With the PlayStation Network taking a big, fat dive this week, it's easy to see the tangible destruction: no access to the store, no online play, and, worst of all, users' personal information making it into the hands of an "unauthorized person." Sony users will be feeling the ramifications of this failure for weeks and -- if anyone becomes the victim of identity fraud because of the leak-- months to come.
However, there is another, less-visible group of people being affected by the downtime. Developers must be feeling hurt, especially because several big games (Mortal Kombat, Portal 2 and SOCOM 4: U.S. Navy SEALs) with multiplayer components were released last week, and a few PSN games were delayed because of the outage.
SOCOM 4 was released the day before the outage, with critics raving about its squad-based, tactical gameplay (We gave it a 4/5. Read our SOCOM 4 review.), but few consumers had the chance to try the multiplayer mode before PSN went night-night. That's not great news for the latest installment in a hit-or-miss franchise.
Just as SOCOM produces a console game that arrives with critical acclaim, it's handicapped by the complete absence of something that makes the game great: multiplayer. Most gamers buy a game like SOCOM 4 with the expectations of getting two components for their money, a single-player campaign and a multiplayer mode, and when the latter is suspiciously absent at release, it can quickly deflate the desire to keep on playing.
The developer, Zipper Interactive, who has poured their heart and soul into making an above-average product, is now going to have to do more work to get gamers back who may have given up after they weren't able to go online. It begs the question: will that responsibility fall on the shoulders of the developers? Or will it be up to Sony to make good? My prediction is that Sony will be busy with other matters, and it will come down to devs promoting their games to get the audience back.
For some games, however, it may be too late. I believe this is the case with SOCOM 4. Since the series has been so spotty, it was probably a rental at best for most people. If you rent the game and can't access the multiplayer, you're going to blow through the single-player and return it. This online outage also kills any word of mouth advertising that SOCOM 4 would have picked up over the week. It's hard to go back from that, no matter how good the game is. As we've seen over and over again, videogames are an industry of momentum
I wanted to talk about SOCOM first, too, because it's a PS3 exclusive. While gamers have a choice with the other titles (PSN games, excluded), SOCOM can only be experienced on Sony's console. There are many PS3 exclusives this year, and it's an impressive line-up; however, how much confidence can you have in those titles if PSN is so unstable? No matter how great your slate of games is, it means nothing if you don't have the infrastructure to support those releases. Plus, I think this is going to leave a bad taste in a lot of gamers' mouths, no matter how loyal you are to Sony. It will be interesting to see how they handle this in order to restore confidence among their install base.
Portal 2 Co-Op
When Valve announced that Portal 2 would be coming to the PlayStation 3, along with the Xbox 360 and PC, Gabe Newell said that the PS3 platform would be "the best version." Valve worked diligently with Sony to bring Steam to the PS3 for Portal 2's launch, and both companies touted gamer's ability to portal across different platforms. (See what I did there? I'm available for parties.)
Now, however, with PSN being down, "the best version" of Portal 2 has been relegated to single-player only, and gamers who bought the PS3 version for the free bonus PC copy (which can be activated on a PC even if PSN is down) are now having to rely on the free PC version for their multiplayer Portal fix. It wouldn't be such a big deal, but the co-op mode is completely new to Portal 2, and many fans were anxious to try puzzle solving with friends. Unfortunately, PS3 gamers will have to wait to test out the new mode, or switch to the PC.
Also, I can't go without mentioning, that until all of this PSN business hit the fan, Portal 2 was all anyone was talking about in the gaming space. People have been looking forward to this game for a very long time, and a lot of gamers were so incredibly excited that it would be on the PS3. Sony has let all of those people down. Maybe they'll blame it on Black Mesa, but until then, all those little PS3 versions of Atlus and P-Body will dance around aimlessly with no one to play with.
Speaking of waiting forever for something to come out, fighting game aficionados have been salivating for the new Mortal Kombat reboot. Also released last Tuesday, the new MK boasts a robust story mode, but at the heart of the experience is the online play. Without the PlayStation Network, gamers don't even have this as an option, unless of course they switch to the 360 version.
PSN Releases Delayed
This outage isn't just affecting AAA titles, it's hitting smaller developers who specialize in downloadable games. Since the outage started on a Wednesday -- the day new PSN releases come out -- some games never even got a chance to see the light of day.
IGN reported yesterday that Open Emotion Studios, the creators of Mad Blocker Alpha, said that Sony would be offering them premiere placement in the PSN store for an extended period of time to make up for the outage. Mad Blocker Alpha was supposed to be released on 4/20, along with Ubisoft's Outland. Ubisoft has yet to comment.
It's nice to see that Sony is taking a step towards trying to help small PSN developments, but this statement was issued yesterday before news broke about the massive security breach involving PSN users' personal information. Now, Sony is facing possibly an additional week of downtime. That's a lot of make goods to devs, not even considering all the users who might be adversely affected by having their credit card numbers fall into the hands of hackers.
Hindsight is, of course, 20/20, but it seems like Sony set themselves up for this from the beginning. With companies concentrating so much effort on protecting their intellectual property through DRM, it is inexcusable to hang your users' data out to dry. Not only that, but now it would only be natural for developers to be sour about their games that came out during the outage. If this will affect Sony's relationships with the game dev community is yet to be seen, but I think gamers -- at the very least -- will be very leery of PSN for the foreseeable future.