Proposed System for Game Retailers Would Activate Discs at Time of Purchase

If you purchase your video games from local retailers you’ve no doubt gone through the inconvenience of trying to track down a store associate to release your selection from its display cabinet prison. Or perhaps you’ve dealt with GameStop’s annoying habit of opening games and storing the discs behind the counter.
Hey, it’s an imperfect world where people steal stuff so it’s understandable why retailers take measures like this. But what if there was a better way?
The Entertainment Merchants Association, a trade association which represents a large segment of North American video game and DVD retailers, thinks it may have a solution which could save the retail industry billions by reducing costs, curbing theft and potentially making the purchasing experience more pleasant for the consumer.
The EMA’s solution is “benefit denial” technology that would disable movies and video games until unlocked at the point of sale – sort of like gift cards which have no value until activated by a sales clerk. EMA president Bo Andersen commented on the plan:

It is intuitive that, if we can utilize emerging technology to reduce the shrink in the DVD, Blu-ray discs, and video game categories and eliminate barriers erected to deter shoplifting, consumers will have easier access to the products, additional retail channels will carry these products, and costs will be eliminated from the supply chain.

Baring obstacles such as a lack of accepted standards for such an activation system, the need for staff training, and the cost of implementation, the EMA believes such a solution could debut in late 2010.
Via: Gamasutra
-Reporting from San Diego, GamePolitics Correspondent Andrew Eisen

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  1. 0
    Wormdundee says:

    I’m not disagreeing with your point here but try not to use fallacious reasoning. As one of your arguments for why it’s bad you argue a point that you have no actual knowledge about (that being the process by which the disc is unlocked).

    Yes, it’s certainly a possibility that the clerk could somehow improperly unlock it, but to jump from that to using a burner to mark the disc seems a bit silly.

  2. 0
    sqlrob says:

    This is a  hypothetical mechanism, but should explain what I mean.

    Suppose it’s a full disk dye that is made transparent by the activation mechanism (the opposite of those ‘disposable’ disks). You’re a nice happy consumer, buy one, and it works just fine. Now, time passes, be it one year or ten, and the dye fades back in. Your disk is now worthless, time to buy another. That’s "fail closed", which means things shut down when they go wrong. This is the only secure way to do it. But as you can see, it’s not consumer friendly.



  3. 0
    sqlrob says:

    And even supposing that is possible, it needs to be fail open or the disks have serious built in obsolesence.

    Call it a hunch, but I don’t think they’d care about that and consider it an advantage. Oh, your old stuff doesn’t work, here buy some new!



  4. 0
    JDKJ says:

    Like I said, I’m the first one to get lost in the techno-babble. And you’re losing me fast. Far as I know, "fail open" is the result of a first date which didn’t end up as well as it could. But the idea that a disc could be rigged to required point of sale activation didn’t seem entirely far-fetched to me. It still kinda doesn’t.   

  5. 0
    JDKJ says:

    Can’t the error be a fatal error and one which is encountered in all sectors (i.e., one not subject to error handling capabilities or skipping ahead to other sectors). I got a Jay-Z CD with a scratch in Track 1 that won’t ever let me skip over to Track 2 or any other tracks.  Completely useless. But, hey, wadda I know? I can’t get a VCR to quit flashing "12:00."

  6. 0
    sqlrob says:

    Yes, but that’s not what I mean.

    You have an unactivated disk. What prevents a current reader from reading them? It needs to be something passive, because you don’t have anything on the player to interact with. All of these have error handling, so simple bad sectors won’t cut it.


  7. 0
    JDKJ says:

    Don’t all disc players, be they game consoles, DVD players, CD players, Blu-Ray players, all perform their reading operation with essentially similar technology? Both my DVD player and game console also read CDs. My game console plays DVDs. My computer disk drive does all three. I think they all have the ability to read various disc formats. No? 

  8. 0
    JDKJ says:

    Don’t make it’s removal dependent on having to read it. For example, make it subject to electro-magnetic erasure. Just like the information on a floppy disk can be erased simply by bringing it into contact with an electro-magnetic field. Or, as AE is impressed, make it subject to radio frequency removal. And "removal" need not, I think, be in the very literal sense. I’d imagine all that’s really required is to somehow unrender whatever’s embedded in the disc and which functions to render it unplayable. So "scrambling" would work just as well as removing. 

  9. 0
    sqlrob says:

    DIVX is an apt comparison, I think you hit the nail on the head.

    There’s plenty of existing games I haven’t played yet. I’m not offended by staying retro.


