Talking Point: Why the PlayStation 4 Won't Block Used Games
Posted by Sammy Barker
Keep calm and carry on
Sony likes to patent a lot of things. The manufacturer is so trigger-happy with its technology registrations that we could probably dedicate the entirety of our editorial output to the innumerable crazy ideas that the company has. The reason that we don’t is because ideas aren’t nearly as interesting as final products, and a lot of time patents amount to little more than wasted paper and bad diagrams. It’s for that reason that you probably shouldn’t worry too much about today’s anti-used games filing.
As reported earlier, the document – posted by Sony Computer Entertainment Japan on 12th September – proposes a scenario in which games could be tracked by a contactless tag. The writing suggests that once placed inside a machine, the software would be automatically associated with that system, essentially rendering the content useless to anyone but the original owner. But while the philosophy initially sounds foolproof from a business perspective, there are number of pitfalls that would need to be conquered before it could become a reality.
The most obvious issue pertains to broken consoles. Hardware is not infallible, and unless Sony intends to track PlayStation Network data, it would need to offer some kind of service in which existing titles could be linked to a new machine. We’re not technicians, but that sounds like a logistical nightmare, and certainly not worth the effort or cost. Furthermore, if it were to adopt the aforementioned online route, it would put added pressure on the platform holder to maintain a flawless infrastructure or risk locking legitimate consumers out of their games.
The reality is that neither solution is practical or particularly valuable. Used games sales are a problem for publishers, but there are easier ways for them to be tackled. The online pass system – while controversial in its first innings – has evolved into a scheme that rewards consumers for buying new. Additional characters, costumes, and weapons are all common with first-time purchases, and while cynics may argue that they should be part of the out-of-the-box offering anyway, it’s not really an issue unless you’re purchasing pre-owned, which is kind of the point.
Indeed, regardless of the worrying dialogue depicted in Sony’s patent, this is much more likely to be the direction that the platform holder moves in. Current online pass solutions demand serial codes and download keys, but we suspect that the entire process will be automated on the PlayStation 4. That will still allow publishers to recoup costs from pre-owned games, without needing to lobby for a system-wide block on the market.
Such an unnecessary move would be far more damaging than beneficial anyway. Not only would it give Sony a serious competitive disadvantage, but it would also upset the retail space which still holds the power to make or break a new device.
Besides, we’ve been here before. Back in the hazy days of 2005, a similar patent teased the addition of hidden DRM technology to PlayStation 3 games, promising an end to the used game market and rentals. The scheme was never implemented, making the backlash at the time look laughable in hindsight. It’s perhaps worth keeping that in mind before you freak out all over again.
How regularly do you purchase used games? Do added incentives and online passes encourage you to purchase more sealed titles? Let us know in the comments section below.