Sony has applied for a patent on a hardware-based DRM technology that would let the company block second-hand games. Filed last September, the application (PDF) hadn't been published until this week and it's unclear if or when the patent will be awarded. The document outlines an "electronic content processing system, electronic content processing method, package of electronic content, and use permission apparatus" that "reliably restricts the use of electronic content dealt in the second-hand markets."
To accomplish that, Sony would outfit its retail game discs with radiofrequency tags and programmable memory chips. When inserted into a system, the disc would wirelessly collect unique information about the console. If someone attempted to play it on a different machine, the identifying data stored on the disc wouldn't line up and some form of block would be imposed, though the details are slim here.
Perhaps the block would be as straightforward as requesting a flat rate fee to unlock the game, but it might be more elaborate and lock only certain portions of the content. For instance, maybe it would allow access to the first level or two of a game or only prevent folks from playing multiplayer, such as the $10 "Online Pass" employed in recent years by EA and Ubisoft. Perhaps Sony wouldn't enforce anything outright, allowing developers and publishers to choose what content to block – if any at all.
Of course, there's also the possibility that this patent will go unused, but many console gamers are concerned that won't be the case given the information purportedly leaked about Sony's next-gen console. Last March, Kotaku published details on the PlayStation 4, including a new measure that would block used games. At the time, folks took that to mean that the PS4 would require an Internet connection, but for whatever it's worth, that doesn't seem to be the case with Sony's proposed RFID DRM.