  10. 0
    JDKJ says:

    Throw in the cost of supplying those little magic wands to every employee and you’re looking at some serious money.

    I can’t believe how quick a community which I assume is comprised of some serious gaming afficianadoes who tend towards youthfulness is to discount technological possibilities. Leave that to the old Commodore 64ers and Betamaxers like me.

  11. 0
    Andrew Eisen says:

    It was originally to be unlocked via simple magic but the projected employee training costs turned out to be

    woefully prohibitive.


    Andrew Eisen

  12. 0
    JDKJ says:

    I don’t think they’re proposing that the retailer add anything to the discs. I think their plan envisions all the disc manufacturers standardizing their manufacturing processing so as to include the activation-requiring device in the discs. If they can do that, I’d imagine it shouldn’t be too hard for the retailers to trigger the activation. I’d imagine it’s technologically possible to devise a way for the retailer to do so without even opening the product’s packaging (kinda like the way an x-ray device scrubs the image off exposed film sitting in a camera).

  13. 0
    TheEggplant says:

    As pointed out, how are they going to remove or write new information to a factory pressed disc? If they are proposing changing to DVD-R for retail releases then they will have lost my business.

    I’ve had enough personal cock-ups with magnetic security strips to not want to have to deal with anything new. Shoplifting sucks for the retailer, but it’s not my problem. More inconvience means less sales.

    ——————————————————————————————————————————— Hookers and Ice Cream aren’t free.

  14. 0
    JDKJ says:

    Why would the code have to be unique? Why couldn’t it be one code shared by all manufacturers and inserted in all discs? And if the code’s function is to ensure that the disc can’t be run on a system unless the code is removed at the point of sale, why would the system have to phone home? If the system is able to run the disc, that in itself means – at least in theory – that the code was removed at the point of sale.  

  15. 0
    KaylaKaze says:

    That’s a natural consequence of creating a society based on materialism. If people are taught that they’re better people if they have more "stuff" and worthless if they don’t then they’ll steal more "stuff". That’s true for the lowly shoplifter as well as the AIG exec. Because I don’t own a house, but instead rent an apartment, I’m looked at as a second class citizen and even treated by the US government as such.

  16. 0
    KaylaKaze says:

    There is no technological way this can work, except perhaps by burning the disc on site. It’d be virtully impossible to mass produce games so each copy of a game has a unique code imbedded in the disc. Then, the system it’s run on would have to phone home to check with the database as to whether that code’s been authorized.

    It’s nothing but a fascist’s wet dream.

  17. 0
    DraginHikari says:

    This is a weird issue I find unsettling most of the time, because what I’ve seen in my experiences with retail and those I know.   Yea people are stealing more, but if people were stealing food or something they actually needed I would feel more sympthetic I guess.   But the majority of what I witness being taken is just things that really have nothing do with getting by, it’s things like Candy, Video Games, Movies, headphones, sport drinks, etc.

    Alot of people aren’t stealing because they need to survival, they’re doing it to get away without having to pay for something.

  18. 0
    JDKJ says:

    I just watched a news segment detailing how the financial loss to shoplifting is rising and is thought by retail to be attributable to the current reccession’s double-whammy of increased unemployment (increasing the need for people to steal) and decreased hiring (decreasing retail’s ability to prevent theft). 

  19. 0
    McDaddy says:

    JDJK is right: no system will ever be perfect. And with U.S. retailers losing $35 BILLION a year to shoplifters, it makes an immense amount of sense to try whatever you can. It’s not like they’re trying to stop little Joey from swiping the latest version of GTA. What’s killing retailers are shoplifting gangs – complete with lookouts and a getaway driver – who come into stores, steal a load of merchandise and take off. Video games are popular items because they can be resold quickly to small shops, flea market vendors or online. If it hasn’t already done it, maybe GP could do an article about video game shoplifting, its cost to retailers, methods used, etc. How about it, Andrew?

  20. 0
    Andrew Eisen says:

    Yeah, I used gift cards as an example only but to be fair, it came straight from the EMA’s press release:

    "Another example is the gift card, which has no value until it is activated at the point-of-sale. Applying this concept to the home entertainment industry, systems have been developed to allow video games, DVDs, and Blu-ray Discs to be shipped to retail stores in a disabled state and then be unlocked during a point-of-sale transaction."

    The other example was the exploding dye packs used on garments.


    Andrew Eisen

  21. 0
    Balance says:

    The problem with this is that it’s yet another opportunity to make games not work. The clerk could screw up the activation. The activation could just fail–probably silently. The activation process could physically damage the game. (How is this supposed to work on a disc, anyway–do they use a burner to mark the disc somehow? Yeah, no chance of screwing up your game there!)

