Monday, May 23, 2011

Thoughts on the PSN Debacle.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past two months, you’ve likely heard a thing or two about the PlayStation Network outage.   The PlayStation Network is a group of services used primarily in conjunction with the PlayStation 3.  Services include online play, social networking, and access to the PlayStation Store, an online marketplace for a variety of digital content, such as movies and games.  In other words, it’s very similar to Xbox Live.  In late April (the 19th, I believe), Sony took the network down unexpectedly.  Customers wondered what was going on, until a few days later, Sony informed customers that the network had been hacked, and that the culprit(s) had made off with personal information from all 70+ million PSN accounts.  By personal information, they meant PSN login credentials (email and password), billing information such as address and full name, birthday, and credit card number.

When this was revealed, the incident ballooned into quite a fiasco.  Such a huge case of identity theft (we’re talking dozens of millions of people here) attracted not only the attention of a legion of journalists, both inside and outside of the industry, but also governments; Congress, FBI, and the Department of Homeland Security all got involved, as did the Japanese and UK governments.  To say it was a PR disaster for Sony might be an understatement, and overall it will remain a significant blow to the PlayStation brand in general, like the Xbox 360 will always have that nagging stigma that came with the console’s notoriously low reliability, exemplified by the Red Ring of Death and E74 errors.  To throw salt in the wound, soon after, Sony Online Entertainment (SOE), who handles online games like Everquest and DC Universe Online, announced that they two had been hacked, bringing the total number of pilfered accounts up to over 100 million.

The point of this post is to address a couple things I’ve been hearing people spout.  It’s not about whether I support Sony or not, it’s about keeping certain things in perspective.  First, some background.  I will admit right now that I am probably a little biased for Sony, simply because the incident had minimal negative effect on me.  I also never really made extensive use of PSN.  I don’t play online often or do a lot of messaging or chat, and as neat as I think it is, I almost never use Home.  The only services I use are Trophies and the PlayStation Store, the latter of which I visited regularly to get new content.  Now, there are four things that seem to be a point of contention for people:
1.     Sony allowed themselves to be hacked.
2.     They waited as long as they did to tell people they had been hacked.
3.     Sony being hacked has compromised their information, forcing consumers to take extra steps on their own to protect themselves.
4.     The outage has resulted in people being unable to use services that they are subscribed to and possibly paying for.

I’ll tackle number one first, which will be easy.  Anyone who is truly angry about this does not understand the age we live in.  Sony could have had the most complex, the most sophisticated, and the most cutting edge security on the planet.  If someone with sufficient motivation and skill had wanted to hack them, they could and would have.  Such is the nature of everything man-made in this world.  If human hands can build it, human hands can destroy it.  It’s still their responsibility to make the utmost effort to protect user data—and some would argue they didn’t, but that’s an argument for another day—but things like this are never outside the realm of possibility.  As I’ve said to others: “Shit happens.”

I’ll next discuss the third one, as that’s the one I believe people have really blown out of proportion.  First of all, most of the aforementioned information hackers stole is really not all that private.  Just because you don’t necessarily walk down the street trumpeting it to the world doesn’t mean it’s private.  It would not have taken hacking PSN for someone of the hacker(s) skills to piece together your birthday, address, and name.  And your login credentials can—and must, as mandated by the 3.61 firmware update for PS3—be changed.  The only lingering concern is for those who have a tendency to use the same password for multiple things; it’s foolhardy, but I’m very guilty of it as well.  So then change them, too.  If you’re so concerned about your information, it shouldn’t be a big deal, as periodically changing your password (especially for important accounts) is a good security precaution anyway.

The biggie is of course the credit card information.  But why?  Is it because it’s forcing you to check your charge history more frequently?  People should be doing that anyway.  Of course, the other option is to have your card re-issued.  But for many that would be quite a lot of trouble.  Having a card replaced brings to your attention just how many accounts are set to draw money from it to pay bills, through a flood of mail and email.  So you just keep an eye on your statements, as—like I just said—you should be doing anyway.  And if a charge appears there that you didn’t make, you call the bank, and they fix it.  The banks are aware of the incident, and are presumably more understanding and vigilant because of it.  So in short, stop whining about your information being stolen.  If you know at all how to be responsible with a credit/debit card, it shouldn’t impact you financially in any way.  Of course I recognize that this is a vast generalization, and there are exceptions out there, but this really shouldn’t be as big an issue as people are making it out to be.

Now returning to issue number two.  I don’t have much to say, as it’s actually one of the more valid ones on the list.  Sony says they communicated much faster most companies typically do.  They may or may not be right; I don’t care enough to research into it.  However, what I’m willing to believe is the post made on PlayStation Blog that claims that knowing that there’s been an intrusion, and knowing that someone stole something, are two very different things.  It’s like if you came home to your house and realized the lock had been picked/destroyed/etc. and immediately surmise that the burglar made off with the jewelry hidden in your closet, before you even open the door.  Chances are they did, but shouldn’t you make sure before you cry wolf?  You’re not going to know for sure everything that may or may not have been taken until you take an inventory.  Is the situation so dissimilar in Sony’s case?  Even if they had informed us of the possibility on the 19th, how would they have worded it?  “You’re information may have been stolen”?  In every other message you get from big companies, ‘may’ almost always immediately interpreted as a soft way of saying ‘has’; how many people would have seen it differently.  The way I see it, all Sony did was try to prevent panic.  I can still see how people might have taken issue with this, but personally I didn’t bother me.

Number four is also valid, but only depending on what services people are referring to.  PSN by itself is free.  I don’t pay a dime to use it, and thus I’m not being financially slighted by its outage.  Now, there are premium services available on PSN.  Netflix, Hulu, and PlayStation Plus are all examples of such.  If you use those services, then you have a right to be pissed, because you’re not able to use something that you paid for, regardless of who’s fault it is.  I don’t know about the other stuff, but I pay for PlayStation Plus, and Sony’s compensating me—and every other PS+ subscriber—with an extra 60 days tacked onto my service; more than double the time that the network was down.

All that aside, I think Sony’s done a fair job apologizing.  Their so-called “Welcome Back” package is robust; more so than I expected it to be.  For sitting tight, at the bare minimum, you’ll be getting a month of PS+, two free PS3 games out of a list of five quality offerings (inFamous and LBP among them), two free PSP games, 100 free Home items, and some free movie rentals.  If you’re already a PS+ subscriber, as I mentioned before, that single month turns into two.  And I’ve read that Sony’s also offering a year of identity protection to users. 

If you ask me, most PlayStation gamers are set.  Why don’t you just forgive them?  I understand if people are hesitant or unwilling to trust PSN with their card information again; I myself might be looking into prepaid cards in the future, just to be safe.  But there’s no reason to turn your back on Sony and PlayStation.

Anyway, what truly concerns me is how this has and will continue to affect developers and publishers.  They stand to lose more from this than any of those whiny consumers.  The fall of PlayStation Store in particular will have completely halted revenue for developers like Q-Games, who have put their faith in the PSN and made quality exclusive titles.  Even Housemarque, who has an excellent track record on PSN—they made Super Stardust HD and Dead Nation, both of which will be free options as part of the Customer Appreciation package—and was supposed to release their new game Outland on the PS Store a week or so ago.  They would have been totally out of luck if they hadn’t also decided to go multiplatform with this title.

And digital distribution isn’t the only sector that’s been wounded.  Lack of online play in particular will have hurt retail sales, especially of new games like Brink, Mortal Kombat, and Portal 2, all of which had a host of online features (particularly Brink) for players to look forward to.

Sales will continue to be slow, as consumers remain hesitant to use their credit cards, adjust to alternative payment methods, and/or are simply slow to return to their PS3s.  Speaking long term, if Sony doesn’t do something for compensation or goodwill, this incident could hurt developer and publisher trust, which could mean fewer exclusives, or worse PS3 versions of multiplatform games.  Fortunately, PlayStation is a little more resilient to this than Xbox or Nintendo would be, as Sony has a camp of first party studios and series that will continue to do their part to hold the brand up.

In conclusion, I think it just irks me how little some people have thought about what really matters here.  And I’ll tell them it’s not the week or so they were unable to kill each other online.

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