Homebrew downsides

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Revision as of 11:13, 22 October 2010 by Tepples (talk | contribs) (Freeware complexity wall: don't accept all the blame for not understanding aggregate)
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This is a mini-rant, a short essay refuting a common misconception among users of an Internet forum. If you think this essay is FUD, feel free to explain why on the essay's talk page.

As a video gaming platform, the advantages of a console over a PC include SDTV output as a standard feature, a guaranteed minimum performance level of the hardware, and a culture of actually using the two to four controller ports for single-screen multiplayer gaming. The disadvantage is the lockout chip, which various homebrew methods attempt to work around. I was planning to develop homebrew video games for a popular closed video gaming platform until I ran into a few issues:

Renewal of restriction

Homebrew depends on a jailbreak, or a privilege escalation exploit to run code not approved by the platform owner. But jailbreaks don't last forever; a platform owner can always patch up the hole that the jailbreak uses in the next version of the platform's operating system. For example, it took over a month for hackers to find and release the "Bannerbomb" for Wii Menu 4.0. Sure, people can just refuse to install an operating system update, but platform owners can work around that in three ways. First, all new devices would have the patch already installed on them. Then the app store and other apps with an online component might check for patches and fail to start if one is available. Finally, on platforms with apps on physical media, newly released apps would try to install the patch before starting. If a jailbreak requires specialized hardware, the platform owner can sue a store carrying the hardware into oblivion on copy control circumvention and/or patent infringement charges. This has happened to Bung, Lik Sang, and Visoly for Game Boy and Game Boy Advance, it happened to several stores carrying the R4 card for the DS, and it happened again to sellers of USB mods for the PLAYSTATION 3.

Career limiting

I worry that working on homebrew for current consoles, as opposed to PC games, will jeopardize my chances of being hired by an established video game studio once I move out of the backwoods town of 200,000 people where I currently live. Apple, for instance, has notably revoked the legitimate developer credentials of hackers who have released iPhone jailbreak tools. (Some claim this fear is overblown.)

Freeware complexity wall

Once I tried to develop a side-scrolling platformer, but I ran into the so-called complexity wall. This happens when a lone developer with a day job lacks the time to provide both high-quality code and high-quality art. In order to replace notoriously bad programmer art, I'd have to charge for my game in order to afford to pay an artist. Reaction to the sale of copies of jailbreak-related tools for one platform shows that the platform's homebrew community likes to keep it strictly non-commercial. If you know of a way to make programmer art better without sticking to making single-screen puzzle games over and over, feel free to explain on the talk page.

One problem is that a lot of existing art is under a Creative Commons license. Saying that a work is under "a Creative Commons license" isn't enough; there are several licenses with different ramifications. Another is that all Creative Commons licenses are incompatible with all GNU licenses because unlike CC licenses, GNU licenses do not allow authors to require downstream reusers to remove attributions to the author. See discussion on Wikisource's mailing list for the details. As for whether code and other parts of a video game form an "aggregate" that does not require license compatibility, the Free Software Foundation has never really clarified what the GNU General Public License means by "separate and independent works, which are not by their nature extensions of the covered work, and which are not combined with it such as to form a larger program".