This should come as a shock to nobody, but there are some in the gaming industry who would like nothing more than to see the used game market crash and burn. They see outlets like GameStop and EB Games, where people can trade in their used games for cash or store credit, as a loss to their revenue stream. While this might be partially true, the market is still going strong and it is not showing any signs of slowing down. This has led to speculation that the big companies, such as Microsoft and Sony, might take measures in their next generation of consoles to block used games. While this has not been confirmed by either side, there is news that Sony has patented a technology that might accomplish just that. Could this be the end of days for the used game market? At least one analyst doesn’t think so.
The patent was filed by Sony in September 2012 and was just made public on January 3, 2013, catching the attention of the gaming media shortly thereafter. The full patent is as long-winded as you would expect, however it does give insight into how a technology can be used to block used games. The basics of the patent allow Sony to implement a “Electronic Content Processing System and “Use Apparatus” on a piece of hardware. This would allow them to scan an encoded tag on an individual game disc, called an “RF Tag”, and match it to an individual user account. Theoretically, once this tag has been claimed, it could not be associated with another account. This means that a game disc bought second-hand could be rejected by your system if the previous owner has played it. It’s similar to the single-use code system we have now.
As one would expect, people have taken this as conclusive proof that Sony is going to block used games on the next generation of Playstation consoles. However, the patent doesn’t specify which hardware this technology will be applied to. While such a move might seem advantageous to Sony on the surface, one analyst warns that it would be more costly in the long run. Prominent web analyst Michael Pachter points out the competitive disadvantages that blocking used games can pose.
“Sony would be materially hurt if its console blocked used games and competitor consoles from Microsoft and Nintendo did not” Patcher stated, going further to add “we believe that Microsoft would take advantage of Sony’s prospective decision to block used games by marketing that its own next generation did NOT block used games.”
The above statements sound perfectly logical, especially given how competitive the gaming market has become. The used game market is highly profitable because it satisfies a need for a huge portion of the gaming demographic, so restricting access would likely dissuade people from buying a console. The Wii U currently has no such restrictions, nor have they hinted at implementing anything along those lines. As such, it is hard to see this being a good move on Sony’s part.
Regardless, any move that Sony might make with regards to their next generation console is unknown at this time. Even if the patent is applied to the next Playstation, it might serve an entirely different purpose than we’re expecting. An anti-piracy system, perhaps? It’s all speculation at this point, so we’ll have to wait and see.