Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Sony puts a Patent Application on One-Account Discs

It only does a complete screw over of the used game market!

Yesterday was a lighthearted story, today is anything but. This story has only really started to be touched upon right now, although the crux of it began in December. On the 9th of that month Sony filed a patent application for technology that would fix a disc to an account.

Basically speaking, the use of this technology would render a used game market for any system that employed it pretty much void. With a game linked to only one account it means that a disc won't work in any machine that isn't using that account. Sony seems to be citing this technology as something that can get around more envasive methods of DRM such as always online requirements or passkeys and codes.

If this system seems familiar it's because in a way you've already probably either been using it or know someone who has been; it's basically the way that Steam works. Games are tied to an account, and can be accessed by the account holder. However, there are some fundamental and extremely important differences between Steam and what Sony might be attempting to do.

First and perhaps most obviously is that Steam is a digital media distribution vector. As such the prices are often less than what you pay for physical media, and there are often sales and discounts that are given to further entice people into buying. When discs enter the picture the entire dynamic changes; even if you don't sell your games, this kind of technology would mean that you couldn't even give a disc to a friend to borrow. Game trading is completely out of the question, and even just going to a friend's house and showing off a title become a hassle when you have to get them to log out of their system and then login under your account just to get the title to work.

Secondly, this system is going to have to take into account what might happen if a disc gets damaged. Considering that Steam is a user account, you can set up any computer and download the games that you own onto it, even having multiple computers with the same library of games. It doesn't matter as long as the accounts have been verified on the computers, which is a simple enough process. With Sony the disc becomes a vital component of the entire process, and given that some discs go through a fair amount of use and abuse, there could be problems.

Thirdly and perhaps somewhat esoterically is the fact that again, it comes down to a disc. When you buy a disc, there's a license that basically grants you to use the disc and whatever information is on it within the confines of the law, this means that if you want to resell a physical thing that you've bought you're free to. What Sony applying for would take away that right, and although people are generally find with not being able to sell off their digital only goods (something that may even be changing soon enough, depending), the idea of not being able to resell a physical thing that you own is fairly appalling to a lot of people's sensibilities.

I suppose that if Sony is only pursuing this potential patent to keep the technology out of the hands of other people, and then openly announces that they will never ever use it, then it might get them a lot of love, but at the moment it seems pretty doubtful that's the case. People already seem to be getting ready to jump ship if the comments in the articles talking about this are any indication. Whether this will actually come down to such a decision is unknown, and I don't think I can be blamed for hoping that it doesn't.

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