Cat-and-mouse: Arguing the case for Vita homebrew

A week ago, headlines hit the web claiming that the Vita was hacked--thereby restarting the devastating cycle of piracy that had plagued Sony's last handheld, the PSP. Of course, that wasn't exactly true. Yifan Lu claims to have discovered an exploit--one that would allow homebrewers to run native code on the system. (Vita currently can run PSP homebrew.) However, while Lu has discovered the exploit, much more work will need to be done to enable bootloaders and the like. Lu says that it will be "physically impossible" to run backups using his exploit, admitting his own hatred of piracy. Some on the web consider this a naive position, pointing out that it only took months before UMDs could be dumped and played using PSP's original exploits. Although Sony has repeatedly attempted to counter the exploits through numerous security updates, it was clear that the fight was for naught. Sony later admitted to a significant piracy rate on the platform. The cat-and-mouse game between Sony and the hacking community has had some interesting repercussions. For example, Sony's first significant firmware update (2.0) not only included security updates, but added features like an internet browser to entice more users to upgrade. However, software upgrades solely for security purposes became increasingly common--much to the frustration of legitimate users of the PSP. Sony's losing battle with the PSP altered significant aspects of Vita's design. For example, gone was the ability to use Vita as a USB drive. Instead of continuing to use PSP's more widely used Memory Stick, Vita now uses an expensive proprietary memory card instead. Certain legacy games, like digital PSP games and PSone classics must undergo a re-certification process to appear on the Vita store--likely as the company attempts to secure all the content that appears on the device.

Do you blame pirates or Sony for Vita's proprietary memory cards?

Whereas Sony has introduced a few nuisances in the name of security, it has attempted to counter homebrew development by introducing the PlayStation Mobile developer program. Currently in open beta, it offers an SDK that allows cross-platform development across Vita and select Android devices. Surely, that should appease coders that want to create content for Vita? While a working hack could take "half a year" for release, many are debating if hacking the Vita is the "moral" thing to do. Some argue that Vita's lackluster library is reason enough to encourage homebrew. While it's true that Vita doesn't have many originals or exclusives at this time, there is certainly no dearth of content, with Vita having access to a growing selection of PSP games, Minis, PSone classics (and eventually the aforementioned PlayStation Mobile games). Perhaps the biggest reason people are awaiting homebrew on Vita is the potential to load emulators. Emulating classic systems was one of the biggest draws on PSP, and it appears many want the ability to play the same ol' 16-bit games on a system with a 5" OLED touchscreen. However, is the potential of opening the doors to piracy worth it, when these systems can already be emulated on a number of devices, from phones to tablets and the PSP? Lu says that while he has no intent on opening the doors to piracy on the Vita, he does note that he cannot guarantee others from using his work for foul play. "What can I do about what others may possibly do in the future?," he asked. Perhaps developers will be able to breathe a sigh of relief knowing that the current exploit could be rendered useless before it even finds release. "At any point Sony could close it," Lu explained. And then the cat-and-mouse game would continue anew.