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Opinion: 10 Ways To Improve The PlayStation Network
Opinion: 10 Ways To Improve The PlayStation Network Exclusive
October 14, 2009 | By Ryan Langley

October 14, 2009 | By Ryan Langley
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    14 comments
More: Console/PC, Exclusive



[In this opinion piece, digital console game website GamerBytes' editor Ryan Langley examines Sony's PlayStation Network for PS3 and PSP, suggesting notable feature and usability improvements that might help the digital network boost its success.]

With the release of the PSP Go, the industry is intently watching how Sony will use the PlayStation Store to support the first digital-only console. Unfortunately, at least in my opinion, there are still a lot of problems with the PlayStation Store - both on PS3 and PSP.

There are issues that hinder the buying experience which by now, three years after the PlayStation Store's launch, should have been fixed. Many of them are relatively small, but when grouped together, showcase a somewhat significant problem with the Store.

Here, we take a look at what I think are the 10 main problems with the PlayStation Store, and what Sony and game publishers can do to make the experience better for consumers and help boost digital console gaming:

The Problem: The Separation Of Games And Territories

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One thing Microsoft has been good at is worldwide releases. Besids a few exceptions, all games come out in most Xbox Live regions, and all on the same day. This is because Microsoft has a single submission process for XBLA games – you only have to submit the game to the Microsoft office, and they will test it for all the regions in which the publisher wants to release it.

Sony, on the other hand has gone for 3 major submissions – North America, Europe and Japan. A game might get through the submission process in America, but will get stuck (or be submitted later) in Europe. Therefore the European process has to start all over again, which can mean a month or more of waiting for the game to come out.

With a single worldwide Xbox Live Arcade release, publishers can concentrate on a single campaign. They can build hype, have competitions and release trailers or screenshots in a timely manner. If a game has a staggered release, the hype dissipates, and causes potentially disgruntled would-be customers to care less and less about a game.

Take Trine for example. The game came out in Europe two weeks ago, after two months of being out on the PC. The game will finally hit the U.S at the end of October. But by the time is comes out, people will be already be over the peak of interest, publisher Nobilis may have exhausted all of their press budget, and any sort of post-release buzz from other territories will be gone. That’s a terrible way to run a business.

The Solution: It sounds like it would be impossible to make a single system now, since Sony is quite adamant that they want to keep SCEE, SCEJ and SCEA separate. What needs to happen is for the three territories to start talking to each other and organize dates, so that we can get consistent releases.

The Problem: No Background PlayStation Store Downloading On PSP

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With the launch of the PSP Go, we’ve seen a ton of games pop up onto the PlayStation Store – some of them with very large file sizes. For example, Daxter is over a gigabyte in size, and the recently released Gran Turismo PSP is quite large too.

Unfortunately for you, if you’re not using your PlayStation 3 or the Media Go download manager on your PC, you have to wait that whole download period before you can start doing anything else. If you accidentally lose your connection at some point, you have to start your download all over again.

The Solution: I don't know whether the PSP has enough memory for background downloading. But I would at least like the luxury of bring able to pause a download or start from where it left off -- or even allow the PSP to be used in a more limited mode with browser and MP3 playback still available.

The Problem: There Are No Screenshots Or Videos Of The Games Available

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The PlayStation Network has a feature called “preview”. This allows players to have a look at screenshots or trailers of the game they're looking at. The problem is that -- for whatever reason -- hardly any of the games on PSN use it.

Right now, titles that have screenshots on the PlayStation Store are few and far between. People don’t even know it’s there most of the time – it’s tucked away at the payment screen, just after the “buy” button. Few people would venture into the payment screen, since the description is already in the shop menu.

Some games do use it, and it appears that some PSP Minis developers have started to take advantage of it. Bt even then, there are inconsistencies. Some games have screenshots on the American store, while the same game does not have any on the European front. PSP Mini Fieldrunners goes one step further – a video in the U.S, screenshots only in Europe.

But then we’re only talking about the PlayStation 3 store. If you’ve got a PSP, you’ve got no preview options whatsoever. If you have a PSP Go you'll have a hard time figuring out what you want. Japan, on the other hand, does have screenshots for nearly everything. They do it by circumventing the “preview button” entirely, throwing the screenshots in the same space as the description. On the PS3 the screenshots are quite small and difficult to see, but are fine on the PSP store.

The Solution: In the digital age, screenshots need to be mandatory across the store landscape to keep the consumer informed, and give them a much better chance of buying the product.

