Episode #1 of the Super Podcast Action Committee takes on the thorny issue of used games. Why do some developers and publishers hate them so much and why do they think it would be "awesome" if the next generation of home consoles from Sony and Microsoft blocked used games altogether? We try to figure it all out... Hosts Andrew Eisen and E.
Four years ago, Game Politics broke the news that the US government performed raids on mod chip sellers in a program they called "Operation Tangled Web". During this program, ICE agents ran sting operations and raids on more than 32 locations in 16 states. At the time, there was little information and no official indictments of those running mod chip operations. Since then, no new information has been released, until now.
element14 and modding expert Benjamin J. Heckendorn, a.k.a. "Ben Heck," have gone old school with a new modification that turns a Sega CDX into a smaller, more portable gaming system. The results of this experiment are available for viewing on "The Ben Heck Show." The show walks viewers through the design process - from the project layout and routing the components to installing a new custom controller interface and wiring the power.
"It was a blast to take something as awesome as the Sega CDX and make it even easier to use with a smaller footprint so I can bring it along with me just about anywhere," said Ben Heck. "Not only that, but I reminisced about Full Motion Video (FMV) games from the early '90's and a few diamonds in the rough like 'Snatcher' and 'Lunar: The Silver Star.'"
You can check out the episode to your left.
A 40-year-old man has been sentenced to community service and a curfew by a court in Leicestershire, United Kingdom for running a mod chip business. Thomas Norwood, the director of Modchip Fitters Ltd., plead guilty to the "importation and sale of electronic cards that circumvented anti-piracy controls on Nintendo Wii’s, Microsoft Xboxes and other consoles."
He was sentenced to a two-month nighttime curfew (7PM - 7AM), 12 months of community service, and ordered to pay an undetermined amount of restitution. A restitution hearing is scheduled at some point to determine the amount of money he'll have to pay.
The conviction is the result of a 2008 raid by the Leicestershire Trading Standards Service. The raid netted software and hardware valued at £60,000. Norwood ran Modchip Fitters, a web-based company that modded console hardware to run copies of games and other media.
Federal Prosecutors in the nation’s first jury trial to test the anti-circumvention provisions of the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act abruptly asked that the case be dismissed today. Today's news comes on the heels of a tumultuous day in Federal Court yesterday. The presiding judge berated prosecutors for a litany of holes and contradictions in the government's case. The judge's strong words caused the prosecution to take a recess to decide whether to even bother to continue. They decided to forge ahead, and watched as their first witness ruined the case.
Two separate detachments from Canada’s Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) have succeeded in arresting suspected counterfeiters.
Officers from the Gaspésie – Îles-de-la-Madeleine RCMP just announced the seizure of approximately 3,500 DVDs, 400 copies of software, 1,000 computer games and 100 music CDs, all counterfeit, from a residence in New Richmond, Quebec. The Mounties also snatched computer equipment related to copying and producing the discs, and stated that the unnamed owner or resident of the dwelling could face charges under Canada’s Criminal Code and/or its Copyright Act.
28-year-old Matthew Crippen will be on trial in late November for violating the Digital Millennium Copyright Act by allegedly running a business modding Xbox 360 consoles.
Andrew Huang, who literally wrote the book on Xbox modding, wants to testify at Crippen’s trial that mod-chipping is not a violation of the DMCA, a law which makes it illegal to circumvent technology designed to prevent copyright infringement. Huang’s strategy is to give jurors a step-by-step tutorial on console modding to show that “what [Crippen] did was insufficient on his own to violate anything.”
UK-based video game and interactive entertainment trade group UKIE issued a statement Monday supporting Sony's legal actions against PS3 modchip makers. The modchip in question is the PS3 Break, which was available in mid-September in the United Kingdom. The group said that it "fully supports" SCEE's efforts and its recent successes against PS3 Jailbreak in the UK. The group added that most companies that were selling the device in the UK have stopped doing so, thanks to legal action.
UKIE Director General Michael Rawlinson said the following:
"Having our member, SCEE, respond so quickly to prevent the sale of illegal PS3 modification chips shows the commitment that the video games and interactive entertainment industry has to stamping out intellectual property theft. Intellectual property theft is a hugely damaging crime both to the individuals whose creativity is stolen and to the businesses that make up Britain’s video games and interactive entertainment industry. UKIE's own anti-piracy unit works tirelessly to combat the illegal trading of video games and we welcome Sony’s swift and committed response to dealing with the illegal sale of the PS3 Break modchip."
In an article at NowGamer, Australian mod chip reseller OzModChips defends the use of PS3 Jailbreak devices - one of which the company can no longer sell in its home region thanks to an injunction by an Australian court last week at the behest of Sony.
