For the last year or so, rumors that the next generation of consoles from Microsoft and Sony might block the playing of used games have abounded. Arguments measuring the pros and cons of such a move have been bandied back and forth, as have arguments about whether or not it’d even be a wise move. According to a Sony patent filing that’s hit the web today, however, the rumors seem very much like reality.
The filing is for an “electronic content processing system, electronic content processing method, package of electronic content, and use permission apparatus.” In short, the tech system can be used to scan an ID tag on a game disc, which will then be locked to a user’s account. The patent filing offers extremely detailed descriptions of the ways that the tech works, but Sony doesn’t hide its intentions at all:
“The development of electronic content including game applications (APs) is costly and therefore in a content business it is vital to redistribute part of proceeds from sales of the electronic content to the developers. On the other hand, the electronic content is being bought and sold in second-hand markets. In such a scheme where the electronic content is bought and sold in the second-hand markets or the like, the sales proceeds resulting therefrom are not redistributed to the developers. Also, since the users who have purchased the second-hand items are somehow no longer potential buyers of the content, the developers would lose their profits otherwise gained in the first place. […]
According to the present embodiment, realized is the electronic content processing system that reliably restricts the use of electronic content dealt in the second-hand markets. AsS a result, the dealing of electronic content in the second-hand markets is suppressed, which in turn supports the redistribution of part of proceeds from sales of the electronic content to the developers.”
Game publishers and developers have long bemoaned the used game market, claiming (probably very justifiably) that second-hand sales have hurt their bottom line considerably. Taking into account how much it costs to make and distribute a game, to see so many people buy the game used and not get those profits must hurt.
But at the same time…isn’t that kind of the price you pay for operating in an economy such as this? To me, when I buy a thing—no matter what that thing is—it’s mine, and I should be able to do with it what I want as long as it’s not illegal (such as duping and distributing/reselling it). If I want to sell it to a buddy of mine, or on eBay, that’s something I should be able to do. This tech will still allow that, but it’ll make that sale worthless it seems.
From what I can tell, there don’t seem to be any descriptions of how a game’s tag might be transferred to a different user’s ID. For lots of games today, when you buy them used, you may not be able to play them online without paying a fee to get an access code. It’s not a pretty process, but it seems at least a little fair to the developers who lose money on used sales.
This, however, seems like it cuts the consumer—and retail reseller—out of consideration entirely. I totally understand the ways in which Sony and its software development partners will benefit from this. And as businesses, it’s their job to make as much money as possible—I totally get that. But it’s hard not to see this—if, in fact, the technology is included in the next Sony console—as a way to screw customers and retailers.