Curmudgeon Gamer
Curmudgeoning all games equally.
06 April 2007
Richard Stallman speaks: no to consoles
Well, I'm going to have to have a long think about this one. RMS says don't use consoles -- it's unethical.
Q: One final question. We're seeing more and more devices, and I'm thinking specifically of games consoles -- I know that my kids have one in the house -- where there is no --

Richard Stallman: I wouldn't. You have to learn how to say no to your kids.

Q: That's true, that's true, I wouldn't deny it. Now, there is no free software at all for devices like this [correction: Yellow Dog supports some console(s)].

Richard Stallman: That's why there is no possible ethical way you could use one, and so you shouldn't have it.

Q: All right, I think I'll take the kids out on the bike more often.

Richard Stallman: That would be much better for them.
Man, that stings.

I saw the original quote at NeoGAF in this thread, but I had to find the original source on my own.

Labels: ,

--Matt Matthews at 13:37
Comment [ 14 ]

Comments on this post:

It's not ethical to own a console because the software isn't open source? What a bunch of malarchy.

Saying "no" to your kids, though: that's something that's KEY.

By Anonymous mgroves, at 06 April, 2007 14:17  

Well, this is Stallman we're talking about. His life is devoted to this kind of thing.

And the game console industry has long done things in a very convoluted way. Selling consoles at a loss to get your foot in the door to sell games at a profit means: that you don't want to add too many features to the console (so people will use it for non-game purposes); that you have to put in mechanisms, running on the hardware that the buyer "owns", to prevent playing unlicensed games; means that all games must be sold at a profit so it must also be made difficult for the user to run his own code on the system (unless it is "managed" in some way, to prevent people distributing free games or producing ways around lockouts); and that free software is also out, for that which is free as in freedom is also free as in beer, and with no monetary cost there's no income, and with no income there's no money to pay license fees, and with no license fees there's no income for the console manufacturer.

There are plenty of reasons Stallman hates the console market. Many are damn good ones.

By Blogger JohnH, at 06 April, 2007 15:11  

Richard Stallman: Go jump off a bridge.

Q: *splash*

By Blogger Zachary, at 06 April, 2007 15:13  

The conflict between consoles (which could be defined as "computer hardware that constrains its content for profitmaking purposes") and the free software philosophy is obvious. And indeed, has been pointed out to jvm before.

I suppose I should accept that having RMS say it directly is a more credible source than me (for example) saying that RMS would say it, but still, any console-loving free software advocates suffering ethical dilemmas _now_ have been wilfully blind.

By Blogger Bob, at 06 April, 2007 16:09  

This comment has been removed by the author.

By Blogger peterb, at 06 April, 2007 18:10  

RMS still an idiot -- film at 11!

Bob: it is not accurate to describe a console as "computer hardware that constrains its content for profitmaking purposes". My car has a CPU in it. Is it "computer hardware that constraints its content for profitmaking purposes"? Is it unjust that I can't run free software on my Chevy?

My rice cooker has a CPU. Is it unjust that I can't run free software on my rice cooker?

The reason the console is constrained is because it needs to just work (and yes, although this could be described as being 'for profitmaking purposes', that's not the same thing as what you were trying to say). A game console is not a general purpose computing device, any more than my car is. It is not designed as a general purpose computing device. It is not marketed as a general purpose computing device. And it is not used as a general purpose computing device.

That some people are sufficiently bloody-minded to hack their machines to run Linux or what have you is no more relevant than that there are probably people who have retrofitted their toilets to be water fountains: theoretically possible, but still fundamentally a really dumb idea.

Developing a piece of consumer electronics for the end user -- something that is simple to use, looks good, and sells well -- is not a trivial activity. It harder than, for example, writing Emacs. For RMS to mouth off simply because he doesn't understand the value represented by a box that does one thing and does it well is just more evidence of the shallowness of his philosophy.

By Blogger peterb, at 06 April, 2007 18:27  

Ah, the scent of blood!

My car has a CPU in it. Is it "computer hardware that constraints its content for profitmaking purposes"? Is it unjust that I can't run free software on my Chevy?