The Problem: Game Icons Are Unsuited To The PSP Store

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When looking through the PlayStation Store on the PS3, you can see each games' icon quite clearly. As there are no screenshots, you have to use them to get an idea of what the game might look like. On the PSP, however, you can’t see a thing -- as if someone used the "pixel resize" option in Photoshop instead of any smoother options.

One thing iPhone developers will remind you is that your icon is very important. The icon is the first thing they will see on the store front, and should be enticing enough for the consumer to continue reading about your game. If the PSP icons look so relatively unattractive, how are developers supposed to get gamers interested?

The Solution: There are two ways about this - either find a way for the current icons to be re-sized in a smoother fashion, or have developers create PSP-specific icons alongside the PS3 counterparts, so that they're made for the right resolution in the first place.

The Problem: If You’re Not A Mini, And You’re Not A Retail Game, What Are You?

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When the PSP Minis were announced we, felt this was the branding that PSP finally needed for download only PlayStation Store games like Super Stardust Portable and Echocrome Micro. But now that the system is out, we now realize they don't fit the criteria, because they offer too much.

The new game Thexder Neo just came out, which has all of the qualities of a Mini. It's small in file size (33MB), it retails for a relatively inexpensive $9.99, and it seems like a perfect example. But the game includes online multiplayer, which the Minis program does not allow right now, and therefore gets thrown in with the other hundred or so PSP retail titles. The same thing will happen with Loco Roco Midnight Carnival - a $14.99, download-only Loco Roco game.

In North America these games do get a little bit of recognition – they’re considered “PlayStation Network exclusives”. But there is no such place in the European store, so they have nowhere to call home. It also seems quite inaccurate - Thexder does not appear as a 'PlayStation Network exclusive', while Ratchet & Clank: Size Matters does, when that game did get released in stores.

The Solution: The Minis initiative is meant to give developers a shorter time in the certification process, which is why online play is not permitted at this time. I believe that the Minis certification process should be an option, and if a developer or publisher wishes to go that extra mile for their Minis title they should be allowed to go through the more expensive process, while still being able to use the Minis name.

The Problem: Price Inconsistencies

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Some people may say that the Microsoft Points scheme is a little confusing, but it is consistent. If a game is 800MSP in the U.S, it’s 800MSP everywhere else. What a MSP is worth is up to the store, but for the most part they're close.

The PlayStation Store on the other hand can be all over the place. While most games in North America keep to the same price point – such as $9.99 or $14.99, converting that over to Europe is another thing entirely.

For example, Flower came out earlier this year for $9.99USD. In Australia a $10USD game gets converted to $12.95AUD. Or does it? Bomberman Ultra just came out, and it's $15.95AUD. Heavy Weapon gets released for $12.95AUD while Capcom’s previous efforts, like Commando 3, convert to $15.95. The same thing also happens for more expensive titles. Both Battlefield 1943 and Fat Princess were released for $14.99 in the U.S, but in Australia they’re priced at $19.95AUD and $23.95 respectively.

The Solution: As a consumer, this variation in pricing is very frustrating. It's unknown who's making the conversion prices - Sony or the publisher -- but it needs clearing up. Keep things consistent - almost every other digital store does.

The Problem: European PSP Mini Icons Hurt The Eyes

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The PlayStation Store has kept itself pretty consistent across Europe and North America – a clear cut, simple icon with a graphical border surrounding it. In North America they’ve continued the tradition with the PSP minis, but in Europe and Asia, they’ve decided to use a bright purple border which doesn’t mesh with anything else in the store. It sticks out like a sore thumb, almost to say “stay away from me”.

The Solution: The icons in North America work far better. Just use those.

The Problem: There Is No Demo Section On The European Store

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So you’ve just bought your PlayStation 3 or PSP and want to start out by checking out a few demos. If you’re in Europe, good luck with that. While the United States have a section at the top of the store for demos, Europe does not. Unless it is in the latest downloads, or you specifically know which game you’re after, you’ll have no idea where to go.

The Solution: What's taking the place of the Demos section is the splitting of "PS3 Games" and "PSP Games" into separate sections, while the U.S store simply has "Games" with separate PS3 and PSP sections within it. While it's an extra step away, it's still better than no demo section at all.

The Problem: PlayStation.com Is A Mess

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While Xbox.com is basically the same across all regions, with some additional pages for specific territories, each region of PlayStation.com has a wildly different idea on how to deal with a website - U.S, EU, JP and Asia have completely different designs and features.

Looking for more about a game? Japan and Asia's websites have a pretty comprehensive database of PSP, PS2 and PS3 games. The North American website attempts to do the same, but appears quite difficult to navigate, and is missing a large portion of new releases, even if they're on the PSN store. There's nothing on the U.S. store which hints at Bomberman Ultra being available on PSN, but they'll gladly tell you that Bomberman Fantasy Race came out on the PSOne.

