See 2nd Post For A Non-Technical Summary: http://www.neogaf.com/index.php?opti...29&Itemi d=32 GAF's top technical-minded gamer Panajev gives us an extraordinarily in-depth exploration of a recent patent application from Sony's Chief Technical Officer. This patent describes a scenario which could revolutionize the way used games are treated. United States Patent Application 20060069752 Kind Code A1 Chatani; Masayuki (Chief Technical Officer of Sony Computer Entertainment Inc.) Title: Incentivizing software sharing through incentive points Abstract: A method for incentivizing sharing of a software product through awarding incentive points utilizing unique identifiers including removable storage identification, user console identification and user identification. The granting of access permissions and the awarding of incentive points are facilitated through a host server. http://www.patentdebate.com/PATAPP/20060069752 Its All About The Entitlements Section I: Introduction People buy games, lend games, and sell games. This reality is well known, it is familiar to us users and we enjoy the benefits it gives us, such as the ability to buy used but fully working games at a cheaper price than brand new ones and to sell what we do not use any more. In all fairness, it is also something that is not under the control of the Intellectual Property (IP) owners of said games and we know that when money is involved the lack of control is not something said IP owners enjoy. While reading this patent, as we shall do together soon enough, it is tough to ignore the comments against the used games market made by various publishers and hardware makers (for example Sony to name one) interested in collecting royalties on each title sold to customers. Software publishers in general have never shown much enthusiasm about what they perceive to be the effects of the used game market on brand new games: lower volume of sales at full-price leading to quickly dropping MSRP (Manufacturers Suggested Retail Price) of said new game titles. Still, before we put our tin foil hats on lets try to understand the idea behind this patent application (Note: it has yet to be granted, but it is the latest evolution of some other patents that Sony Computer has filed in the past few years).  Disc storage media, such as CD-ROM and DVD-ROM storage discs, are typical storage devices for commercially available software programs. For example, publishers and manufacturers of games for electronic gaming systems use read-only storage devices such as CD-ROM discs to distribute and sell their products. Discs may be passed and shared among users; however, there is no effective system in place to account for the potential multiple users of commercially available software products.  Even though discs may be shared without any constraints, it may be that discs are shared only between small groups of users without widespread distribution among the entire user population. The software product is not widely shared, thereby forcing others to purchase their own copy. The software product does not achieve widespread advertising either, limiting the potential for a larger consumer base. For example, the publishers and distributors of game software would like their products advertised to a wide customer base as well as purchased by a wide customer base.  A system that would offer an incentive to a user of a software product when this user shares the product with others, or when the user plays the product, is a concern of publishers and distributors of software products. A user may tire of a product on a disc, but instead of storing the disc away, maybe never to be seen again, the user is offered an incentive to share. Therefore, the user may be more inclined to share a software product with others. Such a system would (1) promote the product, (2) attract other users who may purchase more products in the future, and (3) offer all users incentives to purchase more products. The basic idea that Mr. Chatani is trying to convey here is that many games, due to maybe poor marketing efforts or other causes such as a high price-point, fail to reach mass-market penetration, limiting their exposure and thus their ability to capture the attention of as many potential buyers as possible. Customers tend to buy games from stores (new or used ones) and keep them, maybe they lend them to some friend of theirs or they sell some of them back to a store; the latter is a somewhat welcomed tolerated scenario because quite often the money received by the store is spent in the store for other video-games even though there are some stores that do give cash for your used belongings. So, the incentive users have to share their games can be monetary, if they happen to sell their games, or it can be their friends appreciation, if the owners lend the games to their friends. In both cases though, the original owners cannot play the games anymore unless they buy the game discs again or they get the games back from the people who have borrowed them. From the patent it might appear that perhaps sharing a game without transferring its ownership might not exactly be what the patent author had in mind, but then how would such a plan deal with game rentals (example: Blockbuster)? What do we imply when we talk about transferring ownership from a user to another one? Also, painting the concept of restricted sharing = forcing others to buy