YES.

My car developed a computer fault recently, with no physical cause found, that causes it to disable fourth gear randomly. It would ordinarily cost me a few hundred dollars to get it fixed... or, I can disconnect the battery for a few minutes when it happens. Once the battery is hooked back up, fourth gear starts working again, and continues to do so for weeks. Presumably it is a software fault that causes this, but whoever heard of an auto manufacturer updating your car to ChevyOS 2.0?

Maybe one could get better fuel efficiency by installing homebrew software in one's engine? Maybe such software could damage a car, that possibility cannot be avoided, but there are plenty of people who would take that risk, and once they get something safe coded up, why can we not all reap the benefits?

Maybe I could get a program that would enable my own food steamer to not automatically shut off at the wrong time, leaving me with half-done or soupy rice?

And game consoles bloody well ARE general purpose computing devices. That's the entire idea behind microprocessors. The chip inside the console doesn't care if it's describing Mario World or folding proteins.

There is no good reason, from the consumer's standpoint, for Nintendo not to build a secret "advanced" menu into a Wii for replacing the firmware with a user-developed alternative. It doesn't seem to have hurt the Linksys WRT54G wireless router any.

By Blogger JohnH, at 06 April, 2007 19:05  

"It is not marketed as a general purpose computing device."

With the exception of a few PR stunts by Sony, at least.

"Maybe one could get better fuel efficiency by installing homebrew software in one's engine? Maybe such software could damage a car, that possibility cannot be avoided, but there are plenty of people who would take that risk, and once they get something safe coded up, why can we not all reap the benefits?"

The restricted nature of car CPUs are certainly exploited for heavy profits. Replacement boards cost $750 and upwards, without even counting the additional installation costs.

But being able to write and easily install your own software would invalidate the whole effort of emissions testings and controls. People would just write (and market) "upgrades" that increased performance at the cost of increased emissions. When inspection time comes around, assuming such software didn't automatically cheat the tests, the owner could simply temporarily "downgrade" to something that would pass the test.

By Anonymous Baines, at 06 April, 2007 19:34  

RMS strikes again... spoken like a single guy.

Yes, saying "no" to the kids is fine... but buying them one console for christmas and then getting a work-ethic going to get accessories isn't going to kill them (I'm thinking of a Wii here...) No, no kid deserves a PS3. :)

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 06 April, 2007 19:36  

John H:

> There is no good reason, from the consumer's standpoint,
> for Nintendo not to build a secret "advanced" menu into a
> Wii for replacing the firmware with a user-developed alternative.

If you asked 1000 people whether they wanted their Nintendo Wii to (a) play games or (b) let them wank around with their firmware, 999 would choose (a) and the 1 person who chose (b) would be a very sad and lonely person.

>And game consoles bloody well ARE general purpose computing devices.

No, they bloody well are not. Game consoles are game consoles, and if they make use of general purpose computing chips, big whoop. So does my blender.

I respect your wish to drink out of your toilet, but just understand that most people have no interest in paying the additional cost in engineering that such a goofy use requires.

By Blogger peterb, at 06 April, 2007 20:32  

PeterB said: I respect your wish to drink out of your toilet, but just understand that most people have no interest in paying the additional cost in engineering that such a goofy use requires.

Winner.

By Blogger jvm, at 06 April, 2007 20:39  

If you asked 1000 people whether they wanted their Nintendo Wii to (a) play games or (b) let them wank around with their firmware, 999 would choose (a) and the 1 person who chose (b) would be a very sad and lonely person.

Ad hominem. Even accepting that a person who wants to hack a Wii's firmware may be sad and lonely, it has not bearing on the argument.

The fact of the matter is, some people get more entertainment from programming than playing video games. In my book, both categories are equally sad and lonely--as well as people who argue about it on message boards.

But that doesn't even matter! What usually happens is, some "sad and lonely" people develop the firmware, and then Joe Average User installs it as a package. When one installs MS Word on his PC, does one assume he programmed it from scratch?

I respect your wish to drink out of your toilet, but just understand that most people have no interest in paying the additional cost in engineering that such a goofy use requires.

