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A long-running rumor resurfaced today, once again fueling speculation that Sony plans to lock out used games on the PlayStation 3. But this time, the report came from no less reputable a source than the Los Angeles Times.
In the story, headlined Furor Over Sony Patent (registration required), the Times reminded readers that Sony has patented a technology that can "lock" a disc to a single disc player - say, a PlayStation 3 console - and prevent them from ever being played on a different one. That's old news, but it's the fuel firing the persistent rumor that Sony is going to nuke the sale of used games, a business which obviously costs publishers money, but which accounts for a huge portion of many game sellers' revenue.
Sony has repeatedly dismissed the idea as "rumors and speculation" and indeed, the language of the patent itself seems to consider the technology as more of an anti-piracy measure than a "screw you" to the game resellers of the world. Even so, it wouldn't be the first time Sony has tried to nail down its copyrighted media. As the Times article points out, the company came under fire earlier this year when some of its music CDs quietly installed copy-protection software on listeners' PCs without permission or warning - something for which the company later apologized.
The Times also spoke with several analysts, most of whom reacted negatively to the idea that Sony would make such a move, sure to aggravate consumers. One said that such actions would give Sony "a black eye" with consumers, while another said that used-games sales were instrumental to the growth and continued health of the industry (just as used car sales bolster the auto industry). One anonymous source even said locking out used games would be "suicide" for Sony.
Initial reactions aside, some analysts said that the technology could indeed be used to deter piracy, while others speculated it might only be used to "lock" music or movie downloads. Still others were slower to dismiss the rumor, pointing out that, while destructive to the retail chains that sell used games, the new technology would be beneficial to publishers, who don't make money from sales of used games.
In any case, we at GamesRadar are still skeptical that Sony would actually pull such a boneheaded move. The company has, after all, been sitting on this patent since 2000, and there isn't any clear indication that Sony is seriously considering the technology for the PS3. That's to say nothing of the inevitable uproar from gamers, whose goodwill toward the PS3 has already been strained by its $500-$600 price tag.
Of course, we won't know for sure until November, but we're not holding our collective breath. Then again, we never thought Sony would dump rumble controllers either, so it's obviously possible to underestimate the hubris of a powerhouse corporation.
July 10, 2006