    It adds another layer of inconvenience and risk between the customer and the product they want to buy and use legitimately. DRM already pushes people toward illegal downloads, simply because the crackers offer a better product, one that doesn’t require you to jump through as many hoops to use. How many times are people going to take a legally-purchased game home, only to find out it doesn’t work, before they decide it’s easier just to download it?

    I understand the retailers’ need to protect their goods from shoplifting, and I have no objection to them doing so. This, however, is a stupid, clumsy, over-complicated, and risky way to attempt it.

  22. 0
    axiomatic says:

    Oh great, the Circuit City DIVX model applied to games….

    100% FAIL.

    I will NEVER buy in to this. Game developers… if you go this route know that your game goes unpurchased by me.


  23. 0
    JDKJ says:

    I’m not sure gift cards are the model for the EMA’s suggestion or even informs it. I think gift cards were used by GP in its article as an example of the need to activate the product prior to being able to use it.

  24. 0
    SimonBob says:

    And let’s not forget that walking with an employee to the big glass case is the only human interaction that many nerds will get during the week — if we take that away, we’ll be removing one of the few vestiges of social contact left to these inept personalities.  Won’t somebody please think of the nerds!!

    The Mammon Philosophy

  25. 0
    Red_Flag says:

    Oh, *joy*. "Let’s change the system to be like gift cards, so we can be more like digital distribution but still in a brick and mortar store!"

    Seriously, have you seen some of the shady stuff stores will pull with gift cards? Activity fees, inactivity fees, expirations, not to mention the can of worms this opens in terms of technical glitches. I’ve had to deal with store managers who get up in your face about an *exchange* over a disc that didn’t work, and does anyone think this system will make this anything but worse when the game you bought and supposedly had activated doesn’t play when you put it in the drive? Would this benefit the consumer in any way, shape, or form? No.

    Some examples of gift cards gone wrong:–noble-error-leaves-gift-card-unused-doubles-charges-on-credit-card

    And we want to let them use *that* as a model for how we purchase our games?

  26. 0
    JDKJ says:

    There’s no need on my part for you to value my respect (although "all due respect" could well mean that you’re due absolutely no respect). It’s the unsolicted and unvalued opinions you insist on sharing with me which I can do without. I’d hate to see you continuing to cast your pearls before the swine. But if it makes you feel either good or relevant to do so, then go ahead. It ain’t costing me nothing.

  27. 0
    JDKJ says:

    If I wanted your answers to the questions posed to mdo7, what makes you think I’m incapable of including you in their posing?

    With all due respect, you’ve shared your opinions with me before and, just so you know, for what I’ve found them worth, there’s really no need for your continuing to share.

  28. 0
    Stealthguy says:

    Maybe it made them feel good and/or relevant to say it, kind of like your need to whip out your e-penis every time a reply runs opposite of your opinion.

  29. 0
    JDKJ says:

    So lemme get this straight. You think that when the EMA speaks about "emerging technology" which makes their suggestion a workable possiblity, they’re just blowing smoke up eveyone’s ass and it’s a technological impossibility? Lemme put aside my belief that what they propose wouldn’t involve much more than a few additional lines of code and a device at the point of sale which would unlock the code and assume that you are right when you say that it’s technologically impossible. The questions I must then pose to you are: "Why would the EMA risk its reputation by publicly proposing a loss preventition system which is a technological impossibilty?" and "What could they possibly gain from making themselves look like idiots?"      

  30. 0
    mdo7 says:


    I agree, there’s no way you can have activation on the game disc, it’s not going to work. There’s too many complicated stuff that’s beyond our technological limitation of today.  I don’t think putting activation on disc may not work because there may be not enough space for that.

    About the "professional shoplifters who can remove those plastic anti-theft devices from a garment in a nano-second".  Are they going to blame Mcguyver for this one??

    note: I’m typing from my worksite, and it won’t allow me to paste my signature from the bottom.    

  31. 0
    Beacon80 says:

    This isn’t about reigning in piracy, it’s about preventing shoplifting.  More specifically, it’s about making shoplifting prevention less annoying for the customer.

    Yes, if the clerk messes up and you bought it right before closing, well, you’ll just have to grab your receit and go in the next day.

  32. 0
    Overcast says:

    So what if the idiot working at the store does this wrong and you buy it last minute on a Saturday or something – I guess you’re stuck.

    I mean – I don’t mind the idea of trying to reign in piracy some – but these ideas lead to more frustation with customer support – who, in my experience; at most game companies really, really suck.

