Will the PlayStation 4 Play Used Games? Maybe, Maybe Not

Sony says the PlayStation 4 can play used games, but that doesn't mean it actually will.

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An in-game shot from the PlayStation 4 version of Killzone: Shadow Fall.

Ahead of Sony’s PlayStation 4 announcement Wednesday night, the rumor mill put odds on the new game console’s ability to play used games at right about zero. Bear in mind the rumors came from gossip blogs known for chasing the moon, but the notion struck a chord with gamers because it’s been happening for years over on the PC side of the biz: bigwigs like Valve and Blizzard eliminated the secondary PC games market entirely years ago by tethering Steam and Battle.net accounts to game activations, whether via digital or physical copies. Maybe you’ll make a few bucks reselling your collector’s edition of World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria, but the disc inside might as well be a coaster: Whoever you sell to still has to pay for a code to unlock the game itself.

That’s essentially how the rumor mill claimed Sony was planning to roll with the PS4, tethering game content to online user accounts and establishing an activation system that’d put the thumbscrews to resales, digital or physical.

Sony was mum on the subject at its PS4 press event, preferring instead to highlight the console’s graphical brawn, tease the modestly redesigned controller and talk up social interactivity, but Eurogamer managed to corner Sony Worldwide Studios president Shuhei Yoshida and pop the question “Will it or won’t it?”

Sony’s answer, concludes Eurogamer, is that the PS4 will play used games (the article’s subtitled “PlayStation 4 will not block used games”). But reading what Yoshida actually said, I’d say the answer’s still clear as mud.

“So if someone buys a PlayStation 4 game … you’re not going to stop them reselling it?” asks Eurogamer, to which Yoshida doesn’t immediately respond, eventually saying: “So, used games can play on PS4. How is that?”

Mission accomplished? Not so fast. Remember when you asked your elementary school teacher “Can I go to the bathroom?” and she/he answered “I don’t know, can you?” Silly semantics, I know, but when you’re parsing potentially game-changing corporate directives, they mean everything.

It’s possible Yoshida meant “will” play, but without clarification, who knows? Technically he’s saying “can” here, which formally means “is capable of,” not “will without restrictions” (even “will” can be employed as synonymous with “can” — headache yet?). For example, the PS3 is technically capable of playing PlayStation 2 games (with a software emulator, and yes, I’m discounting the original launch models, which had dedicated PS2 chips), so it’s accurate to say “The PS3 can play PS2 games.” But it would be inaccurate to claim the PS3 actually does play PS2 games.

Will the PS4 play used games, no gotchas? All or just some? Will digitally downloaded games be resalable somehow? The Eurogamer chitchat doesn’t bring us any closer to an answer. If Sony wants us to know at this point, it needs to say so using non-evasive language. Barring that, I think it’s safe to assume the question’s either still up in the air at Sony HQ, or it’s already been decided, and not in the secondary market’s favor. If Sony’s decision involves locking down used content as originally surmised, I wouldn’t expect the company to say much at all, for the time being, in hopes of staving off the looming backlash.