PSP piracy threat looms

Full games run off memory stick.

Hackers have succeeded in making the PlayStation Portable play pirated copies of four commercial games from the Memory Stick slot, in a worrying development that could eventually lead to widespread piracy on the platform.

Amateur programming teams working on the PSP had already succeeded in making the machine run unauthorised code, and a large number of "homebrew" games and emulators for older systems are being circulated on the Internet.

In recent days hackers have managed to go even further, by making the PSP boot pirate copies of games - and now four titles, namely Archer Maclean's Mercury, Lumines, Coded Arms and Puzzle Bobble - can be downloaded from pirate sites and loaded direct from a high capacity Memory Stick.

The exploit, which uses a bug in certain versions of the software that ships with the PSP to circumvent the machine's protection system, has already been addressed by Sony in more recent versions of the system software, and will almost certainly not work on European models when they arrive in September.

Indeed, SCE UK's PR chief David Wilson dismissed the suggestion that the exploit is "seriously bad news", saying that it is "more another string to the bow for arguing against grey imports."

Original Japanese consoles, which shipped with the 1.0 firmware, and later Japanese and early American consoles, which shipped with version 1.5, are susceptible to the exploit, which requires no modification to the hardware and is easy enough for even users who aren't particularly technically competent to use.

However, anyone who has upgraded their firmware over the Internet won't be able to use it - and Sony is planning to ship automatic firmware upgrades on future game titles, which should also lock out the exploit on many consoles.

The fear now, however, is that rather than simply locking down the PSP with the upgrades, this scenario could turn into a war of attrition similar to Microsoft's attempts to lock down on Xbox mod chip users with updates to the Dashboard software - efforts which have largely proved futile.

It's not just game piracy that is a concern on the PSP, however. Freely available software has also been created which can rip DVDs into formats that can be played back from Memory Stick, raising the prospect of widespread movie piracy on the device as well.

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GamesIndustry International is the world's leading games industry website, incorporating GamesIndustry.biz and IndustryGamers.com.

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