Why piracy on firmware 3.60 won’t kill the PS Vita
Since the release of PS Vita game piracy tool Vitamin, I’ve seen growing discussions about piracy and how it will impact the future of the PS Vita. Spoiler alert: it won’t.
People on discussion boards easily surface examples of devices that were completely destroyed by piracy. The Sega Dreamcast is probably the most popular example: piracy is often used as one of the main reasons to explain the console’s ultimate demise. People also often mention the PSP as a device that was largely hit by piracy. Of course, piracy’s never the only reason a console performs poorly on the market. The NDS, PSP’s competitor, did great for many years despite its games being extremely easy to pirate with plug and play flashcarts.
I could of course mention how the PS Vita was dead long before piracy surfaced on it. But that’s not what I want to talk about. Today, I want to talk about cold, hard numbers, and how companies like Sony protect themselves against piracy much more efficiently than they used to.
It all boils down to the firmware updates, the added value of not pirating, and the potential number of people who can access the HENkaku hack (and therefore, play game “backups”) today.
Recently Yifanlu explained that there are about 100’000 HENkaku users since the hack launched. After discussing the source of this number with him, I understand the number to be pretty accurate. It doesn’t give us the whole picture, but we get a good idea of the scale. This number is massive, compared for example to Rejuvenate, which had (again according to Yifanlu) about 10’000 users.
Let’s assume for a minute that all these 100’000 users pirate games. Let’s even go crazy and imagine that this number grew to 150’000 since Yifanlu last announced the numbers.
Now lets compare this to the number of PS Vita owners: There’s no recent official numbers, but a quick look at Wikipedia shows us that we’re probably well above 6 million PS Vita sold by now (4 million by January 2013, plus about 2 million sold in Japan alone between 2013 and 2014). IGN say the number was 10 million by 2014.
Our 150’000 pirates represent 1.5% of the PS Vita user base. It’s not a completely insignificant number, but it’s not something that’s going to impact Sony’s bottom line or game developers sales. Would you be *** of if your salary went down 1.5%? Probably. But would you quit your job if that happened?
So the discussions about Vita Piracy, or Vitamin killing the PS Vita, and “independent developers” stopping support for the PS Vita are just from people who make lots of assumptions without even looking at actual numbers.
Additionally, it’s unlikely the number of HENkaku users is going to grow much further. Sony have patched the exploit in firmware 3.61. Many people will update their console before learning about the 3.60 hack, and even for those who know about the hack, there is a strong difference from the PSP days: nowadays, it matters a lot to be on the latest firmware to get the full experience.
In the new generation of consoles, Sony have made a successful transition to a system where having full access to the PSN services (and as such, being on the latest firmware and playing by the rules – yes, we can access the PSN with HENkaku now, but doing so is risky) is a requirement to get the full Playstation Vita experience. How many gamers will get tired of the possibility to pirate, and instead upgrade their system to get back to the full online experience?
I’m seeing these discussions happening already. As I said in a former article, piracy makes less sense nowadays than it did before, because the “legit” experience offers much more than a game: online access, updates, trophies, free PS+ games, social media… Sony has converted the gaming experience into a service that encompasses much more, making the value of piracy much less attractive to a significant amount of gamers.
Don’t get me wrong: people who want free games will pirate. Some of them will get a 3.60 PS Vita to get the best of both worlds. But at the end of the day, what matters is that Sony now has a good way of mitigating the risk of piracy because online access to the PSN is not only a requirement, it’s also a huge share of the experience. As such, the risk for them of piracy numbers growing exponentially is extremely limited, and today stands at less than 2.5% of the user base.