Sony admits second-hand game blocking is not "clarified" for the PS4

Company refusing to say whether the next-generation PS4 console will be able to play second-hand games, or whether the company is using its recently-filed patent

27 Feb 2013
PS4 controller

Sony's next-generation PS4 console may restrict the use of second-hand games, despite apparent comments from the company that such games would not be blocked.

Rumours have been circulating pointing to digital rights management (DRM) technology in both Microsoft's Xbox 720 and Sony's PlayStation 4 that would prevent second-hand games from being installed on the next-generation consoles; or possibly restrict them to a small subset of gameplay - only allowing access to the first level, for example, or turning off multiplayer modes.

While Microsoft has yet to publicly comment on the claims, Sony's Shuhei Yoshida stated outright that "when you purchase the disc-based games for the PS4, that should work on any hardware" - which was interpreted by many as a denial of any such plans.

Second-hand sales - and the equally contentious issue of friends borrowing and swapping games - are a major problem for the games industry: while the publisher, developer and console maker get a cut of the proceeds from each new game sold at retail, they receive nothing from subsequent sales of that copy. Thus, if each copy of the game ends up with two owners the potential revenue for the companies involved is halved - and in these days when a triple-A title can cost millions of pounds to produce and involve hundreds of staff members, that's a lot of lost revenue.

Some publishers have been working to combat the problem themselves, including single-use codes with games which provide 'additional' content - with subsequent owners being asked to shell out on a new code to receive these extras. Though, to date, none of these games have blocked parts of the core narrative.

Claims that the next-generation consoles would include facilities to prevent or severely restrict second-hand sales of games, then, are not so far-fetched - and doubly so given Sony's filing of a patent describing a method for doing exactly that.

Yoshida's denial has now been muddied by the head of PlayStation UK Fergal Gara during an interview with NowGamer. "Well first of all, we haven’t stated that second-hand games... we haven’t made a statement on the second-hand games question," said Gara in response to a direct question regarding the status of second-hand gaming on the PS4. "There was a lot of reaction to a patent that was filed, which is a matter of course for a technology business like us, to file various patents at various times, many of which many never see any application but they are good to have depending on ideas that might be building. The answer to the pre-owned question isn’t clarified just yet and we’re working through that and we’ll announce our position in more detail as and when we can."

For now, then, it looks like gamers who are incensed by the issue of second-hand games should steer clear of putting in an early pre-order for a PS4 until the issue is resolved. That said, we feel Sony will only provide the tools, and let publishers make the hard decisions on the matter, so this issue could run and run.

For more comprehensive PS4 coverage see our PS4 release date, specs & price rumours.

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