their own copy (thus limiting potential user-base) under a bad light would seem to conflict with the idea that the only and rightful way of sharing a game would be to transfer the games ownership to the player that receives the owners game. Truth to be told, it is possible in theory to transfer ownership for free (or almost for free); that is the other user would not need to pay the original owner at all if this was their agreement, but we will see more about that once we get to the meat of the patent. Look then for the explanation of the term Transfer Charge, as used in this patent, later on in this very article for a better idea on how this particular solution can be achieved. Returning to the idea of game sharing, according to this patent many people evidently do not feel the need to help the games they like get much coverage beyond talking about them with their close friends and on some Internet message boards, but seeing is believing as the saying goes. It certainly would help to promote games more effectively (saving important advertising dollars too ) if people could see what a platform can do, the games it has available first hand, and that they could do so in an affordable way. It might push people to buy the console, to buy a particular game, its sequels or similar games to it. Basically, to make a long story short, one of the elements the gaming industry wants to focus on is this: bringing the word of mouth advertisement concept to the next level. One thing that does bother software and hardware publishers is that they have neither data nor control over how games are used and shared: if they are borrowed by someone, if they are sold, or if they are purchased new or used. It is a massive amount of data about game users, about their behaviors and the games they play: a resource of information that many marketing people and executives inside big game publishers would be salivating at the idea of being able to access. It is not something new, or an uncommon practice these days -- or do you think that Google gives you all that many on-line services for free just because they are nice? Section II: It smells in here, but I took a shower! Lets first bring together some of the particularly mellow parts of the earlier quoted passage that show just how much they care about us not being able to simply share our games with as many other people as we could: Even though discs may be shared without any constraints, it may be that discs are shared only between small groups of users without widespread distribution among the entire user population. The software product is not widely shared, thereby forcing others to purchase their own copy. [...] A system that would offer an incentive to a user of a software product when this user shares the product with others, or when the user plays the product, is a concern of publishers and distributors of software products. A user may tire of a product on a disc, but instead of storing the disc away, maybe never to be seen again, the user is offered an incentive to share. Look boys and girls, at least someone for once thinks about our wallet too! And we selfish ones that were trying to keep our games hidden away rather than let other people enjoy such treasures. Shame on us! Ok, now you got me interested, I want to redeem myself; what do I gain by being nice? In the official Sony lingo the word would be Entitlements, but if you are familiar with the Xbox LIVE world then you can think of the Microsoft Points that you are able to purchase and spend on LIVEs Marketplace. So, you gain on-line currency that you can then spend on the PlayStation Network in a variety of ways: sell the old game and use the rebate to purchase this year new edition, buy a new game and earn points to purchase items for Sonys Marketplace, or you could give them to a fellow gamer as part of the payment you owe him or her for the new cool custom level he or she just made. Points have value, and may, for example, be redeemed for rebates on disc purchases, publisher promotional items, updated versions of discs or user consoles, or may be traded among users. The foregoing examples of point redemption are not inclusive, however, and points may be redeemed for other items as well. So far so good; they gain a wider audience appreciating their games and we gain PlayStation Dollars. Not only that, but this portion of the patent gives an interesting emphasis on user created content sharing similar to how the PC market operates, instead of the more consoles-centric approach of giving only to officially licensed developers the right and ability to generate and distribute more content to complement the games they released. I do hope that the PlayStation Network is thought in such a way to allow and encourage this approach as it could open the floodgates to more advanced level editors and tools usable directly within your PLAYSTATION 3 game that you can make available through the network. It would also be quite welcomed if PC tools (think UnrealEd) allowed you to generate custom levels and art formatted in such a way to allow you to simply sign on the PlayStation Network from the PC and upload your content directly to Sonys store or to your own PLAYSTATION 3 as an intermediate step. So, article finished? No, I do happen to be irked by the seemingly purely philanthropic argument they are using to sell us this system, it smells and it smells a