Grumpy Gurevitz: What Happens When The Network Goes Down

It does everything. Except connect.......

If there was a month where those of us at the ‘cutting edge’ of gadget land needed reminding that we are still in the early days of the digital content revolution, it was April 2011. First Amazon’s hosting service went down, disrupting a number of high profile services based on it; and as I write this, we are still without a PlayStation Network.

In time there will be a further disclosure from Sony as to what happened, but due to security concerns it will never be the full picture. What we already know is that an individual – or a group of people – have hacked into the system. Potentially a lot of user info was taken, or perhaps none at all; it might have all been for show to demonstrate it could be done. However, as most of us will never know for sure, we all now have a short term headache of watching credit statements (something we should be doing anyway) and changing any other accounts which use the same email and password such as Amazon, Facebook, and other web or phone services.

Looking beyond the inconvenience of changing passwords, the damage has the potential to be far deeper. Not only to Sony, but also us, other networks and online providers. I’m a multi-console guy, but not everyone is. If, like many, all you own is a PS3, then this Easter break has been ruined from a gaming perspective. Many games have online components, indeed one of the Easter launches was SOCOM which only has a small singleplayer campaign as it’s primarily an online shooter. Gamers take the online part of the game for granted these days, and talk about communities when discussing the audience attached to them. Well, these communities have had the digital equivalent of house arrest since this started, with the government ruling their digital neighbourhood not giving out any information for days.

People have been unable to purchase new games over PSN, which in turn is hurting developers. Many of the games we have already purchased require you to be online just to load them, even if you don’t plan to use some of the online functionality. So if you do only have that one PS3 console, what can you do at the moment? Well, it’s not a disaster if you consider it sensibly, as you can of course play Blu Ray based, singleplayer games, which in reality is far from a catastrophe in a practical sense. Yet from a psychological perspective it feels claustrophobic as even if we don’t plan to use the online functionality,  it’s reassuring to know that it’s there. When it’s not we feel, as I said earlier, locked in; house bound. We have become so used to the window of online services with our consoles, our phones and now our TVs that when they are removed it feels that part of ‘us’ has been removed too. We lose access to the wider, connected community.

What this means moving forward is worrying. If a TV network stopped broadcasting for a week, people would lose their jobs and in some cases the company would go under. Unless we are suffering a power cut (and we know to blame the energy companies for that) never-ending TV is something we expect, on tap. We had slowly started to expect the same from online content services, whether it be game related or something like YouTube, Netflix or Lovefilm. For those who are supporters of the Onlive concept this should be a huge warning shot across their bows. I’m not totally against the technology, but it does seem that even if it works and is feasible, we are far from being at a point in time where it could be my only console. Based on the PSN fiasco, and not forgetting the short time Amazon was down, I would not want my connection to the ‘community’ being so vulnerable.

Ironically, even though I’m no fan of Nintendo’s timid approach to online services and content, we can now see and appreciate why they have made it much harder to utilise online services on the Wii. This could never have had happened on their system, due to lack of personal details, credit card data and other knowledge bases which both Xbox Live and PSN require to function.

The NGP will be crucial to Sony's plans in 2012, and online functionality is part of it's core appeal. At lot is at stake here....

Of course, despite my fears for losing online services in the future, we should remember that this is not a regular occurrence for Sony, and including all the other services out there this is a very rare event. However, it doesn’t really matter about all the other services if 60% of my content is wrapped up within this network, the one that is down and hence won’t let me open my films and games. It’s also bad timing for Sony, who are now really aggressively pushing PSN and their music and film service onto everything from phones to tablets. After many years languishing behind Apple, they now understand that they must offer a full content ecosystem to support hardware and are making it the centre of their strategy moving forward.

For me things have not been so bad. I’m still mid way on a few singleplayer campaigns on some PS3 games. I’ve also played a lot more Halo Reach multiplayer, and strangely rediscovered my Wii, discovering a few more stars in Galaxy 2 and finding Resi 4 very cheap for my first replay since the Gamecube version (which I also have), in ‘preparation’ for Resi Mercs on the 3DS.