On the other hand, the European PlayStation.com does not claim whether a game is on the PlayStation Network or not. There are very limited search options - you can't check by alphabet, and there doesn't seem to be any rhyme or reason to how "browse games" is sorted at all. New releases like Motorstorm Arctic Edge and SoulCalibur Broken Destiny are hidden away in the third page of the "browse" section.

The Solution: The stores might be seperate, but there's no reason why Sony can't use the same technology across multiple websites, or at least get the game database in some sort of shape.

The Problem: When is that game coming out?

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It seems like everyone is a little clueless about when their game is coming out on the PlayStation Network. Switchball came out a few weeks ago in North America, and it was released with no fanfare whatsoever. It was a quality game on the Xbox Live Arcade. But to suddenly spring the game on an unknowing populace is just poor, and publishers should know better.

While this is more the publisher’s fault than the PlayStation Store (in this case, it was Sony Online Entertainment that forgot it was releasing a game), Microsoft at least has a system set up for some advance knowledge. It announces games on Monday, and releases them on Wednesday, and for the most part it gets it right.

This allows the press to alert everyone that the game is coming out ahead of time, and allows consumers to decide whether or not they will buy something that week. This almost never happens with the PlayStation Blog -- but they are getting a little better with allowing the developers to guest blog on the week of release.

The Solution: It appears that Sony will continue with the Thursday updates, despite the release of the PSP Go, where the UMD versions will come out at all times of the week. The PlayStation Blog should-- at the very least list -- off the PSP and PSN games that will be available that week ahead of time. This allows for reviews to be written, and for websites to spread the message. Videos and DLC might be up in the air, but surely they have an idea of what will be released in four days time?


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Comments


Dave Matney
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I always thought the PlayStation Store's seperation of games was silly, period; UMD Legacy? What the hell is that? Oh, I get it, it's stuff that was once on UMD... wait, there're other games like that in OTHER categories, too.



Solution: Lump ALL the games together, like they would be on a game shelf, and let us use a tag-based system. I want "Action" from "Konami"... done.





Also, another solution to the No Background Download on PSP problem.... allow us to download games to our computer without having our PSP connected. It's already verified that we HAVE a PSP, so just let us do it.

Ganjookie Gray
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The international pricing is Standard Operating Procedure for SCEA/SOE. They say it is correct, but most of the time it follows some odd sliding rule chart that is X years old.

Fiore Iantosca
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This list is EXCELLENT. Many of them are my gripes with PSN

David Orozco
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That is a good point. I would recommend sending this to Sony Human Resources. Here's the Info



http://www.us.playstation.com/corporate/Contactus



Will they listen, probably not. They tend to have many things on there hands. Though If they do, they can overcome many things.



1. Fix the GUI on the PSN Store. Make it user friendly, with lighter colors, or make the user customize it.

2. Fix the pricing on PSN Store and have more sales including holidays.

3. Grab more developers and have a huge library on the PSN store.

4. Make an emulation software to make PS2 games work on the system. Like for example, the picture software icon below the pictures XMB menu, instead create one that will be below games and its for playing PS2 games.

Alexey Menshikov
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"The Problem: There Are No Screenshots Or Videos Of The Games Available"

Thats because developers are not supply them i believe.

Steven Boswell
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Re: separation of stores and territories, it's because SCEA, SCEE, and SCEJ are separate companies. They just have similar names, and "ecclesiastical" bonds with SCEI. Which is also why there aren't thousands upon thousands of Sony Music artists available on SingStar...again, separate company.



Re: background downloading, there's no way a PSP could handle a background download while you're playing a game. The damn thing is way too underpowered for that. But yeah, maybe it's possible to allow web browsing and music playing during a background download.



Sony had better solve these problems before the brutal Darwinian nature of the marketplace solves it for them. Who would have guessed that the X360 would end up being Microsoft's savior? Certainly not I.

Matt Ponton
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To go along with "The Problem: There Are No Screenshots Or Videos Of The Games Available":



What's killed me from purchasing PSN games is the lack of a demo. XBLA allows every game to have a demo of which you can pay to unlock the full game later. This is something I sorely miss when browsing the PSN store. If it's a XBLA/PSN title I'll download the demo on XBLA and typically unlock it as I've already downloaded it on XBLA anyways. Personally, if we're complaining about a lack of screenshots or videos - I'd replace that complaint with the lack of "preview/demo the game".