bit fishy and I want to dig a little bit deeper before I start praising their next miracle. It does feel like the ass-kissing customer reward program might have a catch, but we could give it the benefit of doubt and assume that when they say forcing others to purchase they are honest and that they mean forcing others to choose between either paying full price for the game or not getting a taste of what the final game is about beyond the scope of maybe an early and unpolished demo. I have to admit that I did go through the classic stages of grief, like a common human being that feels a sudden shock, as I was reading the patent and talking about it with friends and I am sure the difference in tone of some passages, as the article was edited, can show it very well, but my main worry is to be able to give you some useful introduction to the problem at hand. I want to do so before you decide to jump in the heaven that is reading the patent in question on the U.S. Patent and Trademark Offices website and go through various levels of fear, anger, or excitement as the case may be. Coming up next we will see the backbone of this idea, how the system is supposed to award the points and what it might mean for the privacy or anonymity we have enjoyed so far as regular Joes inserting a simple disc in a sometimes not so simple machine. Section III: Big Brother For Dummies Lets start from section  of the Invention Description and proceed forward trying to understand how the system is supposed to work. The concept is based around some key pieces of information: * User ID: this is a unique ID and your PlayStation Network gamer-tag is linked to it. * Game Disc ID: each game-disc has a unique ID that identifies it individually. * Console ID: also known as set ID, each PLAYSTATION 3 console has such a unique ID which can be used to distinguish users in place of the User ID. Naturally, information is not worth much unless you have systems to store and access it: * User ID Database * Game Discs Database * Publishers Databases (we can restrict the category, for simplicity reasons, to Game Publishers in this case) Key elements of this picture are the concepts of a Centralized Network, a Host Server and several Publishers-run servers that presumably connect to the Centralized Network. Such a network could be thought of as the centralized PlayStation Network or PSN that Sony has been talking about for quite a while. Lets proceed in steps: * The device in question is your PlayStation Network aware console: whether we are talking about PSP or PLAYSTATION 3 makes very little difference. * This device is able to access content on a physical read-only device (UMD or BD-ROM as you might see fit). * The device has at least one interface connected to a local network (LAN o WLAN) and through that local network the access to the centralized Network would be performed. * The device, known in the patent as user console, is configured to access some form of removable storage, a Memory Card like a USB pen-drive, a Memory Stick card, a Compact Flash card, a Secure Digital card, or a Hard Disk Drive (HDD), which can be read and written by the user console. * The first time the console is turned on you are asked to configure some settings and to register at the Host Server of said Centralized Network. We can really think of this process as being similar to creating an Xbox LIVE gamer-tag and registering it on Xbox LIVE web-servers. * During this process the Console ID and the User ID will be respectively extracted and assigned to the user so that they can also be stored in the Users Database and the Discs Database the Host Server has access to. * The Host Server has access to also the Publishers servers which manage sub-accounts. The sub-accounts are tied to Game Discs Unique IDs and stored in appropriate Databases. * Each disc has a Data Access Area, a Disc Unique ID Address, and a Disc Unique ID. * Audio, Video, and Program data are recorded in the Data Access Area while the Unique ID Address and the Unique ID might or might be not recorded in the Data Access Area. * The Unique ID Address is the address on the disc of the Unique ID. * The Content of the disc cannot be accessed by the user console unless, upon completion of the registration process mentioned earlier in the article, the Host Server submits access permission. * You do not believe me, do you? Fair enough... in the patents own words: The DISC UNIQUE ID 230 uniquely identifies the disc 110. The contents of the disc 110 cannot be played on the user console 115 or other devices without access permission for the disc 110. * The Host Servers User Database is itself composed of multiple fields: * User Account Information: this includes the User ID as well as additional information such as Address and Billing Information, user-name (your gamer-tag in Xbox LIVE terms), and user-preferences of each PSN user. * Point Account Information: this includes information regarding Incentives and Reward Points for the user, keeping track of their totals as well as other information that the patents Points Management System needs in order to operate. * The Disc Database is also something worth exploring. It is divided in two major categories: * Disc Information: it includes the Disc Unique ID, the associated User ID, a field called user consent (used to save the identity of the user authorized to access the Game Disc by the discs