I assume this type of attack could have happened to any company, but one feels that the PSN has been a work in progress for Sony, with it only recently coming up to par with Xbox Live, especially with the addition of PSN Plus services. Hence, it always seemed slower for downloads and less responsive when in the shop – which leads me to wonder if it was just badly designed with flaws invitingly left throughout the backend design.

Either way, when Sony fixes PSN everyone is hoping that they will do it right, as they have a whole industry and culture to protect. This is not just about the PSN, but also about our ability to rely on and join these communities we profess to enjoy being part of so much. Apart from fixing the security aspect, they need to make us see that it’s faster and more robust with better capacity. Additionally everyone needs some post ‘house arrest’ compensation, and Plus users should be offered a free download of whatever they want to the value of £15 minimum. Sony need to demonstrate not just that it’s fixed the issues, but that they are truly aware of what their network means to the consumers who have invested in it. Just saying ‘we’re back and it’s business as normal’ will not be enough if they want to avoid lasting damage to the whole concept of online content and services as part of our daily ‘digital’ lives.

Even Apple want us to put our content on their servers. They will soon launch a cloud music and film service for their desktop devices. How long till Iphones stream their apps?

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Written by Steven G

Steven Gurevitz is the CEO of 2002 Studios Media LTD and a founder of gaming accessory company Asiiya. 2002 Studios started off as a music production company, but produces a range of content from videos to videogames. The company specialises in localizing content for global brands.

He also owns the Urban Sound Label, a small niche e-label. He is a freelance music tech writer, having co-written the Music Technology Workbook and is a regular contributor and co-owner CriticalGamer.co.uk. He enjoys FPS, Third person ‘free world’, narrative driven and portable gaming.
He is a freelance music tech writer, having co-written the Music Technology Workbook and is a regular contributor to CriticalGamer.co.uk.

4 comments

  1. KrazyFace /

    I totaly agree with the idea of some kind of compensation, not that I want anything in particular from Sony anyway but the gesture will go down well with those who feel they “deserve” something from Sony after all this who-ha. I’m a pretty relaxed guy about most things, and I wasn’t particularly worried after hearing the rumours about card details being nicked because that’s exactly what they were – just rumour.

    The internet is always a place to let off steam about whatever’s bothering any individual, and I’m willing to bet those who have vowed to never use Sony again will come around eventually. The press certianly haven’t been kind to Sony thoughout all this, and have managed to make mountians out of mole-hills, but then, that does seem to be their job. Strangely, I’m kinda excited to see if Sony do make any big changes to the face of their online store after all this. As for playing games online, I’m not all that big on it myself. Single player is always been the main thing for me anyway, but I know a few folk on my PS3 list will be going nuts without access to PSN Home.

    • steven /

      Well I do think Sony made a major mistake. The moment they realised there HAD been an external attack, they should have issued a statement saying everyone’s personal details were at risk. It seems credit card data was encrypted BUT that still leaves user name and passwords (amazing that the passwords were on the server) and lots of personal info un-encrypted, ideal for phishing schemes, OR with the personal info there is enough data to order a credit card etc.

      The point is we went days before we were told, and so time which could have been used to change passwords for paypal, amazon etc (many of us use the same email and password for convenience) was wasted.

      lessons must be learnt.

  2. half_empty80 /

    I’m not fussed about compensation, just worried about my personal info. Luckily my PSN password is unique. It’s good that lovefilm have said that their data is secure, even if you use it on the PS3. Facebook don’t seem to have said anything about the PS3 link?

  3. KrazyFace /

    I dunno Steven, I think they did the right thing by trying to keep a lid on it before panicking everyone. When Amazon got hacked (was it a year ago?) nobody blinked, mainly coz those running Amazon said absolutely nothing about it, but could you imagine the fallout if they had issued a statement straight away saying all your cad details were now in the hands of hackers? I know it would have been more convenient to someone as level-headed as you, but there are thousands others that freakout when they hear stuff like that.

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