Sunday, July 10, 2011

The Demon Sony

So, it looks like I’m spending my entire weekend playing Little Big Planet.  This is because the past three years’ worth of Little Big Planet costumes, objects, decorations, and building materials, collected by three out of four humans in our household in quite serious fashion, were on the PS3 that finally broke down.  And Sony, in their infinite brilliance, designed the PS3 so that you can’t retrieve data off a dead machine.  Clever, eh?

Now, you may say to yourself, but a PS3 just has a standard hard drive in it, right?  Just pull that sucker out and hook it up to a PC.  Easy enough, but then you can’t read it, because Sony has encrypted the entire drive.  Copy protection for their games, don’t you know.  No problem, you might think.  Put the old hard drive into a hard drive enclosure with a USB interface and treat it as an external hard drive on the new PS3.  Nope, doesn’t work: not only is the hard drive encrypted, it’s encrypted with a key taken from the hardware chip in the machine.  In other words, hard drives encrypted with one PS3 can’t be read by another PS3.  Again, copy protection.  Well, you say, I heard that Sony just invented a new data transfer thing so that you can copy directly from one PS3 to another ...  Nope.  You have to be able to fire up the old machine in order to start the data transfer.  How convenient for their customers.

Not that Sony is particularly concerned about their customers.  As we can tell from the fact their security is such a joke that a handful of anonymous hackers took them down for 26 days.  Think about that for a minute.  All the press reports I’ve heard want us to be pissed off at whichever hacker group fired off this attack (although we still aren’t completely sure which one it was).  But screw that.  I want you to think about it.  A multi-billion dollar company with employees and offices worldwide got pwned by what was most likely six to ten nerds hanging out in their moms’ basements.  It’s sort of like if your bank came to you and said “Well, all the money in your account just got stolen by a couple of teenagers in ski masks.  We’re real sorry about that.  These criminals must be stopped!” Would you really feel sorry for your bank, taken advantage of like that by evil kids?  Or would you wonder why this giant institution that makes tons of money off you isn’t taking more seriously the idea of keeping your shit safe?

On the positive side, at least it probably cost them a billion or so.  Serves ’em fucking right.

So we waited for 26 days to be able to get back online, to be able to get stuff from the Playstation Store and play online levels with the world and whatnot, and then almost as soon as it’s back our PS3 goes YLOD.  Of course, I didn’t even know what that meant until it happened to me, but apparently it’s quite common.  Certainly a Google search for “ps3 ylod” turns up nearly 2 million results.  It stands for “yellow light of death” (in a nod to the infamous Windows BSOD), and it’s called that because the little light on your PS3 that’s usually either red (if it’s off) or green (if it’s on) turns to yellow and it won’t boot up.  It results from overheating, which is, again, something Sony most likely could have prevented with a little tighter quality control issues.  (And, if you think they couldn’t have, riddle me this: why is it that the newer models don’t suffer from this problem?  Obviously it’s possible to avoid it.) Sony itself offers you nothing to help with this problem.  If your machine is still under warranty, you can get a new machine, but, of course, your data is just lost.  If you’re not even under warranty, you’re really screwed.

So I went online and found someone who does electronics and specializes in fixing these sorts of problems.  And he fixed it.  And it worked ... for a while.  Then it started having a whole different problem, and now it won’t even come on at all.  I took it back to the same fellow, and he says the GPU (that’s the graphics processing unit) is fried.  And you can’t replace it.  So we’re back to being just screwed.

So we bought a new PS3 Friday night.  It’s another $350 down the drain, and now we have to rebuild all our saved stuff.  The only saving grace is that anything we actually purchased is still available for download, so at least we don’t lose all the money we’ve dropped on Sony over the past three years.  Just all the time we spent unlocking levels and collecting stuff.

While Little Big Planet is the biggest loss for us—three quarters of the humans in our house are fairly well addicted to it—it’s the not the only one.  Since my friend Benny first showed me a tower defense game on his iPhone, I’ve been obsessed with that class of games, so of course I have PixelJunk Monsters, one of the best examples of the genre.  Looks like I’ll be starting over on that one too.  My elder son will be starting over on Half-Life 2, Portal (both 1 and 2), and Fallout New Vegas.  My younger son has already started fresh on Costume Quest (a very cute little game; if you haven’t heard of it, you should check it out).  And those are just the biggies.  There are countless other games in which all progress has been erased.

Now, my general attitude towards video games is that they’re time wasters.  I learned long ago (when my college roommates pointed out to me that I’d lost a whole day to Phantasy Star IV, in fact) that I can’t afford to spend too much time on them.  And I try to teach this attitude to my children as well.  It’s just a game, I tell them.  And so it is.  But it still pisses me off to lose all this time just because a greedy company cares so little for me and my data.  It reminds of what may possibly be the most awesome footnote ever written, which appears in the book Good Omens, by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman.  In it, there is a character named the demon Crowley, and he happens to have a computer.  There is a description of said computer, which leads to this footnote:

Along with the standard computer warranty agreement which said that if the machine 1) didn’t work, 2) didn’t do what the expensive advertisements said, 3) electrocuted the immediate neighborhood, 4) and in fact failed entirely to be inside the expensive box when you opened it, this was expressly, absolutely, implicitly and in no event the fault or responsibility of the manufacturer, that the purchaser should be considered lucky to be allowed to give his money to the manufacturer, and that any attempt to treat what had just been paid for as the purchaser’s own property would result in the attentions of serious men with menacing briefcases and very thin watches.  Crowley had been extremely impressed with the warranties offered by the computer industry, and had in fact sent a bundle Below to the department that drew up the Immortal Soul agreements, with a yellow memo form attached just saying: “Learn, guys.”

I mean, seriously: if demons are cribbing notes from our software EULAs, I think there must be something wrong here.

So today I’m quite down on corporations.  Not that I’m ever up on corporations, of course.  But even more so today.  And, as I’ve spent about 48 hours now trying to keep my children from killing each other as they try to work together to restore all their LBP swag, I’m a bit tired as well.  Not the way I saw spending my weekend.  Video games are supposed to be fun, right?  Thanks a bunch, Sony.  Now I’m even cursed by my gaming consoles.  Sigh.

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