Sony has filed a patent which proposes the use of blockchain technology as a way to supplement or replace DRM (digital rights management) in games and other media.
Right now, DRM on PS4 games is handled by third-party operators, but it seems like Sony wants to take matters into their own hands. The timing makes sense; with God of War surpassing Uncharted 4: A Thief's End as the fastest-selling PS4 exclusive of all time, as well as the PS4 itself selling over 75 million units, Sony is looking to protect its assets with a proprietary DRM solution. Not only that, but the patent filing itself describes the limitations of current DRM technology, which "may not be very reliable and rely on one unique point of failure". Sony is looking to change this, apparently so that owners of digital media will be able to access their purchase securely. Here's a rundown on the (very) basics of blockchain technology, and what this might mean for PS4 owners.
Blockchain technology is currently used in the cryptocurrency industry and is basically a way of proving ownership. Essentially, it works on a series of decentralized encryptions and decryptions which link back to a central block, sometimes called the "genesis" block. Instead of being embedded solely in traditional DRM systems, the user's rights would be committed to this blockchain, which a DRM system would then verify. On verification, the user can watch their movie, play their game or listen to their music. Sony is proposing several different solutions for end-user machine DRM verification, such as a "DRM agent" which resides on the user's device. The reason this is more secure than the current DRM system is that several servers and databases are used to authenticate purchases rather than a single location. Strength in numbers, and all that.
There are a few implications here for PlayStation owners. For one, the future of being able to play a game on your friend's consoles with your account (something which is currently allowed by Sony) is uncertain. Since blockchain authentication is more secure, and since ownership is repeatedly verified along the blockchain, there's a chance only the purchasing user will be able to play games or consume other digital media on their device. There's also the question of whether a user's console will need to run the DRM process itself, and if so, whether any power will be taken up by this process.
All we've got right now is the patent filing, of course. There's no word on when this will be implemented, and although the document does go into some detail about the system, it's not clear exactly how some of the details will be hashed out. Sony isn't the only one investigating the use of blockchain in regards to gaming and game ownership. Brian Fargo announced Robot Cache earlier this year, as a digital distributor on PC which will use blockchain technology in distribution. It's early days yet, but watch this space for more news on Sony's plans.