The Guitar Hero Thing
It started with the rumor that a patch was en route for Rock Band on the PS3, one that would accomplish the unthinkable: support for its rival’s guitar controller. We’ve been using Guitar Hero controllers on the 360 version for awhile, completely out of necessity, and if that path had been barred to us we might not have been able to play at all.
A press release from Harominix arrived soon afterward, claiming that Activision had pressured Sony to stall the patch indefinitely. It struck me as pretty incredible initially, that the platform holder could be manipulated in such a way, until I recalled that between Guitar Hero, World of Warcraft, and Call of Duty, there is no publisher more powerful than Activision. Their tremendous success this year is, in no small measure, the success of the platforms they have released their products on. If you’re going to lick boots, you might as well lick the best.
Activision responded to this assertion by Harmonix, suggesting saying that they had offered to work out an arrangement whereby their guitar controllers would have official support in Rock Band, but were denied. The idea here is to make their opponent seem churlish, but the reality of what they’ve said pokes up through every syllable: they offered a licensing deal, which is to say they offered to "let them pay." Harmonix clearly doesn’t think they should have to, which is what the whole fight is about.
I’d be curious to see how many users this scenario actually applies to, but all the same, the tremendous additional value created instantaneously for all consumers by increased compatibility overrides the entire discussion. Indeed, for me, there is no discussion: there are only the virtuous and the craven, and their acts reveal them. For Gabriel, ownership of something confers a suite of rights. If they don’t want their instrument used in this way, that’s the primary concern. Circumvention of that desire is not only immoral, but also seems like something a hippie would do. When I think about poor old Activision, destitute on the streetcorner, three pennies and a dime dancing in its begging cup, boy I just cry all fucking night. Stealing from a rich person is still theft. And so on. Videogames are really the only thing we can discuss without arguing. At any rate, they were.
I’d never suggest that Activision should patch in support for their competitors’ products. That’s the difference between an idealist and a zealot. And I think it’s silly that they are opposed to a software usage scenario that requires people to buy their products. But now we’ve got a situation in place where another company can’t update its own products. This looks to me like a pretty straightforward reverse engineering thing, something which is usually legal. Once we were able to discuss this rationally, we began to wonder if the defensive measure of the hardware wasn’t a kind of DRM, and thus enshrined by the DMCA. That might be why Sony washed their hands of it. And why consumers are left holding the bag. Again.