Jindo Fox
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This list is a good start. I like the PSN store, but it's a little disgusting that Microsoft is leading the way with user friendliness for these virtual storefronts. PSN is better than the Wii Store for usability, but not by much. In addition to what's been said, I'd also like to see:



- more visual and/or logical separation between PSP and PS3 games, in every place that we browse, including the store AND the history section. The monolithic "Downloads" list is a chore to sort through now that we are 3 years after launch and needs to be broken up. I don't want PSP stuff clogging up the works when I'm on the PS3 and vice versa. It would be great to have game downloads, add-ons, demos, and videos sorted by type, not just date. Is it all mixed up for a reason?



- batch installs for background downloads, at least on PS3. It's no fun to have to sit and wait to install all the stuff you grabbed. Using the shopping cart is OK but it would be better to have the option throughout -- or skip installs entirely, a la XBOX 360. Some of these are multi-GB downloads and it's not as though they're significantly compressed.



- allow purchasing from a browser or other offline access, again like XBOX 360. Fix your activation encryption if you're worried about system activations. Sell codes on Amazon for the ENTIRE PSN library, not just the old Sony stuff. I think that people buy more if you make it easy for them.



- I second the marketing idea. Create some buzz by building anticipation, and don't wait until the weekend to announce what's been posted.



While we're wishing: how about a cloud-based savegame system, like we're seeing on the iPhone with OpenFeint, Plus+, and CloudCell? It would be great to transfer a FF7 savegame from the PSP to the PS3 without having to dig up cables and do a 1995-style docking maneuver.

Antonio Gallardo
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I know there are problems with the store, but I think a lot of the "problems" stem from SIV syndrome. T respectfully rebut your statements. I like the PS Store and deflect SONY hate like Teflon...



1. The Separation Of Games And Territories- Region specific legal issues/considerations are all over the place, not to mention region specific costs and restrictions. Separate territories allows this to managed easier. Albeit not necessarily graceful...the complaint focuses more on the submission process than anything...totally not the poor PS Stores fault. Request Invalid.

2. No Background PlayStation Store Downloading On PSP- SDK limitation silly...again not the PS Store's fault. Probably will be addressed in a future SDK.

3. There Are No Screenshots Or Videos Of The Games Available- This points to a different problem. Lack of developer support for the PSN. The functionality is there, but as usual with SONY no one chooses to take advantage of it unless it is required by Sony for approval. Q bug(suggestion) to make these required for PS Store titles? No Dev team wants to cater to ANOTHER Sony standard

4. Game Icons Are Unsuited To The PSP Store - Ill give you this one the icons when viewed on the PSP the icons are garbage. This could be handled better but the attractiveness of the icon driving sales and warranting a reading of the description...a little dramatic I think. B bug at best.

5. If You’re Not A Mini, And You’re Not A Retail Game, What Are You?- I kind of feared this confusion when they announced the Minis. All the Mini label is supposed to mean is its a "mini" game... it has no bearing on it being a PS exclusive. PS exclusive is just a game available only on a PS console, it is not exclusive to specific formats on said format. Using the "Minis" branding as the "hot new thing our team wants to do"...epically lame. Just make an awesome game and don't worry about the merit badge. User error gotta be smarter than the menu, request Invalid.

6. Price Inconsistencies- I cant blame Sony for trying to maintain its profit margin given exchange rates and region specific expenses. For the most part the pricing is stable in the region. Also since most people are not changing their region settings and logging onto each regions store this is considered an uncommon user path. Verdict?... request invalid, this is by design.

7. European PSP Mini Icons Hurt The Eyes - You don't like purple?! Eh any dev knows that was a C bug at best. Next!

8. There Is No Demo Section On The European Store- It is silly that the categories between the stores dont match across regions but the Demos are still easily available...As designed(albeit poor).. Q bug at best.

9. PlayStation.com Is A Mess- Uh what exactly does this have to do with the Store itself??? You want to use a website to look up what is on the PS Store? Why don't you just look in the PS Store?...Request Invalid.

10. When is that game coming out?- Weekly updates aren't good enough? I actually count this as a blessing! The last thing I want is spam telling me about the latest games coming out(reminds me of gold farmers on Aion). There is a menu option titled "New Releases" in the actual store that provides this information if you want it. As designed!



My Verdict? One B and a couple C bugs at best...any dev would say "Ship it!" You might have some ammo for "next years title"

Chris Walter
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Antonio, you are right that in having a usable system many of these issues aren't that severe. However, I think you are down playing how much of an impact these issues have on the buying public.



