, what they should do is release it at a price which makes piracy redundant (i.e. pirate games $5 original maybe $20 instead of $50) and make the money back over time. But most aren’t really sure if their game would stand the test of time and so they’ll go right in and milk the cow.

    Just for the records. I always get original now, cos I’m working and can well afford the honesty.

  20. Honestly, this is a little over the top. Would the tens of millions of ‘pirates/theives’ out there be at the skill level where they could comfortably apply this ‘exploit’? I think not.
    And what about the manufacturers warranty. Isn’t that the first line of deterrent? That peroid of 12 – 48 months after purchase where the manufacturer will waive the costs for inspection, repair or full replacement resulting from any fault of the device (as defined in the terms). After all modding, or chipping, the device within its warranty peroid (standard or extended) renders said warranty void, and all repair costs to be borne by the individual. If somebody wants to play pirated movies or games (or legitimate games from other regions) that badly that they are willing to run the risk of the replacement cost of that console then I don’t think adding in extra copy protection on new games is going to be a deterent. Likewise the descision to bar a modified machine use of the company’s servers isn’t going to make someone think twice before modifying their machine, unless the console is designed to be so fully featured that it has replaced the PC or laptop…

  21. There are lots of ifs here. If what he says is true, if he releases details out into the wild, if it can be easily replicated by others, if it is used for widespread game stealing and if Sony don’t come up with an effective counter. If all these ifs line up then Sony are in enormous trouble.

  22. @ Joseph Bower – the reason systems are not open is because of the thieves, if it weren’t for them we probably could run a different OS on the PS3, and make back up copies for all our games.

    No, although that is part of it, the reasons are much more self centred. For one thing, historically, console manufacturers have always wanted to control the market, and so make their consoles support the region system, whereby each territories’ machines can only play that territories’ games. This enables the companies to charges as much as they can get away with in every territory, safe in the knowledge that people cannot import cheaper (original) copies of the same games from other countries.

    This is unfair, but businesses care about making money, not what’s right or what’s wrong. And so, when people mod consoles to play other regions games (and this can be as simple as filing away the plastic tabs on the side of the cartridge slot on an NTSC N64, to as complex as adding a mod chip to an XBox 1) the companies cry foul, even though the users are simply doing what they like with their own property, that they themselves have paid for and now own.

    The main reason that consoles are not open, though, is that by making them closed, then games manufacturers have to pay the console manufacturer to make the games disc/cartridges, as the games company does not know how to do this (for example, the XBox 1, when unmodded, can only run data from discs that are checksummed in a certain way that corresponds with the XBox 1’s security checking, and only Microsoft know the algorithm to generate the right checksum for any given block of data, so only Microsoft can make discs that run on an (unmodded) XBox 1). This allows the console manufacturer to get paid for every game disc/cartridge that is made (not sold, made, so that even if the game bombs are retail and most copies don’t get sold, the console manufacturer still gets paid for EVERY disc or cartridge made).

    This prevents amateur users and poorer companies from releasing games on the consoles, which is unfair. Anyone can release games for the PC, as it’s an open system, but not for consoles, and that’s not fair. Worse, it gives the console manufacturer total control over the console, such as when Microsoft alledgedly killed off the Xbox 1.

    See, when Microsoft introduced the XBox 360 they abandoned the XBox 1. Fair enough, they are a business, and they have to go after the money, I suppose, but it was rumoured that many companies still wished to produce games for the XBox 1, as there were still many loyal XBox 1 owners who would buy games, and these companies had years of XBox 1 experience and their programmers/artists/designers knew the machine back to front.

    The trouble was, so the rumours went, these companies were told by Microsoft that they (Microsoft) would not create any more XBox 1 discs for any new games, which meant that no new XBox 1 games could be made, at least not on discs that would run on unmodded XBox 1 consoles. True, by making this decision, Microsoft lost (potentially a lot of) money on the comission they’d have gotten from making these XBox 1 games discs, but Microsoft were so keen to push the XBox 360 that they were willing to take this loss, as they no doubt expected the resulting extra push in 360 games sales to generate far more income than the loss over potential XBox 1 games sales. And no doubt many more XBox 1 owners moved over to the 360 when they saw that no more XBox games would be forthcoming.

    But to me and a lot of people that wasn’t morally right. We supported the XBox 1 through it’s life, and we surely deserved to see more games for it if the games companies themselves were willing to produce more?

    The XBox 1 was a brilliant console. True, the 360 was better in most ways, but the XBox 1 never had anything like the 360’s unreliability problems, and since the backwards compatability performance of the 360 wasn’t (ahem!) exactly well implemented (some games were unplayable, others might as well have been…) there’s lots of reasons for game fans to keep their Xbox 1’s connected up. And since we were doing so anyway, then why not have some more games for the console, all the more so for all of the people who hadn’t (yet) bought a 360.

  23. “Once again we are seeing that the public cannot be trusted with physical ownership of games”

    Once again we are seeing Bruce Everiss pigeonholing the public and gaming consumers into an absurd little package that nobody but him actually believes.

    Games and systems don’t become top sellers because the public cannot be trusted.

    Developers don’t spend millions of dollars developing games because the public cannot be trusted.

    Developers like EA have survived for 28 years, even when the industry crashed, because the public -CAN- be trusted.

    Your accusation against the public has no merit whatsoever. I’m beginning to think that you’ve simply flipped your wig long ago or that you make these wild and baseless claims just to garner attention to your blogs.

