A Bold Proposal to Curb Retail Video Games Shrinkage

— -- What if a game had to be activated at the store before you could use it? What if the discs in boxes were just shiny coasters until someone at the cash-wrap threw a switch? Not-for-profit trade group Entertainment Merchants Association is asking those questions and others as part of its proposal for a new anti-theft system that would effectively render video games and DVDs inoperable until they've been purchased and activated by an authorized salesperson.

Don't confuse "activated" here with online authentication mechanisms, where you buy a game, take it home, install it on your PC, then connect to the publisher's servers to remove the digital handcuffs. EMA's talking about point-of-sale only, and when they say "inoperable," I'm pretty sure they mean literally unreadable and unusable. I'm also pretty sure they're talking about a physical tool that would be difficult and cost-prohibitive for ne'er-do-wells to duplicate.

The idea behind EMA's proposal is something called "benefit denial technology," which is retailer-speak for tools like those taupe-colored plastic security tags that make an inky black mess of clothing (say, Winona Ryder's) they're improperly removed from. Those tags "deny the benefit" of the product from prospective thieves.

EMA estimates retailers lost over $300 million to shrinkage in 2007, and with consumer spending down, retailers are naturally going to press harder than ever to trim unnecessary losses. Edge says EMA's system will have a pilot run in 2009, and if all goes well and publishers bite, the system could see light of day by 2010.