It may have died a premature death, but the Dreamcast was kept alive for a long time due to its vibrant homebrew development scene, thanks to its ability to boot unofficial code from CD-R (ironic that the ability that played a major role in its downfall was what kept it going for so long after). Now the x86 PC architecture of the Xbox has proven incredibly hackable due to its familiarity to developers and the console is being used far beyond what it was intended for; from Linux servers to media centers. Modchips are finding uses beyond the traditional import and piracy scenes.
What is perhaps the most unusual candidate for a burgeoning homebrew scene is Sony’s PSP. A closed hardware specification with a closed storage format is about as unlikely as it gets, but barely a week since the release in the US we’ve seen enterprising meddlers coming out with web browsers, IRC chat, and various pieces of software to do things from synching it with your iTunes library to using it as an Xbox memory card. It was even possible to tunnel them online within days of the Japanese release.
Obviously their abilities to make it do cool things are limited when they have no way to run code on it, even if the Memory Stick seems to make the finding of an exploit to run code a matter of time, but Sony have a good history of supporting homebrew development with the PS1’s Net Yaroze and the PS2’s official Linux kit. If they release an official homebrew development kit for the PSP we could have an avalanche of software that makes the system essential – how about some PDA applications? A media player that supports more than just MP4 video? Emulators? Ports of open source software? IM clients? The inevitable PSP Linux?
I can’t really see homebrew software being a mainstream selling point in the way that genuine, UMD-based software and built-in abilities will be, but if Sony can see this community and make moves to court it, they could have a huge underground success on their hands. If people see others on the train to work checking email and surfing the web on a PSP they’re going to see it not only as gaming’s answer to the iPod but also as a PDA and an essential component of a busy lifestyle. Sony could certainly come out with this stuff themselves without having to open up development, but having this software appear with no development costs to them is an astute business move. People like free stuff and not only would Sony get software to sell their console on appearing for no investment, but the ability to drop a program onto your Memory Stick and run it for no cost is very appealing to a potential buyer.