Hackers have recently become the subject of much discussion, partly because of the exploits of George Hotz and his band of brothers who are responsible for finding and exploiting the PS3's hardware key. The exploits of Hackers have been popularized in film (Hackers, Tron ) and on television. They've even garnered the attention of the U.S. Senate, among other government organizations and officials. But, who are they? What motivates a hacker, and what effect have their activities had on the game industry specifically? We aim to find out.
As defined by Wikipedia a hacker is a person that fits "one of several distinct (but not completely disjointed) communities and subcultures":
Part of what motivates hackers can be seen in this very simplified breakdown. Also worthy of our consideration is "The Hackers Manifesto." It states, among other things, that it is the hacker's responsibility to make sure information, and by extension the world, remain free. That this is, in general, the hacker's overarching goal is confirmed by the activities of some of the prominent members of the community.
Interestingly when referred to by mass media the meaning that's almost universally inferred is the third (black and grey hats). This subculture and its various groups have motivations that set it apart from the other two. Grey hats (or gray hats if you prefer), who fall somewhere between white hats and black hats, are probably the most difficult to define of this particular subculture. The reason for that has to do with their method of operation. According to the Wikipedia entry, grey hats may sometimes cross the legal line in order to discover a vulnerability or may disclose the vulnerability unethically.
For the sake of simplicity let's consider George Hotz. Under this definition, he may fall on the darker side of the spectrum if he were to be classified as a grey hat, especially considering the manner in which he revealed the PS3's security exploit, not to mention the iPhone-related news items.
But do hackers really do the games industry that much harm? In a word, yes. A study conducted by the Computer Entertainment Suppliers Association (CESA) concluded that between 2004 and 2009, Nintendo and Sony lost $41.7 billion to piracy related to the DS and PSP, respectively. The Association of UK Interactive Entertainment (UKIE) estimates in a recent report that for every game that is purchased legitimately, four are obtained illegally. At a 1:1 ratio UKIE estimates the annual cost to the industry is $2.4 billion and 1,000 jobs. If we apply that 1:4 ration of legal copies to illegal ones to the latest Call of Duty, for instance, we begin to see the impact. In the first day of its availability, Black Ops generated $360 million in sales. That would mean that $1.66 billion was lost to pirates. In one day.