Sony is seeking to patent technology that will prevent gamers from buying used games. Specifically, it invented a new version of Digital Rights Management (DRM), a technology that content providers can use to prohibit undesired uses. This is part of Sony’s ongoing efforts to deter second-hand game sales and is a different solution than always-on DRM, a technology previously used by Blizzard and Ubisoft that required users to continually be connected to the internet to play a game. Sony’s new technology jeopardizes consumers’ access to games and threatens the existence of GameStop and GameFly.
Another possible use of this technology is to restrict features of the game instead of blocking the entire game from working on a different console. Certain games, such as Madden ’13 or Assassin’s Creed III, have “online passes” which require the initial purchaser to put in a code to access certain features of the game. The following user of that game disc will not have access to this initial code and will have to purchase those features separately. Instead of the user having to enter the code, Sony’s technology would automatically connect the game’s code with the console’s ID.
Sony neither claimed that they already employed this technology nor that the PS4 will definitely include this technology. However, this patent application has led to rumors that the new generation of Xbox consoles will connect IDs over Xbox Live to prevent the gamers from playing used games on their consoles. This is very similar to the always-on DRM, which requires gamers to maintain an Internet connection even when playing single-player games.
The application of this technology would prevent game retailers such as GameStop from selling used games. GameStop derives 46% of their gross profits from used game sales and the news that the next console generation may carry this technology dropped GameStop’s stock value. Game rental companies may also be put out of business, especially GameFly. GameFly sees a significant amount of its profits coming from subscribers who play rentals. Rentals and used game sales would no longer be possible if this technology is placed in the next generation of consoles since only one console can play a game disc.
Gamers all over the world are eagerly anticipating the next generation of consoles. However, this technology could potentially harm consumers’ access to video games. Used games and rentals allow gamers to play more games without paying $60 or more for new games. For annual titles such as Madden and other sports titles, gamers will be prevented from purchasing these games at cheaper used game values and may be prevented from purchasing the game at all. Games like Assassin’s Creed and God of War, which rely on their story or campaign modes, will require gamers to purchase the game with no recourse if they are dissatisfied with the game or beat the game quickly.
As game prices continue to rise, abandoning second-hand games creates the possibility of hurting the gaming industry as a whole, especially for huge game developers that put out major video game titles. These developers risk major protest from gamers, such as the outcry against Blizzard’s use of always-on DRM on Diablo III. The increasing popularity of mobile games has already positively changed the nature of the industry, but the loss of second-hand games through this new technology is a step in the wrong direction.