Sony files patent application to block used games

(Credit: Getty Images)You might be a fan of buying used games, but Sony isn’t.

The company has filed a patent application for technology that would prevent video game consoles from playing used games. That, mixed with rumors about the next-generation systems banning used games, was enough to get gamers (and investors) panicking.

The patent itself would see new games encoded with a specific disc ID, which is tied to a specific player account. The console could then match the two to verify that "terms of use" had been met. What those "terms of use" are wasn't defined, but general opinion is it's an anti-piracy method.

Forums were filled with outrage. GameStop, the primary vendor of used games in the market, saw its stock drop five percent on Thursday. But it could all just be a rush to judgment, as applying for a patent doesn't mean a company plans to use the technology.

"This type of patent was speculated about in early 2012 as well," said Avind Bhatia of Sterne Agee & Leach. "Now, we have the actual patent application. … We think there are many practical considerations that may prevent Sony from acting on it (assuming they receive the patent), including potential consumer backlash."

Wall Street analysts, in fact, were unanimous in their opinion that Sony has no intention of actually preventing owners of the PlayStation 4 (or any of the company's game systems) from playing used games, even if publishers aren't big fans of the practice.

"Sony would be materially hurt if its console blocked used games and competitor consoles from Microsoft and Nintendo did not," said Wedbush's Michael Pachter in a note to investors. "The Wii U is already on the market with no used game prohibition, and we believe that Microsoft would take advantage of Sony’s prospective decision to block used games by marketing that its own next generation did NOT block used games."

Ultimately, it's a matter of user choice -- and limiting those hurts your chances of success in the marketplace. Perhaps that's why Pachter notes that a "senior official" at Sony (who he did not name) has already gone on record saying it has no desire to restrict those choices.

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