In real life, there are many things that are considered free. The ability to breathe, taking in the awesome power of a mountain range, the screaming of a young child after midnight — all free. Since they are free, you, as the leeching consumer, have no right to complain when said free activities come crashing down around you. Mountain falls over and crushes your dreams? It was free! Playstation Network gets hacked and all of your personal information, including credit card and home address, get stolen? It was free. Who are you to complain?
Two weeks ago, Sony’s Playstation 3 suffered from what appeared to be a massive coronary of the digital variety, falling to its knees and then face-planting in front of its horrified family (all 70 million of them). Ambulances were summoned, CPR was performed, but it died. In its wake, lay the now disconnected users of Sony’s once grand Playstation Network — a counter to Microsoft’s pay service Xbox Live — where users can go head to head, buy premium add-ons, and generally socialize. All for free.
On April 19, Sony discovered that its service had been compromised, but failed to inform anyone of this. Rather, the next day, the service was abruptly shut down. One week later, April 26, Sony released details about the hack and revealed for the first time that private information had been taken, sending panicked users into a frenzy of card-swapping and password-updating.
It wasn’t until this past Sunday that Sony executives apologized to the users and promised that the Network would be fully functional by mid-May. Meanwhile, message boards and online communities continue to erupt with fanboys and girls lobbing insults at each other while flailing helplessly.
The most popular argument against blaming Sony for the incident is to say that the service was free, and therefore the users were owed no promise of security or functionality. But as fallacies go, this twisted logic is as fractured as the mountain that Sony built its infrastructure upon.
Sony’s service might be free to use, but one must own a Playstation 3 to take advantage of it. Users purchase a system for more than $300, at minimum, for a new system. Perhaps the Playstation Network will be one of the reasons for purchase, with its ability to connect to Netflix and other entertainment services. Registering for the Network is required if a player wants to utilize the online features of any number of games. In other words, the Playstation Network is included in the retail price.
Promises might not mean as much to the people of today as they did in the imaginary idea of a world I’ve created out of sitcoms from the ’50s, but when a company promises a certain level of competency and then doesn’t deliver, its reputation takes a hit; and sometimes a bad reputation is all a company needs to fail. Free-to-use only works if the product is trustworthy, and failing to notify account holders in a prompt manner of the danger their credit may have been in was a trust combo breaker.
Free requires a commitment by both parties that a pay service doesn’t. Free stipulates that both parties will be friendly to each other rather than being in servitude. In other words, Sony reached out to be friends with its users and then acted very unfriendly when things went south. This is the price of free, and though Sony’s Network may be up and running in some form this week, the Playstation name has been damaged for a long time to come.
Chris O’Neal is a paranoid gamer living off the grid, using pseudonyms to write his articles. Follow O’Neal on Twitter @AgentONeal.