    Either way…very sad.

  24. Many people, including me, will choose to pirate games if we can get away with it and will never buy in that case. Why wouldn’t I? I just don’t care about your pay check (sorry but that’s just the way it is for many including me) and a pirated version, in the case of video games, offers _exactly_ the same experience as a legit copy (vs. video or music piracy for example).

    I have never bought a game for Wii, yet I own hundreds. Occassionally I’ve bought a 360 (for which I slao own 100s if not more) game but only when I really want to play a game on Live immediately. I’ve gotten by with just replacing consoles and applying new workarounds to use the Live service. They seem to not be too good at detecting modded consoles in a timely fashion you see.

  25. As disgusted as I am with your practices ‘Reasoned Mind’, you’ve offered up some great ammunition for the next time anybody challenges my belief that pirates are in general, parasitic scum who leach off the industry. I sincerely hope that one day your livelihood is threatened by somebody who is equally as cavalier and arrogant about it as you.

    As to the hack itself, scum like Reasoned Mind look to be out of luck. Take a look at and read what devs have said who have had a chance to look at the hack.

    The core security of CEll BE is intact, and it’s very doubtful that anything in this media whore’s hack will lead to a genuinely cracked PS3. The SPU which handles PS3’s security holds the keys for running software and managing security, and was designed not to trust the HV element of the PS3 security. You can’t just ‘kick it out’ as Hotz suggests, as without it’s authorisation (which runs in isolation) it will shut the system down or reject the code you’re trying to run.

    Of course anything’s possible and I’m just parroting the words of devs and hackers who have now studied what the hack can and cannot do, but I’d take their word over this creepy individual, who went shouting victory to the masses without even offering up a ‘hello world’.

  26. Reasoned Mind, I have to say that I find your attitude appalling. Don’t get me wrong, I have pirated games in the past too, lots in my youth (when it was tape to tape copying of Spectrum games), so I’m hardly fit to cast the first stone, I know, and the reasons I don’t play pirate games now is perhaps as much down to my lack of free time and the fact that I have no way to play modern pirate games as it is to morality, admittedly. But even so, when I did tape to tape Spectrum games, before I was old enough to begin working and then buy the games I wanted, I still bought original copies of many of the games I had liked on pirate.

    Not that that absolves me from criminal responsibility, of course – I certainly never bought the originals of all the games I liked, and even if I had, that wouldn’t have altered the fact that I had enjoyed (albeit briefly) many games that after a day or two I lost interest in, meaning that I didn’t want to buy those games after playing them for a few days, meaning that the programmers/artists etc never received financial recompense for those days of enjoyment I got from their game(s).

    But I certainly never realised, as you clearly do, that piracy takes money from those who deserve it – like most of my (teenage) peers, I saw piracy as not a victimless crime, but even less than that, as not even a crime at all, as no more than video taping a TV program and keeping it. I’m not saying that my ignorance was any justification for my actions, of course it wasn’t, just that my intentions weren’t criminal, even if my actions were.

    But you say “Many people, including me, will choose to pirate games if we can get away with it”, and that attitude just strengthens the resolve of publishers to protect their games, and who can blame them? It’s one thing (albeit admittedly still criminal) to copy games if you can’t afford the full price, or even if you don’t realise that you are enjoying someone else’s labours without paying them back for it, but it’s far, far worse to do so when you know it is wrong, and when you wouldn’t buy the product (i.e. pay the people for their hard work) for a more reasonable price.

    You say “I just don’t care about your pay check”. Well how would you feel if your boss refused to pay you for the previous month’s work, and said that to you?

    It is people like you, who take everything from the games industry and give nothing back, who ruin it for the rest of us. You flood the ‘net and car boot sales with cracked games before they’re released to the public, you boast on the forums that you have the games first, you build up massive collections of games, and if piracy drives a machine into early obsolescence you just get the next machine up and build up a pirate collection for next to nothing again, whilst the loyal, honest users see their beloved machine’s software range dwindle and die.

    And largely because of your type, those of us who pay for games have to put up with protection. I’m so glad I don’t play many PC games, as the DRM issues there can be a nightmare for genuine users (and non-existent for the pirates, of course). And posts like yours weaken the arguments of people like me, who claim (as we firmly believe) that games are overpriced, and would sell far more if they were cheaper to buy. What chance do we have of software houses reducing their prices, if people like you will copy the games regardless of their sale price?

  27. Well there’s just to many fat cat’s hoping to make their fortune of controlling and restricting every angle of whatever they are marketing today. Kind’a stinks to me, they use hi tech and software like cookies flash etc to find out exactly what you do and it’s, believe it or not, legal to do it 🙂

    But when they seem their profits sink they screeam 🙂
    Had Sony been smart they would have made the PS3 an open machine, they had the chance but missed it. The tech behind it is awesome, and the price unbeatable. But instead they went restrictive, big mistake. And doing so invites every hacker from here to Timbuktu to have a shot on it as it should be able to do a lot more things than it is.

    As for piracy?
    Why not lower those prices and sell on volume instead.
    Would make it much more uninteresting for piracy, as those guys would have to compete much harder to get it sold. But Piracy is to the consumer, as jumping over the fence taking apples from your neighbor when you was a kid, and in poor countries also the main way of playing those games, ever.

    Don’t get on such high horses man.

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