Is It Time To Embrace Piracy On The PS Vita?

When the PS Vita was first hacked, many felt that it finally unlocked the console’s true potential. But it also unleashed a darker side to the Vita. The dawn of software piracy began with the platform. While the first team to open the system up never intended the Vita to be used in this way, it’s one of the reasons behind Sony’s eventual abandonment of the platform.

One of the most significant growth areas for the PS Vita has been in the homebrew scene, bringing a plethora of new games to the console. It’s also opened up the console to a wealth of new apps, enhancements to the system including at one point an improved web browser giving the Vita greater access to the web including many new independent casino sites. But along with homebrew, several years after the Vita has been discontinued should we also rethink our approach to software piracy on the console?

Commercial Concerns

One of the biggest arguments when it comes to piracy, especially where consoles like the Vita are concerned, is that of lost sales. Most people buying a Vita now are getting the machines hacked. For many it’s to run games available from the vibrant homebrew community, but others simply want free access to the Vita’s library. But while the PlayStation Store is still accessible there is nothing stopping people from still purchasing games.

Developers still receive payments from games sold, and with the majority of those who supported the platform being smaller teams or publishers then every sale mattered. Even today, a handful of game sales would be appreciated by developers from new Vita owners. And whatever prospective Vita owners may think, downloading these “free” games is still illegal. The Vita iself may have been discontinued, but as long as the software can be purchased there is no legal reason why people shouldn’t do so.

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The Nintendo Story

This moral dilemma has been the subject of discussion amongst gamers recently again thanks to Nintendo. At the end of March this year, they closed down the eShop for the 3DS and WiiU bringing to an end the digital games catalogue for both platforms. Going forward, both consoles have now become legacy systems and the only games you can buy for them are second hand or NOS (New Old Stock) physical titles. Anything that was released as a digital-only is now gone for good.

While copying these digital titles is still illegal, Nintendo have removed every legal option gamers have of obtaining them. Not all 3DS and WiiU owners will have hacked their consoles anyway to be able to access such games, but this is reminiscent of Nintendo’s conduct towards sites offering their older console titles in recent years as well…

Legal Retro?

When Nintendo took action against a range of sites that were offering downloads of various Nintendo games, gamers were genuinely frustrated and angry at Nintendo. There was no question that offering the downloaads was legally questionable. But when it comes to older platforms, players have always asked for legal ways to download and play older titles. When publishers don’t offer this, and physical copies are either unavailable or have become rare collectibles, what genuine options do gamers have?

Nintendo have made some headway recently with the Switch offering a healthy selection of their older games free through their online services. With hundreds of games available now covering the NES, SNES, Gameboy, Gameboy Advance, N64 and Megadrive it’s a step in the right direction. Add to this the growing range of arcade classics available in the Arcade Archives series from Hamster and it’s clear that people are willing to buy copies of older games to run on modern systems under emulation.

PlayStation Mobile

Now this is where the moral dilemma comes in for the PS Vita. I’ve already said that PS Vita games are still available commercially so we shouldn’t condone piracy in any way. But that’s not 100% true for all of the PS Vita’s software library. Infact, there are well over 500 games released for the Vita that are not only delisted from the PlayStation Store, but those who have purchased them are unable to re-download them should they experience hardware failures in the future. I am, of course, referring to PlayStation Mobile.

It’s no secret that we were staunch supporters of the format here at Vita Player. In fact, as a collector I was lucky enough to own almost the entire set of PSM games released in Europe, possibly the largest set of any collector. And as such, I’ve been approached countless times about this collection…

Game Preservation

One argument used in relation to old games and making them available online for others to download is that of software preservation. Certainly in the case of the 8-bit and 16-bit era, as physical media degrades, it is vital to preserve digital copies of these games before the 30-40 year old cassettes and disks become unusable. The same logic is being used towards modern gaming from the PS3/XBox 360 era onwards as well as the early days of PC gaming. This was the time when digital only titles became commonplace, but many of these never had a physical release.

As consoles were discontinued, and online services are being closed down, many of these games only exist on the hard drives of existing onwers. As this hardware fails, these games are slowly disappearing from circulation never to be seen again. We’ve already seen games vanish without a trace as they’ve been removed from the PlayStation Store, but PlayStation Mobile has probably been the biggest casualty to-date…

PlayStation Mobile – The Past And Future

Briefly, when Sony made the decision to close PlayStation Mobile down, it wasn’t simply a case of stopping development of new games. The entire 500+ library of games were removed overnight. Gamers couldn’t redownload what they had already purchased and to add insult to injury, games were locked to a specific console. So instead of being able to reinstall them to a new Vita if your existing one broke down, if you lost your Vita, you lost your entire PSM collection. For those owning the entire collection, that’s over £1,000 worth of games potentially lost overnight – the sort of sums you’d win at the best online casinos in ireland 2023 and frankly no-one can afford to lose that much.

So since the closure of PlayStation Mobile, groups have been working to preserve the catalogue as best as possible. Not only for posterity, but for all PS Vita owners who might want to play them. Because of my collection, I’ve been contacted on a number of occasions by a range of people involved in different preservation projects, asking for access to my collection. The most recent of these was Sargun Vohra, author of Gravity Cube.

Gravity Cube PlayStation Mobile 01

But almost all of these have one thing in common. These preservation sites don’t want to upload and host the games for downloading. They have wanted to access my collection in order to have the license code so it can unlock access to the game files that are actually still available on Sony’s servers. In doing so, this will release the PSM titles to then be accessible to owners of hacked Vita’s in the same way other games can using piracy-enabling tools.

Piracy Bad. Piracy Good?

In every one of these cases, I have declined to help. While making sure that the PlayStation Mobile collection can be preserved, especially as so few gamers have access to them, my concern has been more of a moral one. These sites are not only intending to offer PSM games, but the entire PS Vita catalogue along with PSP, PS3 and PS4 games. No matter how noble the PSM preservation idea may be, I can’t condone any of their other activities.

Sargun Vohra has mentioned that there are other projects aiming to preserve the PlayStation Mobile catalogue without providing access to other games, by directly hosting the game files. This still brings up the moral issue surrounding copying the games in the first place although the same method would be required to simply unlock an existing copy to effectively make a game DRM free.

The Moral Dilemma

Is doing so wrong? Legally yes. But with so many games under threat of being lost forever, I believe that this is one time that working with sites hosting the files can be justified. It’s unforgiveable that games that were exclusive to PlayStation Mobile should be relegated to history, forgotten forever. If there’s at least a chance that more gamers can play and enjoy these then steps should be taken to preserve them as long as it doesn’t impact on legitimate sales of other games.

It’s clear that Sony lost interest in PlayStation Mobile almost a decade ago. To the extent that they not only had no interest in making money from it, but wanted to deprive developers from earning money from the games as well. To punish those developers and hiding their work from the world is perhaps far worse than the questionable actions of distributing them. When developers like Sargun Vohra don’t even have copies of their own games, then shouldn’t something be done to change that?

So perhaps after some consideration, this is one time when piracy – to a limited controlled extent – can be justified to preserve a gaming legacy and platform before it’s lost for all eternity.

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About Simon Plumbe 1044 Articles
Husband, father and lifelong geek. Originally from the West Midlands, now spending my days in South Wales with my family and a house full of animals. Passionate about video games, especially retro gaming, the Commodore 64 and PlayStation Vita. Love pro wrestling, sci-fi and I'm an animal lover and vegetarian. Enjoyed this and my other articles? Why not buy me a coffee: http://ko-fi.com/simonplumbe