Used games are a crucial commodity for retailers like Gamestop and consumers in a pinch. But the for the first time, well, ever, the next-generation of consoles may have to power to render them obsolete. Particularly the PlayStation 4.

Rumors surfaced in March of 2012 that Sony’s still-unveiled next-gen console — perhaps codenamed “Orbis” — might be able to prevent the playing of used games (this was in addition, allegedly, to eschewing backwards compatibility for PS3 titles). Now, a new patent from Sony itself has hinted at the very same intent, detailing an “electronic content processing system” capable of detecting previously played discs… and prohibiting them from use.

Filed by Sony Computer Entertainment Japan, the patent revolves around a reproduction device within the console that would use NFC technology to scan each disc. Think of a barcode reader at Walmart. The device (essentially the console) would transmit unique user-ID data to the disc, which in turn would be coded with terms-of-use data. Once the two are paired, the device could decide whether a user’s ID satisfies the disc’s terms of use — in other words, are you the original owner?… and is it still cool if you’re not?

“When the game is to be played, the reproduction device conveys the disc ID and a player ID to the use permission tag. The use permission tag stores the terms of use of the game and determines whether a combination of the disc ID and the player ID conveyed from the reproduction device fulfills the terms of use or not.”

Here are some of the patent’s blueprints for how the technology might function. Note the salient step “S26” of the start-up decision tree:

Sony Patent Blocking Used GamesPlayStation 4 could Block used games

Sony also highlighted the flexibility of the design: The system isn’t just limited to accepting or rejecting games — it can allow temporary access to a game, limit its number of uses, or even serve as an automated online-pass scanner. While the patent goes on to speculate that the technology could be adapted across a wide range of hardware — accessories, peripherals, even “an office suite, images, and music content” — it doesn’t specify any intent for the PlayStation 4 (and never once mentions Sony’s current-gen systems: the PS3 and PS Vita).

Perhaps most curious, though, is the document’s forthright championing of the “suppression” of second-hand (i.e., used-game) markets. In the past we’ve seen high-profile Sony executives like SCEA President Jack Tretton decry any notion of blocking used games — such a move would be “anti-consumer,” he cautioned last May — but the patent’s language nearly paints it as mission statement:

“As a result [of the design], the dealing of electronic content in second-hand markets is suppressed, which in turn supports the redistribution of part of proceeds from sales of the electronic content to the developers.”

It’s important to consider that, occasionally, manufacturers in every industry seek out patents as insurance. Whether or not Sony’s device goes (or has gone) from concept to console isn’t a certainty; the option, as far anyone can tell, is merely on the table.

And it might turn out to be an important decision for Sony in the next generation. Second-hand games don’t look to have much relevance beyond the PlayStation 4 and Xbox 720, given the likely ratio of physical to digital media in, say, 2022. If Sony insists on a more… preliminary countermeasure against the practice while Microsoft remains patient (because it’s not like they aren’t intrigued by the idea, either), they’d be ceding quite an unnecessary advantage to the Xbox 720 and Wii U.

How do you think next-gen consoles should go about handling the second-hand market?

Follow Brian on Twitter @Brian_Sipple.

Source: FreePatentsOnline [via Eurogamer]

tags: PS4, Sony