Not making a demo easily accessible and providing no screen shots is the equivalent of a burnt disk at GameStop in a plastic baggy. Sure it might be a good game, but what is going to get your attention. Likewise early previews can turn cult classics like System Shock 2 and Psychonauts into Bioshock and Brutal Legend. There is no excuse for not getting the word out early via reviewers, and gaming oriented websites. I will agree however I don't want weekly spam updates.



I do think there are 3 much bigger annoyances that completely missed the list.

1. Unable to filter PSP games. I don't own a PSP. I don't care about the PSP. I drive 15 minutes to and from work everyday. I don't have to fly anywhere either, so I don't have a reason to game on a 5 inch screen. Why can't I just see PS3 titles.



2. Why did they have to add that annoying click sound whenever you navigate a menu? It's not as bad as the lame music in the Wii store, but it still is grating. Maybe I have some mental illness but I have to turn the sound off while in the playstation store the click noise is so irritating. And it is the only sound that bothers me of the fifty other UI update sounds.



3. Laggy menu. Why is PSN the only thing that takes 10 seconds per click to navigate on my internet connection?



Those are probably more critical than worrying about a purple icon.

Jamie Mann
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@Antonio: you're right in that a lot of the problems aren't directly down to Sony. But that's missing the point somewhat: Sony has the power to enforce the quality of the data loaded onto their portal and by not doing so they're impacting both their revenues and the revenues of the developers. The other point is that Sony are competing in a mature market: both Microsoft and Apple have sorted their portals out (with varying degrees of success - witness the problems with iStore certification and the ongoing debate on quality/quantity on both sides. There's also Nintendo, but their store implementation leaves just as much to be desired - if not more - than Sony's)



It's easy enough to say "well, the developers obviously don't care", but it's easy enough to see how things can get missed in the confusion of trying to organise three seperate deployments across three separate companies!



To take some of the other points:

1) If Microsoft can do it, why can't Sony? I expect the answer is because SCEE/SCEA/SCEJ are completely separate companies and uninterested in handing over power to someone else, but still: there is prior art.



2) The lack of ability to background-download is understandable, but the fact that you can't pause/resume downloads is simply ludicrous.



3) Why shouldn't screenshots be part of the approval process. Even the Xbox Indie Gaming process has this!



4) The content of the icons is clearly down to the developers, but the rendering on the store is up to Sony...



5) Being able to clearly classify and categorise games is more than a little tricky: I don't think anyone's got it right yet. Microsoft have added ratings, but are still lacking in things like "other games from this developer" and "people who liked this also liked..."



6) The point here is that conversions are not consistent. Game A costs 10 USD and 13 AUD; Game B costs 10 USD and 16AUD. This makes no sense whatsoever and may well result in game B being priced out of the market. Admittedly, managing exchange rates is problematic, but there are better ways to handle things!



7) Colour choices are down to personal preference, but a standardised store would fix things nicely and reduce the maintenance overheads!



8) It may be by design, but it's a bad one: how many users are likely to spend the effort hunting down the demo for individual games? A lot less than the number who would open a "demo" channel for some idle browsing...



9) Once again, Microsoft have managed to get a standardised and consistent view across both the website and the marketplace.



10) Again, marketing is the responsibility of the publisher/developer, but Sony is the final arbiter on when a game gets deployed and should be able to act as a single point of contact for release announcements.



In the end, the problem is that Sony is not actually Sony: it's Sony Music, Sony Hardware, Sony Europe, Sony America, Sony Japan, etc. As such, you'll never get consistency across regions or any real progress on media integration - witness the way the Minidisc format was so heavily crippled and the farce around UMD movies.

Ben Rice
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While I whole heartily agree with some points (simultaneous release dates across regions, improved preview section with required screenshots and videos), I can't help but think some points are just a non-issue.



Generally, any complaint about difference between regions (other than standardizing release dates) is a bit of a nit-pick. A game cost more/less in EU than NA or vice versa? You've got to be kidding me. I'm sure MSP are given to you at a variable exchange rate, so how is that any different than pricing your game for specific regions?

Playstation.com is different in EU than NA? The demographic is completely different, why shouldn't it be?



While there are some excellent points here, it seems there were a few non-issues simply to round out a "top 10 list".

Ryan Langley
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The difference in prices isn't based on some sliding scale - in fact the Australian Dollar has gotten better, so the prices should be lower. Games can come out on the same day with with either 15.95 or 12.95 - we've seen it before.

Bob Philhower
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I agree with Chris's comment about filtering out the PSP titles. That would certainly be helpful.



Another filtering issue that neither Microsoft nor Sony has is the ability to filter content based on what games I have played. Both services keep records of this, but don't use them in the store interface. Customers have only a small fraction of the games available for the platform, why not let them see just new stuff for the games they have?


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