I have just come across a new patent, detailing a digital distribution platform like the Virtual Console to be used for the development of games. The patent is entitled Method and apparatus for secure delivery and evaluation of prototype software over a network. Here are the details:
Before software is provided in its final form to end-users, it goes through a development, testing, and evaluation process. As the software moves through various stages of the process, it is oftentimes desirable to send that software to parties other than the developers to execute and experience (hereafter "third parties"). (...) Although it is possible to bring such third parties to the physical plant of the software developer and carefully control the conditions under which third parties evaluate the prototype software, it may be more convenient and efficient to have third parties test prototype software away from the developer's physical plant. (...)The actual technicalities are hardly interesting: the patent mentions multiple encryption as well as authentication. The question is, though, how such a process may impact upon the industry.
One security approach is to load the prototype software into a secure "lock box," and have a developer employee physically deliver the prototype software to the third party evaluator. (...) The time and expense associated with this approach are significant. Moreover, there is always a risk that the prototype software may be lost, stolen, or otherwise misappropriated despite precautions and preventive efforts.
The technology described below overcomes these problems. The technology securely delivers software over a network to an evaluation site and monitors the evaluation of the software at the delivered site also via the network.
If implemented correctly, this technology could significantly change the relations between Nintendo and its partners, whether publishers or developers, by allowing for a more flexible presentation schedule. Game presentations would no longer be limited to physical visits of company representatives. Previewing the latest software build could be arranged anytime.
By making it more flexible, this technology may also speed up the development process significantly. Finally, it enables smaller developers to participate, since driving down logistical barriers also drives down costs.
But it may go beyond that. I have played a few preview copies on debug GameCube consoles and know that Nintendo is more protective about preview titles than any other manufacturer. The consoles are usually permanently shut by a metal bar that is screwed into its side. Debug consoles are usually accompanied by Nintendo representatives at all times. Hardly ever are such consoles given to journalists permanently.
I, for one, hope that a digital distribution network for games in development could also benefit the media trying to evaluate a preview build. As far as publishers and developers go, this technology will undoubtedly prove to be a revolution.
Source: US Patent & Trademark Office