As incredible as this rumor seems, I can’t resist: According to a “very reliable source,” Dutch website PS3-Sense reports that Sony will fight Playstation 3 piracy with serial codes.
That’s right, an old-school combination of letters and numbers. Players who buy new PS3 games will reportedly have to dig up a unique code — from where is not totally clear, but presumably a slip of paper inside the game box — and dial it in to verify that the copy is legit. Each code, the rumor says, will be valid for up to five authorizations.
I’m skeptical that Sony could pull off something like this. Serial codes aren’t a very high-tech way to stop pirates, and they aren’t very effective either. Key cracking is a hallmark of PC piracy, and as long as Playstation 3 hackers can create their own software, serial codes on the console would eventually be cracked as well.
Meanwhile, an authorization limit would cause a nightmare for the used game market. Perhaps that’s the point — Sony has burned used game buyers in the name of piracy before by locking out parts of its games with access codes — but the rumored system is too messy. Imagine being the sixth person to buy a used game, only to get home and find out it doesn’t work. Retailers such as GameStop would also have to ensure that codes are included in the packaging for every trade in. As with many anti-piracy methods, serial codes are inelegant.
If this rumor has any credibility, my guess is that Sony is testing the system internally as part of a broader effort to regain control of its console. Clamping down on piracy is a big deal for Sony; the company is now suing the hackers who released jailbreaking tools and documentation onto the web. This isn’t the last we’ll hear of anti-piracy efforts on the PS3, even if this particular method doesn’t see the light of day.