In the article the company’s unnamed owner wags his finger at the media who think that jailbreaks are only a tool for piracy and says that having a homebrew-enabled console without having to "open it up" is a good thing:
While you can't buy a PS3 Jailbreak in Australia - and soon you probably won't be able to do it in America - a group of smart hackers have enabled several smart phones to do the job. According to Engadget, you can hack your PS3 with a tethered smartphone. Working with the people behind the PSGroove PS3 Jailbreak, hacker Kakaroto has adapted the same jailbreak to the Nokia N900, and the open-source community has already ported the hack to the Palm Pre.
A hearing to decide the fate of the X3JailBreak PS3 mod chip in an Australian court has found Sony victorious. The court ruled on Friday that the security circumvention device for the PS3 does harm to Sony's business. In line with that decision, the court put a permanent injunction on the sale of the product in Australia and ordered retailers and resellers to remove the device from store shelves and turn over any profits made from it to Sony.
Interestingly, because the court named the product by name, the decision does not preclude other similar products to be sold, though navigating those choppy waters will probably end with self-same results. Resellers OzModChips, ModSupplier, and Quantronics have removed the product from their websites.
As we noted earlier today, Sony filed a lawsuit against another PS3 Jailbreak in the United States.
While Sony may have the makers of the X3Jailbreak under an injunction in Australia (at least until this Friday), a homebrew alternative has already found its way on the Internet. The open source alternative called PSGroove has been released and - unlike an earlier version of the software - it doesn't contain certain features that could be used for piracy.
Of course, with certain features removed, users might not be as keen on using this solution as a replacement for X3Jailbreak. For starters, PSGroove doesn't allow re-routing of Blu-ray traffic to either the internal hard drive or an external device, which means that playing a backup copy of a game or movie is not possible.
So if doesn't allow you to play backup copies or games and movies, many may wonder what its usefulness is.
Sony's PlayStation 3 has remained remarkably resilient to piracy, until now perhaps.
An article on a EuroGamer blog (thanks The Escapist) uses a pair of YouTube videos (here’s the first, the other is embedded above) from user OzModChips as the basis for its article.
The movies were made after OzModChips apparently received an anonymous package from Hong Kong, which was sent to various resellers of mod chips.
The process described:
R4 cards, which allow Nintendo DS owners to run their own code, homebrew applications and, in some cases, illegal copies of games, have been outlawed in the UK.
MCVUK carries word that a London High Court issued the ruling in a case against Playables Limited, decreeing that the R4 cards are now illegal to import, advertise or sell. Defendant Wai Dat Chan had attempted to argue that the cards should be legal since they allow users to run homebrew applications, but the court ruled that “the R4 must first must circumvent Nintendo’s security systems before it can work, therefore making it illegal.”
Nintendo, which apparently was the plaintiff in the case, issued a statement saying “Nintendo initiates these actions not only on its own behalf, but also on behalf of over 1,400 video game development companies that depend on legitimate sales of games for their survival.”
Nintendo has stepped up its crackdown on R4 flashcarts as of late, with its latest lawsuit target being NXPGame of Queens, New York.
While the R4 chips can certainly be used to play pirated games on Nintendo’s handhelds, a post on Tiny Cartridge.com points out some of the ways that the flashcarts can improve a gamer’s experience.
According to a report published this morning in CourtHouse News Nintendo has taken aim at New York-based NXPGame Inc., a reseller of game copy devices for the Nintendo DS. The company has sued Kevin Niu (aka Kui Niu) and his company claiming copyright infringement. NXPGame sells a variety of R4 products.
According to a federal complaint filed on May 11 in the Washington Western District Court in Seattle, Nintendo seeks statutory damages of $150,000 for infringement of each copyrighted work and $2 million for infringement of each Nintendo trademark.
Microsoft has once again taken out its ban stick, this time in an effort to prevent modified Xbox 360s from accessing Xbox Live.
A story on GamesIndustry.biz estimates the total number of banned accounts at around 600,000. Total Xbox Live accounts number over 20 million. Modded console owners will still be able to use their 360s offline.
The BBC (thanks beemoh) has reaction from one of the banned gamers, a 25-year old gamer dubbed “Raz.” Raz had his 360 modded in the back of a shop for £75 (approximately $125.00 U.S.). He estimated that the ability to pirate and copy games “saved” him about £600 (approximately $993.00 U.S.) and that he copied 30 or 40 games in all.
Ironically, Raz then had the temerity to complain about the high price of games:
I still think they should lower the prices. There are 16-year-old kids out there, they don't earn money so they go screaming to their parents saying, 'Can you buy me this game?
So Raz, are you going to buy another Xbox?
To be honest, I've contemplated whether to move to PlayStation 3 or buy another Xbox. I wouldn't do it again [chip the 360] but I really don't know if I'm going to get the Xbox again now."
It's always fun reading the Xbox Forums after such a widespread ban.
Not surprisingly, Danielle Parr argues for technological protection measures (TPM) and against mod chips (which are not currently illegal in Canada). Parr writes:
For the video-game industry, TPMs are not only used to prevent piracy and cheating (e.g. “modding” game code to give an unfair advantage over other players); they also enable access to a greater range of features and options that would otherwise be unavailable. Things like parental controls... “trial” or “demo” versions of games, and new digital distribution platforms like Valve’s Steam, Xbox Live Arcade, or the PlayStation Network, all provide greater choice and access for consumers...
