A patent application published today resurrects the rumor that Sony's next gaming console will suppress the playing of used games, and outlines how such a scheme would be accomplished without the use of an always-on Internet connection for verification. In short, an RFID ID stamped onto the new discs would track their usage history and restrict them to one console.
Sony Computer Entertainment Japan filed the application in September, six months after the first details of the next PlayStation, codenamed Orbis, emerged in an extensive leak published by Kotaku.
First discovered in this forum thread on NeoGAF today, Sony's technology would check a game disc's RFID tag, which is capable of remembering if that game had been linked to a different machine or account. This check is performed offline and before the game is played.
While this describes the capability to completely block a used game—or any game that had been played on another console—it's important to remember that it also can be used to simply restrict some of its features, such as online play that some publishers have subjected to one-use "online pass" codes since 2010. The system described in the patent application would obviate the need for online passes, and also end the revenue stream they generate, but the point of their existence is to drive sales of full-price retail copies, with the $10 fee serving as a kind of clawback for the time being. It also would allow for rentals to use all multiplayer features; a code supplied by the renting party could unlock all capabilities for the life of the rental; currently, some games with online pass restrictions offer free three-day trials.
This is not the first time Sony has been rumored to examine used-games restrictions in its hardware. The PlayStation 3 faced speculation that it would not accept used games. Obviously, that did not come to pass. The last statement from Sony on its used-games posture came from Jack Tretton, the head of Sony Computer Entertainment America, said he was "totally opposed" to blocking used games. Of course, Tretton and SCEA answer to Sony Computer Entertainment in Tokyo, which applied for this patent.
The patent application number is 20130007892, and may be accessed by querying the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, or here. We've reached out to SCEA to ask for a comment; any made will be updated here.