  33. 0
    Stoli says:

    Borders here in the US used to do that for CDs and DVDs (haven’t been there in years so not sure they still do this). Most games are in glass display cases so the plastic cases are less of an issue.

  34. 0
    Afirejar says:

    In Germany, the most annoying thing I’ve seen so far is stores that lock games individually in plastic cases. And that’s not even particularly annoying because it’s not very common and they’re opened at the check-out as you pay. Well that, and there’s that single German store chain that also opens every game and stores the discs behind the counter – the German branch of GameStop. (The only other store I know to do that is Libro, in Austria.)

    German stores seem to be content with keeping an eye on the goods and the small device glued to the plastic wrapping that sounds an alarm if you try to leave without paying.

  35. 0
    JustChris says:

    I had to do this after a clerk in Sears forgot to remove the plastic ink tag from the pants after buying them.

    This was the same clerk who took a perfectly good pair of pants I returned on the same day (I didn’t like the style) and marked Return To Vendor and put it in a container underneath the counter. I didn’t even try them on.

    RTV-ing a piece of merchandise is the lazy way out for not needing to actually return it to the sales floor. What a way to waste clothing that someone might need, and they were the only pair in that size.


  36. 0
    Red_Flag says:

    Yes, because obviously all shoplifting prevention measures make consumers lives orders of magnitude easier.

    Or have you never tried to open a plastic clamshell?

  37. 0
    SilverMelee says:

    I don’t understand the attitude people are taking over this proposal. It isn’t DRM and it isn’t there to "stop piracy" (or so certain organizations would want us to believe). It’s there to prevent people from shoplifting it.

    It’s not like the retailer is going to stop and give you a cavity search or invade your privacy as you leave their outlet.

    — I do more than just play games. I draw, too:

  38. 0
    Lou says:

    Not sure how this might work but it sounds like DRM dressed in silk pajamas. Instead of acting like a criminal using the back door it’s putting in a disguise to make you feell warm and fuzzy.

  39. 0
    hellfire7885 says:

    Agreed. Publishers will justify even harsher DRM. Sure it means someone would still have to give them money, but then they’ll see every torrent as thousands of lost sales.

    "this software has been torrented ten times, and as you lal know one torrent equals a billion people, so this means ten billion sales have been lost"

  40. 0
    cppcrusader says:

    This would not remove DRM.  All this would be for is to prevent shoplifting.  You would still have DRM with this in place since it would only take one person to purchase the game and put it up a torrent of it.

  41. 0
    sirdarkat says:

     Wow thats a dumb idea either A) it will be cracked in minutes or B) it will be another invasive DRM system that accomplishes nothing since oh did I mention it will still be cracked.  You build it we crack it get use to it.

  42. 0
    Tom says:

    I don’t see anything wrong with this idea – it’s not a "punish the customer" measure like so many other theft-deterents – but I always wonder when cost saving measures are put into effect if we will actually see any of those savings.

  43. 0
    foolkiller79 says:

    If this works as proposed I see no problem with it.  I just imagine that in the early stages human error will create a hassle.  It used to be relatively common for gift card activation to get messed up.  Over time it became less common, so participating retailers need to be sure that the training is properly implemented.  An accident in a gift card had minimal effect on businesses, but in this situation we are talking about the majority of the business model for retailers like GameStop.  How well individual store managers implement the training will determine if they see a negative effect on their business. 

    I don’t see this as having any kind of effect on piracy, but it will likely deter shoplifting. 

  44. 0
    JDKJ says:

    No loss prevention system is perfect. There are professional shoplifters who can remove those plastic anti-theft devices from a garment in a nano-second. The more useful analysis involves weighing the inevitable losses which will result from theft against the gains which result from the deterent effect, reduced costs to the seller, enhanced buyer experience, increased sales, et., etc. If the gains outweigh the losses, then it’s a useful loss prevention system. But it doesn’t have to be perfect. And it never will.

  45. 0
    Azhrarn says:

    While that would probably be true, if implemented correctly it would be more trouble than it’s worth. (Since for instance cracking the D2D or Steam version would be easier)

    However a big benefit that I can see is that software based DRM would not be needed at all, and if all the activation business is done by the salesperson who sells you the game then it would be a better experience for the consumer. Since the product you leave the store with should work just fine without any hidden programs needed or what have you.

    Chances are that the publishers will completely ruin the implementation, making it an even worse experience for the consumer than even the most agressive DRM, but I can see this actually work quite well if implemented properly.

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