Skip to main content

PSN: The PR Disaster

Communication breakdown.

Dark blue icons of video game controllers on a light blue background
Image credit: Eurogamer

If a week, as Harold Wilson famously observed, is a long time in politics, it sure as hell is in gaming.

In just seven days, what began as frustration at not being able to play online has unravelled into an unprecedented crisis in which tens of millions of users' personal data and – possibly – banking details have been compromised.

The technical issues of how, why and what happens next take some time to sift through before the full facts become clear. But if one thing is certain at this stage, Sony has made a terrible hash of its communications strategy throughout, leaving consumers confused, worried and angry – and making a bad situation even worse.

For seven days the only source for official updates has been the PlayStation Blog, with – up until yesterday evening's shock admission – a hopelessly irregular trickle of short statements that served only to compound concerns while allowing the issue to spiral out of Sony's control.

How many of the claimed 77 million PSN account holders are even aware that a PlayStation blog or Twitter feed exists? For those that were, hopes for clarity and reassurance were soon dashed.

Sony's first official statement on the outage came on 20th April. "We're aware certain functions of PlayStation Network are down," announced Patrick Seybold, Sony's senior director for corporate communications and social media, via the blog. "We will report back here as soon as we can with more information. Thank you for your patience."

"A begrudging acknowledgement of a security breach, but nothing more."

Then nothing for two days. As Sony went to ground, the Internet duly stepped up to fill the void with a torrent of speculation over what had happened.

Finally, late on the 22nd, up popped Patrick to inform blog readers: "An external intrusion on our system has affected our PlayStation Network and Qriocity services."

Note the awkward, euphemistic wording to avoid the dreaded "H" word. A begrudging acknowledgement of a security breach, but nothing more.

24 hours later and another vague update in which Sony revealed it was "re-building our system to further strengthen our network infrastructure. Though this task is time-consuming, we decided it was worth the time necessary to provide the system with additional security".

OK. "Further strengthen". "Additional security". Sensible, appropriate measures after an attack, but how and what? And more to the point, gamers chorused: when?

Fresh silence until the 25th, and – now five days since PSN and Qriocity went down – we are told: "I don't have an update or timeframe to share at this point in time."

No details, no timeframe and – critically – no hint of what was to come. A further 24 hours of silence and then the bombshell. User accounts had been compromised. Which Sony "discovered" had been going on since 17th April.