Thursday, April 23, 2015

HomePass Discussion

I'm obviously all for the use of HomePass, as could be discerned quite easily by reading my posts here, or looking at my Twitter.

But some people don't like it, and I'm here to cover the reasons why.

First off: the reasons I consider to be entirely subjective.  Some people consider HomePass to be immoral, unethical, or that it takes the fun out of StreetPassing and/or devalues StreetPasses.  These are subjective because there is no correct answer, it's just down to how people feel.  The rest of my points are subjective as well, but the answers are way more involved than the simple "I don't like it therefore it's bad"/"I like it therefore it's good" that governs everything in this paragraph.

People often liken the use of HomePass to cheating.  I can see why, but at the same time, I don't believe it's cheating.  Cheating would mean that the people doing it are gaining an unfair advantage.  Cheating would also mean that it would reduce the difficulty of the games.  HomePass does neither.

To address the advantage, it's actually a community advantage.  When people use HomePass to get things done, they can then pass on the benefits to their respective local communities, and everyone in those communities can benefit as a result.

To address the difficulty of the games, HomePass doesn't affect it in the slightest.  Yes, some of the games are easier with more people in the same session, but HomePass doesn't magically let you break the limit of 10 per session.  It also doesn't make the individual Miis stronger.  In fact, it's kind of the opposite.  Since you get so many Miis via HomePass, you're usually stuck with groups containing Miis you've only met once.  Although there are plenty of regulars that you will get multiple times, and people that have multiple 3DSes and HomePass with all of them at the same time.

The benefit of HomePass is sheer numbers of StreetPasses, and all that you really get from sheer numbers of StreetPasses is the ability to play the games more often.  I refer to this as "lowering the barrier to entry".

Furthermore, some refer to it as an exploit, which I find to be a wholly uneducated sentiment.  An exploit implies utilization of a bug or programming oversight for the benefit of the user.  HomePass doesn't use a bug or a programming oversight, rather, it uses the Nintendo Zone system in the precise manner in which it was intended to work.

Nintendo Zone was widely deployed long before it gained the ability to relay StreetPasses.  When Nintendo added the StreetPass Relay, it was clearly not feasible to recall all the Nintendo Zone access points and replace them with completely new hardware designed specifically to store and relay StreetPasses in addition to providing access to the Nintendo Zone application.  So instead, it was done with a firmware update and server structure.  It uses a system of what I'll call "lazy addition", wherein a new Nintendo Zone access point gets added to the system when a 3DS connects through that access point for the first time.

Within Nintendo Zone, individual access points are differentiated between on the basis of SSID and MAC address.  The 3DS firmware contains a list of access point SSIDs that it considers to be Nintendo Zones, and the 3DS will try to connect to those whenever they are found.  Enterprising 3DS owners found that with the correct SSID and a new MAC address, new StreetPass relays could be created, which led to the HomePass system.  A large list of MAC addresses was assembled, allowing HomePassers to rotate their hardware between these MAC addresses on a timer, and in doing so, bypass the normal one-tag-per-system-per-eight-hour-period limit on StreetPassing.

Also worth noting, if you use freely and readily available computer software to grab the SSID and MAC address of a Nintendo Zone access point in the wild, you can add that Nintendo Zone to your HomePass setup and get the StreetPasses of the people who are actually at that physical location.  The system, for all intents and purposes, is therefore completely open.

A final argument for the use of HomePass: not everyone can StreetPass reliably.  Some cities have fewer 3DS owners than others, and some people live farther from cities than others.  It may not be feasible to be constantly driving into town from the middle of nowhere just to swing past a Nintendo Zone and get a measly six StreetPasses.  People in these types of situations may have to rely on HomePass just to have the possibility of getting StreetPasses on any kind of a regular basis.

StreetPass was designed to work in areas of high population density, such as Nintendo's home country of Japan.  Elsewhere, it doesn't work nearly as well.  Large gaming-oriented gatherings, or gatherings of other demographics that overlap gaming, such as game/anime conventions, are typically a gold mine of StreetPasses, and are an easy example of how StreetPass was designed to function.

