updated 04:10 pm EST, Tue January 15, 2013
Move could shut out resale of used games
A recently-published patent application from Sony has revealed a new prototype digital rights management scheme that embeds small radio frequency identification (RFID) chips into game disks that will serve to prevent games previously played on another system to be played on other systems, effectively halting the sale of used games. The patent was filed in September and awaits approval by the US Patent Office.
The methodology described in the patent uses the RFID chip and a paired chip that can communicate with the game console, likely written to by some manner of near-field communication (NFC). The tag and chip combo are used to store information, likely a MAC address or other unique console identifier. If a game disc is "branded" in such a fashion, the information stored on the disk can be compared to identifiers on a second console and checked against allowable permissions stored on the disc.
Sony's pending patent comes at a time where the entire used-game industry, spearheaded by industry leaders GameStop as well as initiatives at major retailers Best Buy and Amazon, captures a large part of the video game sale market -- a segment that the original publishers see no revenue from, just like the used-CD market. The effect of a partial or total block of used game sale on the industry overall is unclear -- funds generated from game resale by consumers is generally funneled back into the purchase of new or additional gaming content. Furthermore, the technology may be contrary to the first-sale doctrine in the US, which allows resale of physical goods by purchasers, and thus illegal under US law.
Other uses of the technology are possible instead of locking a game to a single console, such as linking content loaded onto a hard drive to a console from a disk to the authorized user, preventing disk-swapping, common with larger games. Also, in theory, a user or retailer could be allowed to "unlock" a disk for resale, still allowing the used game market to profit from the sale.
Gamers are familiar with games locked to one user, but not necessarily one console. Both Sony and Microsoft offer digital downloads limited to one account on the respective online gaming services. Additionally, Valve's Steam digital distribution service limits games purchased to one user account, which is mobile to other computers owned by the account holder. Steam games are often available at deep discount shortly after initial release, mitigating the loss of a used market somewhat. Steam-level discounts on new content are rare on the disc-based console market.