Retail Activation Codes Target Shoplifting, Not Piracy

Earlier this week, GamePolitics reported on “benefit denial,” a loss-prevention technology proposed by game retail trade group the Entertainment Merchants Association. The EMA plan would disable movies and video games until unlocked at the point of sale.
Not everyone thinks it’s a good idea.
Writing for CNET, technology columnist Don Reisinger dubs the plan "a loser."

Piracy and theft is indeed a problem in the video game industry. But it’s not so bad that it requires games to be shipped in an unactivated state. Moreover, game piracy is really a bigger problem on the PC than on consoles… And since most of the issues affect the PC side of the business, not even benefit denial will be able to stop piracy…

However, EMA Public Affairs VP Sean Bersell told us that benefit denial is “all about retail theft,”  not piracy. He points to a comment to Reisinger’s article posted by Capgemini, the firm commissioned by the EMA to evaluate the feasibility of benefit denial.

[The benefit denial study], announced by the EMA, doesn’t even mention piracy.  And that’s because the whole project is about elimination of physical theft of discs, whether DVDs, or CDs, or games on optical discs. It has nothing to do with piracy. Zero.

Reisinger also raises concerns about how well this technology will work with second-hand games, whether Internet connectivity will be a factor, and if the Big 3 console makers’ participation will be required.  Bersell commented:

We are not talking about DRM or other software-based technology. The technology to which we are referring would be a physical lock that is opened via radio frequency in the store at the point of sale…
The purpose is to make it easier for the consumer to purchase the product… And since EMA is pursuing this and we have been protecting the First Sale rights of retailers and their customers for 28 years, I can assure you that nothing in this will interfere with the rights of consumers to sell, lend, or give away their used games.

DOCUMENT DUMP: Grab a copy of the benefit denial study here.
-Reporting from San Diego, GamePolitics Correspondent Andrew Eisen

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  1. questionmark1987 says:

    It won’t be tech, it will be a physical lock. Probably designed to scratch, break, or otherwise mar the disc surface if not removed by a store employee.

  2. JDKJ says:

    I feel sorry for the folks who used to man those booths at paid-parking garages. They’ve been complete phased out by technology which takes the human element out of the process. And some wonder why the unemployment rate’s at record highs. 

  3. questionmark1987 says:

    OMG this is not DRM it’s a physical lock that prevents the person purchasing the item from opening the cd unless it’s scanned at a register.

    People really don’t know how to read anymore do they?

  4. JDKJ says:

    I’d imagine that the process of taking inventory of stock allows a retailer to get a good sense of the products which are being shoplifted more than others. Which may explain why they focus their loss prevention efforts more on some products and less on others. The products with the greater loss prevention efforts expended on them are the ones which, in the retailer’s experience, are more subject to being shoplifted.

  5. Wolvenmoon says:

    Here’s an idea. Drop prices to reasonable levels, instead of charging mroe to pay for pointless DRM technology. What it’s for is to stop used game trade, not stop shoplifting. Most stores worth their weight in beans keep their games behind a glass case.

  6. nefermore says:

    Some things never change.  If we just use the latest technology they cant touch us … not.   If its tech, it can be broken into.

    Perhaps this is more about cutting back on store employees?

  7. jedidethfreak says:

    Those high-dollar DVD sets are a little bit harder to steal, seeing as their size makes sneaking them out a little harder.


    Freedom of speech means the freedom to say ANYTHING, so long as it is the truth. This does not exclude anything that might hurt someone’s feelings.

  8. ZippyDSMlee says:

    This has been around since the alte 90s….why have they jsut cought up?

    Preahps they realized they need to move thier bottom line off the consumer just a tad……….


    I am a criminal because I purchase media,I am a criminal because I use media, I am a criminal because I chose to own media..We shall remain criminals until Corporate stay’s outside our bedrooms..

  9. sqlrob says:

    I wonder how seriously stores take these losses anyway.

    I’ve had to get store help to get a game, priced at less than $20. Meanwhile >$100 sets of DVDs are sitting in the open.


  10. questionmark1987 says:

    That’s the point. This would prevent the people who shove a game in their jacket and walk out from being able to do so. IF you couldn’t get the CD out without breaking it unless you bring it up and get it rung up at the counter, it would prevent a LOT of physical theft without putting any new strain on the consumer, I mean as a legit consumer you’re bringing it up to the register anyway so why does it matter.

    I like this idea better then gamestop’s "let’s take the new game out of the package and handle it" system.

  11. Hevach says:

    Worse than just making it harder to sell, if it’s anything like some of the anti-theft devices movie rental places use, doing so might destroy the disk itself. The ones I’ve seen aren’t released by any sort of RF device, but by a magnet. The same principle could apply, though – a lock through the spindle hole and accross part of the disk surface on both sides, any serious attempt to force is likely to break the disk.