Despite what jvm might say, this is crazy talk. The Wii already has a firmware updater built-in. I'd bet you that it cost more to prevent the user from using any old file to update that than to develop/implement/license the digital signature technology to ensure that only Nintendo's firmware could be used.

And the average user would very well have an interest in seeing this made! The Wii has some minor useful applications for it, after all, proving that even Nintendo recognizes that people want them, but in typical Nintendo fashion, they're limited: you can't pick your source in the News Channel or Weather Channel, or follow source URLs in the News Channel, you can't save picture edits or play MP3s flexibly in the Photo Channel, and you're stuck with whatever features are provided for you in the Internet Channel.

Most users would well want to see these restrictions lifted, yet because the box is locked down by the manufacturer, we have to rely upon them to see them remedied. Which may well never happen.

It is true that, in the long run, a healthy market can correct these kinds of lackings through competition, but that's still quite wasteful, to the consumer, considering the cost of the hardware.

By Blogger JohnH, at 07 April, 2007 19:50  

Yes, with coding freedom, you can do a lot of things with a game console. But what happens when a game system is cracked?

A small homebrew community develops. Of that group, only a fraction ever get past the level of Pong. Of those that get past Pong, only a fraction are creating their own new products, with the majority porting pre-existing programs.

What becomes one of the most popular type of programs ported? Emulators.

But another community also develops, the game pirates. The "legitimate" homebrew community (even including emulators) is a drop in the bucket compared to the pirating community. And that is presumably what really drives the companies. Not the threat of some kid making a game. Probably not even the treat of someone porting Quake. But easy pirating almost right out of the box? Because being able to put custom code on a machine is a big step to beating whatever protections are in place.

Mind, Xbox Live has introduced another concern, that of trying to keep the Live-enabled games free of cheaters. And for good reason, considering cheating destroys the communities that they try to build.

By Anonymous Baines, at 08 April, 2007 03:20  

Probably not even the treat of someone porting Quake. But easy pirating almost right out of the box? Because being able to put custom code on a machine is a big step to beating whatever protections are in place.

Ah, piracy is definitely a possibility when protections are defeated, this should not be discounted, although honestly I think the problem is overblown. (If I see one more person say that piracy doomed the Dreamcast, and NOT the Playstation 2....) But no, I would say that the homebrew lockout is the most important motivation. And I'll explain why.

* Game systems, as we should all know by now, are generally sold at a loss, especially early in their life. Even later, when the economies of scale have gotten to the point where they are sold at a profit, it is not usually a great profit.
* If the console is sold at a loss, then that must be made up somewhere. And it is: it is made up on the sale of games.
* The console manufacturer makes their money, then, by selling licenses to produce games for their console. This, and first-party software sales, become the primary source of income for a console maker.
* In fact, if the console is sold at a loss, it is directly not in the console maker's best interest to provide non-game uses for it! Sony had a bit of a scare for a little while early last generation when more Japanese customers started buying PS2 to use as a DVD player than a game machine. This is where the interests of manufacturers and consumers diverge.
* Anyone can manufacture CDs, and the throwdown between Nintendo and Tengen in the NES era reaffirmed the right of unlicensed parties to make games.
* For the NES, it ended up not mattering too much, since few third-party games that weren't made by Tengen are worth anything. But there is that fear that software companies, when faced with the choice of paying a large chunk of game sales to the console maker in exchange for development information, and reverse-engineering it keeping it for themselves, will go the cheaper route. Corporate-sponsored game development, after all, is just homebrew in a suit and tie, and with more motivated developers.

When software companies get the idea that they don't have to pay license fees the whole system, which has been pretty good to the console makers, collapses. So they (and thus, homebrew developers) have to be prevented from making unlicensed software. It's in the consumer's interest to have more software available, but the console makers would like to avoid the appearance of restricting what can be done with the box that the consumer supposedly owns, so they suggest that it's to prevent piracy.

That is the reasoning I use when I think about the issue. Does it seem sound to you guys?

By Blogger JohnH, at 08 April, 2007 05:47  

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