current owner), title, publisher, type, date of purchase, and transfer charge. The system is designed to account for and track the transfer of ownership of said Game Discs. Inside the transfer charge field there is stored the amount of payment due by the user to the owner of the Game Disc for the transfer of ownership, and we might possibly also see other charges due to the actual transfer of ownership. The way the transfer charge is defined leaves room for giving your game away for free; it covers the user-to-user sale process without establishing a minimum amount due by a user to the user who is the owner of the Game Disc, but it only mentions other charges. Such other charges, in a context of a free PSN, would seem as simple fees to be paid to Sony for facilitating/allowing the transfer of ownership between users. In this case, your friend would only need to pay some small transaction fee to Sony and you would still be awarded Reward Points further encouraging you to share your games. * Sub-Account Information: each Disc Unique ID is associated with its own sub-account which includes Incentive and Reward Point informations linked with the Disc Unique ID. * Another piece of the equation is the Publishers Database: * The Publisher server manages sub-accounts associated with each Disc registered by users and this data is stored in an appropriate Database. * The information stored in the Publisher Database seems to closely mirror the structure of the Disc Database mentioned earlier. * A user may have multiple sub-accounts with each publisher and the user can transfer points from his/her Points Account in the User Database, managed by the centralized Networks Host Server, to any sub-account stored in one of the Publisher Databases the game publisher uses. o A good example of this would be the practical behind the scenes handling of purchasing a games download-able content or as the PR folks would say performing MACRO Micro-Transactions: transferring X points in the Y sub-account you have for game Z in the publisher Ws own Database system. Some of the wording of the patent might be applicable and extensible also to PSP and maybe to the PlayStation 2 once the PlayStation Network is fully functional and accessible, but for those platforms, especially for PlayStation 2 if the system is even used at all, it might not be for all existing, as time of writing, titles on the market. To be honest, the patent does not even worry about the user being able or not to connect onto the network (it is taken for granted) and thus being able or not to receive authorization instructions; what would happen if you did not have access to the Internet? If you are now thinking well when I play some games I will not be on-line with the console to side-step the problem then think again as it is not such a difficult proposition to cache data on a permanent storage device included with every console ( I am looking at you PLAYSTATION 3s HDD). In order to examine the case of someone simply stripping a game of its Disc Unique ID, it is better if we open a short parenthesis: a system is in place to determine if there is a Disc Unique ID Address (and thus the Disc Unique ID itself) and if such address does not exist the execution is continued and the program inside the disc is started, but it would be naive to assume that such a system does not also try to establish, under some internal rules, whether or not there should be a Disc Unique ID Address on the disc itself for anti-piracy reasons. If the Disc Unique ID Address exists on the disc, but there is no Disc Unique ID recorded on the disc the program execution is stopped. If this Unique ID is present, it is read by the console and the process would proceed to its next step. If a Memory Card (USB, MS, CF, SD, or HDD) is not present in the system then the User ID, Game Disc Unique ID, (and the Console ID) are sent to the Host Server every time the disc is booted by the console. When the Host Server is contacted, changes in disc ownership and the awarding of points to the user account take place. The console will also need to be saving the Disc Unique ID, User ID and the rest of the access permission related information onto the Memory Card of the console. If the Memory Card is present then the information needs to be submitted only once to the Host Server. The following times the game is booted the console will use the information residing in the memory card to determine if the disc can be granted access to or not. When you connect to the Host Server to authorize access to the disc, the Host Server determines if the user is a first time user or not. If you are, you will be asked to register the console (like we have already seen) and then you will be assigned a unique User ID; if you are not, then your console will need to send either User ID or set ID (or both) as well as the Disc Unique ID to the Host Server. Accessing the user Database associated with the User ID received, the Host Server determines if the just received Unique ID matches any of the Disc Unique IDs already tied to that particular User ID: it goes without saying that this is a great method to understand if you ever played that disc, but it is easily extensible to check if the disc is brand new and has never been tied to any User ID before or not, which is exactly what the patents writer thought of when he wrote: If the received DISC UNIQUE ID 230 