By ensuring that consumers have a variety of digital offerings to choose from, legal protection for TPMs allows market forces to protect consumer interests, so if a consumer does not like the conditions of sale or terms of service for one digital product or service, they can simply take their business elsewhere. Failing to protect TPMs under the law effectively means that the government is dictating the business model, which is bad news for business and for consumers.
Those commenting on the Straight.com piece, however, don't seem to be buying Ms. Parr's arguments. As I post this, there are 15 comments, all of which are critical of the ESA Canada boss's op-ed.
GFOX: Danielle Parr, and the [ESA Canada] are completely out of touch on this issue. By failing to bend to an American lobby group such as the ESA I hardly think that the government of Canada can be seen as "dictating" any particular business model... The ESA's [penchant] for freely spewing unsubstantiated and exaggerated statistical data with the sole intention of striking fear into the hearts and minds of lawmakers is appalling...
NerdOfAllTrades: I agree that measures should be taken to prevent piracy, but punishing your loyal customers with TPM, which will only mildly inconvenience real pirates for the few hours it takes them to remove it... will only make people want to buy fewer PC games.
Sébastien Duquette: DRM is a failure... I really don't like Parr's fear-mongering tone. The industry of video game is flourishing, without DRM inforcement
Will: The video game industry has claimed to be on the brink of collapse due to piracy since the 1980s, and yet it somehow continues to grow bigger and more profitable... There will always be free riders who don't pay for their copy, but that isn't relevant. It's how many games you sell, not how many you don't sell that matters... This control-freak mentality... serves only to create hostility between the industry the customers...
AWJ: once you throw in an anti-circumvention law like the American DMCA, your platform monopoly becomes a state-enforced monopoly... Danielle is even arguing is that if the government doesn't give Microsoft and Nintendo and Sony the state-enforced monopolies they want, then it's "dictating the business model". If nothing else, I admire her chutzpah...
WayneB: Let me get this straight - [DRM] is an advantage to the consumer? What a bald faced lie.
Idle: This is a disgusting show of contempt for canadians brought to you by the ESA "of Canada".
GP: In the photo at left, Parr is seen at ESA Canada's Ottawa Day 2009 lobbying event.
A 27-year-old college student arrested yesterday by federal agents is charged with modding video game consoles.
Matthew Lloyd Crippen, who attends Cal State Fullerton, was charged with tweaking systems from Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft. The arrest was made by agents of the U.S. Department of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), reports NBC Los Angeles.
Modifying consoles to circumvent video game copyright protection measures is a federal offense under the Digital Millenium Copyright Act. The investigation into Crippen's activities came following a complaint by the Entertainment Software Association; the trade group lobbies on behalf of U.S. video game publishers.
Special Agent in Charge Robert Schoch, who heads the ICE office in L.A. commented on the bust:
Playing with games in this way is not a game -- it is criminal. Piracy, counterfeiting and other intellectual property rights violations not only cost U.S. businesses jobs and billions of dollars a year in lost revenue, they can also pose significant health and safety risks to consumers.
Those pesky Canadians have finally pushed the U.S. Government to the brink.
If the Bushies were still in power we might now be glued to CNN, watching the 82nd Airborne para-dropping into Ottawa. But as it is, the Obama administration has settled for delivering a nasty slap via the office of U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk (left).
The issue is copyright protection and the USTR, a cabinet-level post, has been making unpleasant noises in Canada's direction for several years. Today Kirk dropped the hammer, placing Canada on the "Priority Watch List" along with China, Russia, Algeria, Argentina, Chile, India, Indonesia, Israel, Pakistan, Thailand, and Venezuela. From the USTR report:
Canada is being elevated to the Priority Watch List for the first time, reflecting increasing concern about the continuing need for copyright reform, as well as continuing concern about weak border enforcement.
The Entertainment Software Association, which lobbies on behalf of U.S. video game publishers, was quick to applaud the action in a press release. No surprise there, as the ESA has been pushing hard in recent years for Canada to outlaw mod chips and adopt its own version of the consumer-unfriendly Digital Millenium Copyright Act.
In fact, with DMCA-like legislation an issue that Canada's Parliament will soon be considering, a cynic might be forgiven for thinking that the USTR's action was timed for its persuasive value as much as anything else.
Of today's announcement, ESA CEO Michael Gallagher commented:
Putting Canada on the ‘Priority Watch List’ is a signal of the Obama Administration’s commitment to strengthening global intellectual property protection, and its intent to address this issue firmly with the Canadian government. Canada’s weak laws and enforcement practices foster game piracy in the Canadian market and pave the way for unlawful imports into the U.S.
So what does the ESA want from Canada? They have a laundry list: