By now, you’ve probably all read more than you ever thought you would about Sony’s PlayStation Network and the problems that have plagued it in recent weeks. In case you haven’t, the short version is that the security of user account details was compromised and millions of users’ names, email addresses, and encrypted credit card details were stolen.
Over the past few days, the PlayStation Network was brought back online and a reasonable generous “Welcome back”/”Sorry we screwed up” package has been offered to customers. However, we learned today that the password reset page that Sony is rightly recommending their users should use at their first convenience is subject to a vulnerability, namely the information you need to change a password is the user’s name and email address — exactly the information stolen in the initial attack.
What does this mean for Sony? For starters, the outage has directly affected retail with increased numbers of trade-ins being made as users swap their PS3s for Xbox 360s, and multi-platform game title sales numbers skew in favour of the Xbox 360. There are a number of titles for PS3 that cannot be played offline, and the third-party developers and publishers behind those titles have suffered great losses, which will feed into their ability to develop future titles. If I was a multi-platform developer or publisher, I’d be having second thoughts about the cost/benefit payoff of developing for PS3.
Those are clear short-term effects, but what about the long-term? As a PSN subscriber, my first reaction was outrage and a resolve to avoid PSN unless there were exclusive titles that I want to play. Then I realized that I already do that. Microsoft have put together such a slick offering with Xbox Live, and Sony have fallen short with their PSN offering, that I already prefer the Xbox 360 experience when there’s a choice. I have been known to turn on the PS3 to be presented with the ubiquitous system update prompt, and then to play something on the Xbox 360 while waiting for the update to complete only to forget why I was turning on the PS3 in the first place. I don’t think I’m the only one to have this experience.
In broad strokes, Sony has historically focused more on their hardware offering than their software, while Microsoft have done the opposite, and Nintendo have tried to balance the two. Whatever Sony comes up with for the PS4, they must now know that they have to focus as much on the connected experience as this is what users now want, thanks to the expectations introduced by Microsoft.
Sony gives the impression that they’re constantly taking away from the consumer, while Microsoft continues to offer more with every release. One thing I am curious about is if the same attacks have been made against Microsoft, but have been unsuccessful, or if hackers prefer Sony as a target. Much ill-will was brought against Sony when they broke the golden rule of never taking something away from a user after you’ve made it public. The removal of the OtherOS feature probably made sense, given the cost of supporting the feature, but the people using it were arguably the most technical, hence the most likely to act in anger against the company.
In the coming weeks, we will see if the increase in PS3 trade-ins continues or, now that PSN is available again, if it will stabilise. I’d like to think that if the PSN user-base shrinks enough, Sony will be forced to take a hard look at what they’re offering and redesign the system, but my gut tells me that they’ll continue down the same sub-Microsoft path.