By now we are all quite aware that the PSN has, and still continues to have problems. Chances are when the PSN comes back online it will still have bugs and loop holes that will expose new security threats in the future. The fact remains that no matter what software engineers do to patch their software, there are going to be ten hackers out there looking to undo all the work that was done. This cycle does not continue forever as seen in the PC gaming landscape where hackers and developers have reached a beneficial symbiosis. In the future I see the potential for a happy medium to develop in the console gaming space but that all depends on how much was learned from this PSN outage.
First let’s examine the short term impacts from the outage that you’ll notice immediately. I am sure that the sale of PSN and XBLA cards from retail outlets will go up while the sale of online network credits will go down. I know most people will think twice about keeping their credit card information on the network even though there was no evidence that any information was taken. This really isn’t all that game changing but what is far more damaging is the possible impact this could have on the online model in general. There has been a recent shift into online gaming spaces such as Onlive and even with the PSN and XBLA with download only games and retail copies of games available for download. With some titles requiring network authentication, a number have gamers have had to go without certain games. Imagine now that all Playstation games required network authentication to play. Playstation members would not have been able to play anything for 3 weeks now. I am sure that people would be much more upset by now. With all that has been going on with the outage I think it might be enough to make some people question the online model. I think you will see all games being able to be played offline with no connectivity whatsoever. Granted these changes are subtle but I think the longer term impacts will be far greater.
In the long term I see all the things learned from this event extend into the next generation of consoles. Since the PS3 is already out and it is at the end of its life cycle, I don’t think there is much that can be done now. In the future I expect Sony, as well as other developers, to utilize more hardware based security. This wouldn’t be a bad thing at all but where things could get rough is if Sony and others decide to start using DRM. For those unfamiliar DRM or Digital Rights Management is a system where the software limits the amount of machines a particular piece of software can be installed on. This system has always given PC gamers a headache and I see this causing console gamers the same headache. It is usually a long and drawn out process to get machines added or taken off the DRM list and when you just want to play your games, this makes life more difficult. The other problem about DRM that is scary to some is the fact that it destroys the after market value of games. Gone will be the days of buying a game and trading it to Gamestop for the newest game out. Even Gamestop themselves are looking to get out of the used game business so this should be a sign of bad things to come.
Even more drastic than sales shifts, hardware encryption and DRM models is the legal precedence set by Sony’s crusade against the hacking community. We just saw a very significant event pass with little discussion about it. What event you ask? Well I am referring to Sony’s reaching out to Newscorp to get the list of IP addresses of everyone that viewed anything of George Hotz’s personal YouTube channel. The worst part of that is that Newscorp gave out all that personal information with no legal process. This means that if you do something that a company doesn’t like they can get your personal info from another corporation and pursue you and everyone that supports you.
Another legal precedence that was set by these events was the fact that you really don’t own your console, even if you buy it off the shelf. It is now illegal to alter your console in any way because when George Hotz found a way to install his own software on his PS3 he was sued by Sony. You can bet now that Sony has the legal right to go after hackers, you’ll be seeing a lot more arrests of hackers in general. Hacking used to help expand games that people love and developers forgot but it seems that those days are numbered.
As you can see this PSN outage and all those events leading up to it have changed the landscape for gaming in general. To me, I’d rather see a change in business model to lessen the effects of hacking rather than the elimination of those people altogether. I think it would be a lot more productive to open up the online experience and allow the private sector to host servers for online games. This way you could have private hacked servers where the hackers could do and enable anything they want but still maintain the official developer servers for normal game play. This would extend the life of the game and free up developer resources to work on new games or improve their existing games. This model would have both hackers and gamers doing what they both love best and that is to play games. The sooner we learn to work with each other the sooner we can move forward as a community. Both sides have a lot to offer each other and with both sides helping each other out I think we would see great things in the future.