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Opinion: Sony's Communication Problem

Opinion: Sony's Communication Problem

April 22, 2011 | By Chris Morris

[Gamasutra editor-at-large Chris Morris discusses confusion surrounding the production of the PSP Go, and the ongoing PlayStation Network outages, suggesting it "needs to be more proactive" in reaching out.]

One of the greatest things about the internet era is the ability to learn news faster than ever before. The downside to that is that partial truths sometimes get mixed in with facts.

Often times, that's the fault of the media especially the news corps of the video game world, which very often follows a herd mentality, echoing each other's stories without doing their own investigation. But as the fate of the PSP Go has been bandied about this week, Sony only has itself to blame.

Let's recap: The rumors started Tuesday, with the blog of a Sony Shop employee in Japan not exactly the most reliable of sources. But then game business site MCV heard the same thing from a UK retailer.

Eurogamer managed to get a quote from the company that basically avoided the question. And every U.S. outlet worth its salt put in calls or emails to their PR contacts at Sony Computer Entertainment America.

No one heard a word.

The next day, the official Sony PlayStation Japan website slapped "shipment ended" tags on pictures of the PSP Go and the news seemed official. Still, SCEA remained mum.

But on Thursday, the division finally got around to answering the days old inquiries, sending the same one-line reply to all outlets: "We are continuing production of PSP Go for North America."

Follow-up questions weren't answered.

It is, of course, the company's right to say what it wants about its products but it's certainly not in its best interest to let the general public think that a system is being discontinued when it's not.

Rumor control is a tricky game for companies. If you only deny the false ones and decline to comment on the true ones, that's a pretty useless strategy. But hemming and hawing over whether to issue a statement or issuing one after the world at large has moved on to other things creates the impression that the company is unfocused, to put it kindly.

Now, as Sony faces another PR crisis ongoing outages with its PlayStation Network we're seeing some of the same problems resurface.

To be clear: The company is handling this issue, which is much more forward facing to consumers, much better. It has acknowledged the issue on the company blog and even provided an update.

What it hasn't done is announced a reason, leaving people to speculate. Did a recent update have a glitch? Is this tied to the integration of Steam with Portal 2? Is it once again under attack by Anonymous (or a splinter group of that loose organization)?

It may not know the precise reason, but after two days of outages, it's pretty easy to determine if the problem was due to internal or external factors and an open-door policy could buy Sony a lot of good will, especially as reports surface that the network problems are making some Capcom titles entirely unplayable even in offline mode.

Meanwhile, players who bought the PS3 version of Portal 2 are nearly as frustrated.

Richard Lawler, a senior editor at Engadget, summed up the frustration via Twitter: PS3 version of Portal 2 came with a PC version and cross-plat play! Xbox 360 version comes with a working online service.

No publisher or console maker is perfect in its messaging, of course. But in an era (and an industry) where rumors quickly overtake facts, Sony needs to be more proactive in their public communication and less like an ostrich with its head in the sand.

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