Sony May Use Serial Keys To "Secure" Next-Generation PS3 Games

Sony may use serial keys to verify legal PS3 games in the wake of the complete PS3 hacks publicized earlier this month, but the efficacy of such a plan is dubious at best. The Dutch website PS3-Sense reports that a very reliable source close to Sony has informed them that Sony will begin issuing unique serial keys for all PS3 games at some point in the near future. The client-server support for such a security model has reportedly existed in the PlayStation Network since the console launched—if true, Sony could deploy the system in considerably less time than it would otherwise take.

Product activation sequence (Artistic Impression)

The concept as described is analogous to Steam. Upon first installing/launching the title, players would have to connect to the PSN for initial authorization. Since every PS3 already has a unique ID number, that number would presumably be combined with the unique serial key to create a verified activation code. Once this is done, the game could be played online or offline. At present, each game could be installed up to 5x (we assume to different systems) per purchase.

As far as legal consumers are concerned, this type of system could work fairly well. If gamers were able to activate a product without direct Internet access and if previous game installs to other machines can be invalidated (thus returning that authorization to the pool), Sony would actually have a piracy solution that didn't generate instant hatred before it launched. It's protective enough to block casual piracy while permissive enough that it wouldn't result in hackers declaring war on it on the grounds that Sony was being a jerk.

Under normal circumstances, we'd never believe Sony would embrace anything so sensible; the company has a decades-long history of designing great technology that everyone eventually abandons due to the availability of cheaper, less-restrictive options. In this one particular case, however, Sony may have realized that it has no real choice.

Not only is the PS3 irrevocably broken, the team that did it has openly testified that the only reason they went after Sony in the first place is because Sony, in their opinion, unreasonably banned them from using a product feature they and others had paid for. This is literally a unique event in IT history. No other corporate giant has ever had both its software and hardware sales model smashed by a small group of unpaid volunteers acting in response to what they believed was unacceptable behavior. The fact that it took less than a year is icing on the cake.

Sony needs to demonstrate that it can at least prevent some piracy in order to retain the confidence of both game developers and investors and it needs to do so quickly. A solution like this would accomplish both tasks to a degree and, properly implemented, would avoid encouraging hackers from re-attacking the system armed with buzzsaws and BFGs.

There's one more potential benefit worth mentioning. All of the individuals in Fail0verflow + GeoHot (George Hotz) have maintained that they do not condone or even indirectly promote game piracy. While Sony will inevitably hit them with a DMCA violation charge (early frustrations notwithstanding), the group can counter-claim that Sony broke consumer protection laws by removing device functionality. In this type of scenario it's possible that both sides could win. Regardless, the group's well-known stance has frustrated Sony's attempts to portray itself as the injured party.

GeoHot, aka George Hotz. Imagine trying to convince a jury that this is the face of evil.

No one who cracked the system described above could rely on the same defense. While absolutely breakable under the circumstances, there's no non-piracy justification for doing so. Additionally, because it relies on an online component, it's a security system that can be implemented without interfering with the function of Other OS, should Sony be ordered to restore it. With practical piracy protection no longer possible, Sony may have been forced, for the first time in its history, to make a consumer-friendly deal regarding fair use. Maybe. With Sony, you never really know.