    Nothing about this would put another barrier in the line for pirates. I’m sure at least some games are shoplifted, but a lot are stolen by store employees who could probably unlock the disk themselves, leaked by reviewers or testers or obtained through front review websites that wouldn’t deal with the lock anyway, and some are actually bought legitimately. The only people inconvenienced by this are ones who were planning to walk into a store and walk out without paying for the game.

  12. Bennett Beeny says:

    "…That was 1.52 percent of total sales. It’s an incredible problem…massive bleeding"

    Wow!  Yeah that’s a REAL problem.  1.52%!  Blimey the industry must be quaking in its collective boots.

    Considering they can (and do) counteract it by bunging 1.52% on every sale, somehow I don’t think it’s as big a problem as the industry states.

  13. olstar18 says:

    I used to be a janitor at walmart and almost every single time I cleaned the restrooms I would find music and movie cases stuffed into the toilets so yeah this is a serious problem.

  14. McDaddy says:

    Last year retailers lost $36.5 billion – yep, BILLION – to shoplifters. That was 1.52 percent of total sales. It’s an incredible problem, one that usually worsens in a bad economy. And with unemployment creeping up toward 10%, no doubt more and more shoplifting “gangs” will be formed. And video games will be a major target given their popularity and ease of fencing to small shops and online customers. How anyone can criticize any attempt to stop this massive bleeding is beyond me. Retailers aren’t stupid. They wouldn’t be considering this measure unless they had already weighed it against potential sales lost, customer dissatisfaction projections, etc.

  15. olstar18 says:

    So they were going to steal it anyways now it won’t cost some store the money they paid to get the game to sell.

  16. Arcanagos says:

    You’re completely missing what this is about. It isnt more DRM, it is a PHYSICAL lock. It does nothing to the software, all it does is lock the disk into its case until you buy the game and the cashier removes it for you. No different that the electronic dye packs that some clothing stores use mentioned above.  It wont affect piracy at all.

    "Go ahead and hate your neighbor, go ahead and cheat a friend. Do it in the name of Heaven, Jack Thompson’ll justify it in the end." – nightwng2000

  17. JDKJ says:

    I’m certain it can. The better question is whether a shoplifter is willing to ignore the additional effort required to capitalize on stealing a locked disc-based product or will move on to more easily realized gains. 

  18. SeanB says:

    Your so missing the point.

    This prevents you from opening the CASE. You cant "crack" that, unless you’ve got some serious retail hardware at your house.

  19. Neo_DrKefka says:

    And you don’t think that can be patched or for someone to make a work around? There are so many people disenfranchised from this industry they’ll have it unlocked in hours.

    Remember the PS3 has a built in Activation system the touted before its release and talking about how we should stop renting games and buying used games. They turn that on, I doubt they would keep any business.

    This Industry seriously is lost when it comes to public relations. It’s like PC gaming in the 80s and early 90s all over again. Don’t Copy the Floppy campaign produced one of the worst DRM additions to all PC games at that time. You used to have to read the entire instructions and take a difficult quiz before each game.

  20. ZippyDSMlee says:

    Doc koolaid

    To this I agree and can rise me glass!! (even if its a bit out’o’context)

    I am a criminal because I purchase media,I am a criminal because I use media, I am a criminal because I chose to own media..We shall remain criminals until Corporate stay’s outside our bedrooms..

  21. olstar18 says:

    Well I wouldn’t say always the safest but in the case of spore and a few other recent games.

  22. JDKJ says:

    Wazzup, Doc? According to the EMA’s statement in the article you didn’t read very well, it isn’t a code-based lock. It’s a physical lock, unlocked by a radio frequency.

  23. Neo_DrKefka says:

    If this happens, there will be an unlock code created and force more people into pirating products and into the field of piracy.


    Again 10 years ago to went to a Warez site to download a game you had a 95% chance of infection or a bad product. Now the pirated copy is always the cleanest and the safest since so many people have come together to crack these games and remove the DRM infecting these various titles.


  24. Arcanagos says:

    Lol, Dennis where do you get these pics?

    On topic, I dont see a problem with it, if it turns out to be a reliable system, it’ll help stop shoplifting and stem some of the ESA’s piracy QQ, and it might help decrease crime a bit.