does not match any of the DISC UNIQUE IDs in the user table 310 in step 630, then in step 645 the host server 130 searches for the received DISC UNIQUE ID 230 in other user's user tables. If the host server 130 does not locate a match, then the disc 110 associated with the received DISC UNIQUE ID 230 has been purchased new by the user and never played. You can be awarded incentive points for playing that disc, also different schemes based on a variety of factors might be implemented that assign you points you differently based on, for example, such things as publication date of the disc, the discs popularity or your achievements obtained in this disc or other discs your User ID is tied to: as we saw earlier you can also be assigned reward points for such things as buying a new game and registering it as well as for selling your game to another user whom you will have to authorize in order for him/her to enjoy the discs content. In fact, if the Disc Unique ID sent to the Host Server matches a Disc Unique ID tied to a different User ID, then it is clear to the system that someone else is the owner of the disc. The Host Server then looks in the owners Database for consent data and checks if the user currently attempting to play the content of the disc has been authorized to do so: if permission was granted by the owner of the game disc to the current user then access to the disc is granted and the disc Unique ID is untied from the original User ID of the previous owner of the disc and tied to the current users User ID, else access to the disc is denied. To summarize, the process of moving the disc Unique ID from one user to another, as result of the former giving access permission to the latter and giving the latter also the disc itself, happens as result of a transfer of ownership transaction being successfully completed by the two parties (old owner and new owner). Even when not expected, good news seems to arrive though: the patent makes the case that before granting access permission to another user, the owner of the disc can save the content of the disc onto a Hard Drive (presumably his/her PLAYSTATION 3s HDD) which presumably still allows him/her to play the game after he has given the disc away. If that were the case and you could save the game to the HDD and lend the game to others which could also install the game and then lend the disc to others and so on, you would have the possible scenario of one person buying the game and everyone else playing it for free unless safeguards were put into place. The easiest safeguard would be to make the user pay a fee to activate the game image saved on the his/her consoles HDD: it could be a fee quite lower than the games full price, just there so that users would not install the game and keep playing it for free even after giving the game disc away. Until you paid the activation fee your HDD installed game could be used in Demo mode with limited functionality. With the information they would collect with such a system in place, it would be far too easy to place similar additional content access restrictions on users that try to abuse the rules. Unfortunately the patent does not provide any insights on this issues: you seem left to assume that giving disc access permission to another user simply involves transferring disc ownership to that user, while being able to have that same game stored on the consoles HDD, a simple concept which while being reasonable leaves many questions unanswered. Section IV: Should you care? Is this whole concept the great revolution that the used sales market system might have needed or a way towards its demise? Lets see what a fellow big-time gamer has to say about it: It would seem that Sony's handling of this system would allow you to give your disk to someone else, whilst retaining a playable copy on your HD, which is commendable. However, I suspect that there are details that are not being fully disclosed. Initially when first announced, people thought that Entitlement points were the equivalent of MS Marketplace points -in fact, it looks very much like Entitlement points act as the currency in the Sony Live world in the same way that MS has it's points for purchasing downloads. Regarding the notion of ownership transfer, I suspect that this transaction will NOT be free. If it were free, this would allow unlimited transferal of games between friends. I suspect that what will happen is that when the game is inserted into the machine of someone who is not the original owner of the machine, then that person will be asked to pay a fee in entitlement points roughly equivalent to the price of a second hand game. I suspect a percentage of this fee will then be passed back to the previous owner - although with Sony stating that the reward should really go to the original purchaser perhaps a sell on bonus is returned each time the game changes hand. This helps Sony and the publishers in a number of ways - but the obvious big gain is that the second hand market now generates revenues for the people who created the games in the first place, and it allows the prices of second hand games to be dictated entirely by publishers. What it also opens up is the possibility to have a 'hire from friends' system - theoretically, this system could easily be adapted to allow people to play the game for a limited time with a entitlements point fee going back to the original owner.