Rumor: Sony considering serial keys for PS3 games

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Sony may be looking to the PC gaming market to help solve its piracy problem on the PlayStation 3. That's right; the company may choose to introduce serial keys for its games, according to SKFU, a "very reliable source" cited by the Dutch website PS3Sense.

Since the PC doesn't have a built-in hardware DRM system, gaming companies rely on serial keys to verify a video game unit's uniqueness. The key usually verifies itself with an online server, preventing the game from running or accessing multiplayer features if the key is already in use. Could the PS3 be heading in the same direction?

The reason we're placing this neatly in the rumor box is that unlike a PC, the PS3 does not ship with a keyboard. Although the console can use USB and Bluetooth keyboards, many gamers only use the console's controller and have to rely on the on-screen soft keyboard when text entry is required. Serial keys tend to be very long alphanumeric strings to ensure that they cannot simply be guessed. As a result, entering a serial key could prove quite annoying for PS3 gamers.

Furthermore, since most games are not installed on the PS3, it's not clear when or how often such a key would have to be entered. Would entering an unused key install a small file on the console to allow playing? Would this mean gamers can't play their games on other PS3s? Would this destroy the rental market for PS3 games and block second-hand sales?

Whether this rumor proves true or not, one thing is certain: Sony needs to pick a solution, and fast. After the PlayStation 3 root key was released earlier this month, it quickly became clear that third-party firmware which allow unofficial software and illegitimately downloaded games to run on unmodified hardware would become prevalent. Suing the hackers is just a legal reflex, but the company still needs to make a bigger strategic move.


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