PS4 to block used games? Sony patents tech to tag and track secondhand games

Remember last year's rumor that the PlayStation 4 could contain technology to block the playing of used games? There may be some more validity to that claim as it's been unearthed that Sony's PlayStation division has patented technology that can track and block the use of secondhand games on a console.

Discovered by a member of NeoGAF, the patent describes technology capable of "tagging" games played on multiple systems, with the purpose of trying to control secondhand sales. The patent reads:

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. As 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. Though in the following description a game application (AP) is exemplified as the electronic content, the present embodiment is similarly applicable to various kinds of electronic content such as an office suite, images, and music content.

Basically, individual game discs would be matched to user accounts, and games which have already been associated with another user's account will be rejected. Using similar NFC technology found in modern bank cards, the discs would be branded with a contactless tag that could be recognized and read by your console.

The abstract description for the patent document filed by Sony Computer Entertainment Japan reads:

A game playing system includes a use permission tag provided for use in a game disk for a user of a game, a disk drive, and a reproduction device for reproducing the game. The disk drive reads out a disk ID from the game disk. When the game is to be played, the reproduction device conveys the disk ID and a player ID to the use permission tag. The use permission tag stores the terms of use of the game and determines whether a combination of the disk ID and the player ID conveyed from the reproduction device fulfills the terms of use or not.

The document details Sony's past efforts to curb secondhand game sales and notes that this technology is a nice alternative to a simple password or Online Pass solution.

"As a result [of the patented idea], the dealing of electronic content in second-hand markets is suppressed, which in turn supports the redistribution of part of proceeds from sales of the electronic content to the developers."

The documentation doesn't name specific devices planned for the patented technology, but later sections do describe how the technology could be expanded to gaming peripherals, accessories, and other electronic media entirely, "such as an office suite, images, and music content."  

Sony isn't the only one who has been rumored to be exploring this type of technology. Last year, it was also rumored that Microsoft's next console would also aim to combat used game sales, as well. There's been an ongoing feud between platform holders and secondhand game retailers for the past few years and it seems this next generation will really determine the direction and future of the gaming industry.

Needless to say, if this sort of technology is implemented in the PS4 or Xbox 720, it will be a huge mistake; I could see it costing Sony and Microsoft billions in console sales if they prevent users from purchasing used games.