The Advertising Standards Authority has given Sony a ticking off over its PlayStation 4 20th Anniversary Edition competition, saying it caused "unnecessary disappointment".
In December 2014 Sony made its coveted PS4 20th Anniversary Edition console available for sale in limited numbers - and it created a convoluted system that was supposed to allow only PlayStation's loyal fans to be in with a chance of buying the £399 package.
The idea was this: Sony set up a website that contained a huge image packed with video game characters. Then, at predetermined times each day that week, a clue would be tweeted out from Sony's PlayStation UK Twitter account and GAME's Twitter account.
You had to solve the clue, go back to Sony's website and click on the appropriate character. This would then make a secret form available. The first 100 people to fill out the form each day would then be able to buy the console from GAME.
But it didn't take long for people to pool their resources and share the relevant links as quickly as possible, thus making solving the clue redundant. It meant thousands of hopeful buyers were able to submit their entries within minutes of the clue going live, and made it harder for those playing by the rules.
Things got worse when a disgruntled PlayStation fan published an exploit that let people game Sony's PlayStation 4 20th Anniversary Edition console sales system. Sony promised to disqualify those who have used the exploit to help them gain an advantage - and beefed up the security of its system.
Six people complained to the ASA, saying the winners of the competition had not been published and claiming the promotion's terms and conditions had been breached. In short, they said the entire thing was unfair.
GAME told the ASA it disqualified all who accessed the submission form before Sony had posted their clue, but it admitted five people had managed to buy two consoles during the promotion (some of the PS4 20th Anniversary Edition consoles ended up on eBay).
Apparently GAME's system failed to withstand "the unexpectedly high volume of entries". However, GAME insisted it had time-stamped every entry so it could assess fairly when people had submitted those entries. This meant they could ensure the first 100 eligible entrants would be able to buy the console.
Confusion was caused, though, because GAME ran a parallel competition in which five entries were picked at random to win, rather than buy, a console. This led some to question the fairness of the competition. GAME added it had published the details of the five winners of the competition, and provided screenshots to prove it.
Despite all this, the ASA upheld the complaint because five people had managed to buy more than one PS4 20th Anniversary Edition consoles, and the link to the opportunity to buy one could be shared.
This meant "neither Sony nor GAME could tell whether consumers had accessed the link after having solved the clue, or having been sent the link. We considered that meant entrants who had attempted to enter by solving the clue were likely to have been disadvantaged and therefore unnecessarily disappointed".
"Because, for the reasons given, the promotion had caused unnecessary disappointment, we concluded that it had not been administered fairly, and therefore that it had breached the Code," the ASA said.
The upshot is this: the ASA told Sony and GAME they were naughty and warned them not to be naughty again.
"We told Sony Computer Entertainment UK Ltd and GAME Retail Ltd to ensure that future promotions were administered fairly and avoided causing unnecessary disappointment to participants."