What effects would a potential “1 device, 1 game” implementation by SONY have?

2013.01.16 14:30:25 by andy category : Games & Anime Tags :Games Japan Japanese Playstation RFID SONY


The news that SONY Computer Entertainment Japan had applied for a patent for an RFID digital rights management rocked the gaming community as 2013 dawned. Many speculate that this technology may find itself in the Playstation 4.


A similar technique had been used by SONY in 1994 with the release of the original Playstation, both putting an emphasis on maintaining resale prices and preventing resale of software. Particularly known in Japan, this heavy support of the third party developer helped SONY overtake Nintendo as the leader in the game industry. However with the loss of a legal battle with the game stores in 2002, there has not been a resurgence of these techniques. With this current patent this battle may have been rekindled outside of Japan, with stock of major retailer GameStop taking a dive after the announcement.


“1 device, 1 game” protection was under consideration around Playstation 2

This new patent patent consists of using an RFID tag in the discs, and having the device communicate with the tag at the initial start up. The RFID tag would then store the serial number of the device and re-confirm at start up. A similar technique had been in discussion before the Playstation 2 release in 2000, with rumors cropping up every so often.


In the event that this technology is put into use, game stores, game rental systems, and personal game lending between friends would become physically impossible or challenging, and game acquisition would become limited to “new” games. In the US and Europe there is now people who speculate that this technology would not appear in the PS4, contrary to the initial popular opinion. Even though major game developers may report that a used game market hurts their own sales and growth (As Japanese developers have reported historically,) many mid sized and small game developers see the used game industry as a place for increasing brand recognition and acceptance. Therefore it is difficult to see the single, unified front presented by game developers against the used game and rental industries as was seen in Japan at the turn of the century. Additionally, unless competing hardware manufactures such as Nintendo and Microsoft also incorporate these protections, there is a large risk that consumers will dislike the restrictions placed on them and run to the more “free” game consoles.


Is the “1 device, 1 game” implementation a legal risk?


The main contention point in Japan during the legal battle over used game sales was the idea of exhaustion doctrine. Originally a concept from Germany almost a century ago, it is now a commonly accepted idea around the world. The main point of exhaustion doctrine holds that after the authorized sale of a copyrighted or patented product, the patent holders exhaust their control over that product. The 2002 court decision in Japan also adhered to these ideas. Working against such a widely accepted law may have significant legal repercussions.


What comes to mind here is the Rootkit problem brought about by the then SONY BMG, a part of the SONY group, in 2005. The copy controlled CDs produced by the companies would automatically activate a spyware software when played on the PC, causing a public outcry with many accusing the company of treating all consumers as potential criminals. A class action lawsuit by consumer groups and state governments resulted in significant fines that ultimately must not be worth the “copy protection” provided. If this “1 device, 1 game” protection were to be installed in the PS4, it is not difficult to imagine a outcry over restricting consumer rights and freedoms, perhaps leading to a legal battle that would eclipse the rootkit scandal.



Will the removal of used game stores and rental industries save game developers?

Even though the protection steps taken by the SONY group may be chalked up to corporate culture, we must get back to the root of the problem and question if promoting a “new games only” consumer structure increases game developer return or motivation. In particular the market has changed in these 11 years, with a large increase in downloadable games and content. It stands to reason that rather than chasing people away from physical purchases to downloads, a more varied and accepting approach would be most profitable to makers and developers both, and lead to more growth.


In the end, it will be up to SONY and their future announcements if they wish to begin the war against used games and rental industries once again.


Image: Inside a Gamestop in San Francisco

Image Source:Wikimedia Commons


Photographer:BrokenSphere(CC-BY-SA 3.0)

※This article was originally written in Japanese by「84oca」

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