Whether you agree with me or not, or whether or not you decide to set up HomePass for yourself, I hope I've cleared up the issues I feel reasonably passionate about.

Also, if this post is the first bit of information you're reading about HomePass, I'd be an idiot if I didn't link you to, which contains links to all the information you'll need to get started, as well as being the central place where the list of MAC addresses is kept.

Edit (2015-05-01): I can't believe I forgot to mention a few points that I had, about the legitimacy and authenticity of StreetPasses gained through HomePass, and a little bit more about how HomePass affects people who don't use it, so I'll cover those now.

Some people don't consider StreetPasses gained through HomePass to be legitimate.  They think more highly of themselves because they play the games with "authentic" StreetPasses.  Well, guess what?  StreetPasses gained via HomePass are indeed legitimate, authentic StreetPasses that come from real 3DSes.  The system is working as intended to relay a StreetPass from one person to multiple others.  The only way these StreetPasses would be illegitimate or non-authentic if the HomePass system simply fabricated them out of thin air.

It's perhaps better to think of HomePass as a community-created extension to the Nintendo Zone network.  There's no possible way to differentiate between a StreetPass gained through HomePass and a StreetPass gained via a Nintendo Zone or by actually being physically close to the other 3DS in question, because they are one and the same.  Furthermore, the 3DS has no way of differentiating between a community-created HomePass relay and a Nintendo Zone, because they are also one and the same.  The system of "lazy addition" for adding new Zones to the Nintendo Zone system inherently makes authentication of those wireless access points as Nintendo-sanctioned Nintendo Zones impossible, because the trigger for addition of the access point to the system is the individual 3DS itself, and as I've already stated, the 3DS can't tell if the Zone it sees is Nintendo-created or user-created.

I would like to reiterate that HomePass doesn't make the Nintendo Zone system do anything that it's not designed to do.  In fact, it's the complete opposite, it's using the way the system is designed to work to make it work better.  It's like those "microcells" that AT&T sells to people to fix their horrible cell phone service coverage, only here we're not paying Nintendo for the privilege of making their system better.

Also, how does HomePass affect you if you choose not to use it?  The answer is simple: it most likely doesn't.  Or, consider that it might be affecting you positively without you even knowing it.  These games aren't online multiplayer games that people take way too seriously, they're fun, singleplayer short-session games with entirely cosmetic rewards.  Someone using HomePass to get all the cosmetic rewards faster than you isn't negatively affecting your personal gameplay.  Some people are completionists and want to get all the cosmetic rewards.  That's totally fine.  Others just take whatever they can get and prioritize some of the cosmetic rewards above others, and that's completely fine as well.

Maybe the method the community arrived at produces StreetPasses at a rate much faster than Nintendo originally intended, but Nintendo still doesn't have a good solution to the whole "low population density" problem.  If individual localities and neighborhoods could get official deployment of Nintendo Zone for their entire area, that might be a solution that would be more palatable to some.  If metropolitan wireless ISPs could pay a simple fee to have their access points added to the list of Nintendo Zones, that would also work.

Edit (2015-09-17), titled "The Ultimate Angler Address": Since people use HomePass all over the world, or at least with the region information on their 3DSes changed, you will get a much more diverse set of regions when HomePassing.  One of the games in the second bundle of StreetPass Plaza games, Ultimate Angler, has a system that unlocks travel to certain areas of the game based on the regions of the people you StreetPass.  While employing HomePass, you almost always have access to all of the islands.  This access is normally difficult to get organically via StreetPass, and costs a hefty sum of Play Coins to obtain otherwise.  The clear advantage here goes to users of HomePass.  However, just as with any other game, it doesn't really hurt non-HomePassers in any way.  None of the StreetPass Plaza games are competitive games that directly pit players against each other.  The paid ones, except for Flower Town, have rankings, but those are basically just a high score board and are unaffected by HomePass because they depend solely on in-game accomplishments, where HomePass grants no advantage.  Besides, once you complete the restricted-access islands, the access restrictions go away, while there's still plenty more left to do in the game.

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