    PS. The people on this page that are whining about DRM need to READ THE ARTICLE

    "Go ahead and hate your neighbor, go ahead and cheat a friend. Do it in the name of Heaven, Jack Thompson’ll justify it in the end." – nightwng2000

  25. questionmark1987 says:

    I think you’d be surprised how much theft happens that people don’t notice, the only reall way to see it is to look at curent inventory plus sales against the amount recieved in a shipment. If you’ve ever seen a guy walking around a store counting things and typing it into a little thing that looks like a really large calculator, they are doing an inventory audit. basically in every store that uses electronic registers there is a small server/database that keeps track of how many of each item is sold. When things are delivered they get hand counted and input into the computer, and to do an audit they just have to count the items on the shelves and input that into the computer. It can then spit out exactly how many items are missing (stolen). They also keep track of broken or discarded items as well as items used in store.

    Theft is still a huge problem, even in a store like Best Buy because you can grab the game walk into the restroom, rip off the packaging and stuff it in your pocket and walk out without setting off sensors. Happens all the time unfortunatly. This may not affect gamestop much because of the way they do things, but then again mayb’e they’ll stop opening packages.

  26. chadachada321 says:

    To be honest, this system seems kinda pointless to me. What makes individual locks any better than the glass cases that they ALREADY have for games? I see very little piracy happening at Gamestop, and only a fraction more happening at Walmart or Meijer (given the large freaking locked glass case), I don’t really see a need for individual locks. Not that it’s a bad idea, no, I just think that it’d be kind of a waste of money.

    -If an apple a day keeps the doctor away….what happens when a doctor eats an apple?-

  27. hellfire7885 says:

    Well, since it’s a physical case lock and not a software related thing it doesn’t seem so bad. Well, a good idea right up until soemoen finds a way to bypass it.

  28. Arcanagos says:

    Once again. This. Has. Nothing. To. Do. With. DRM.  It is a physical lock that keeps the disc in the case until the cashier rings the game up.  It does not affect the software at all.  It’s no different than what stores use today like the electronic dye packs some clothing stores use, or those little white mag-strips that are disabled at the register. Do you get it now? Please tell me you do…

    "Go ahead and hate your neighbor, go ahead and cheat a friend. Do it in the name of Heaven, Jack Thompson’ll justify it in the end." – nightwng2000

  29. olstar18 says:

    Uh the drm is being investigated and there are several lawsuits over it. And no gamers are no longer unrepresented and in a few years we will have serious gamers in office.

  30. JDKJ says:

    If you haven’t already noticed, Ol’ Doc Kefka’s comments never really squarely address the facts of the article to which he posts them. To be fair, they’re never wholly unrelated. But the connection between article and comment can be described as "attenuated."

  31. JDKJ says:

    Don’t conspiracy theories usually involve the mighty colluding against the weak? But, hey, I kinda like your spin.

  32. Speeder says:

    Backlash? Rootkit? What you are talking about?


    The stuff here is a lock, like when you chain your motorcycle on the ground, or when you do like they already do, that is lock the game inside a cabinet… The purpose is to make games bought on stores harder to shoplift, the mechanism will never reach the consumer (unless someone do a idiotic mistake, like shipping a store version by mail…)


  33. jedidethfreak says:

    I’d get behind this plan, as long as the new cases didn’t look all messed up.  I have a media collection to maintain, dammit!  lol.

    But seriously, I think this is a good idea.


    Freedom of speech means the freedom to say ANYTHING, so long as it is the truth. This does not exclude anything that might hurt someone’s feelings.

  34. Neo_DrKefka says:

    And this could possibly have other effects as well remember Sony’s CD Rootkits? Only reason why DRM is not being investigated because gamers are still an unrepresented group of people.

    Think about it, you do this anyone who owns a CD Player which is every baby boomer pretty much the most represented group of people in the United States yeah you’re going to have backlash and investigations.


  35. questionmark1987 says:

    I think it’s brilliant, a good comparison I can think of is the ink tags they put on clothes. If you steal the item and try to take off the security device, it ruins the item. It’s actually a very crude but effective deterrent to theft and with disc based media there is probably an easy way to snap the disc if it isn’t unlocked.

  36. JDKJ says:

    Ever try to pry one of those plastic die-packs off a garment? Thieves don’t like to work too hard. If they did, they have an honest job, instead. Anything which makes theft more difficult than it’d be without it serves some deterent purpose.

    There’s also the added benefit that if the lock is physically and obviously destroyed in order to remove the disk, it now effectively bears an "I Was Stolen!!" label, potentially making attempts to sell the disc with its case that much more difficult and/or less profitable.

  37. Andrew Eisen says:

    Hard to believe a shoplifter is going to be detered by a physical lock but who knows?  Maybe it will be nigh impossible to remove without damaging the disk.  Bersell described one of the potential designs to me:

    "[It’s] a really strong button that goes thru the center of the disc and attaches to a latch in the back. A signal from the activation system at the POS would unlock the latch and allow the disc to be removed when the consumer gets home."


    Andrew Eisen

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