Sunday, May 15, 2011

Sony's War

There are many kinds of wars; set piece battles where armies face off against one another, cold wars where two sides are on constant alert but neither attack out of fear of repercussions, drug wars, the war on terror, and most importantly (for the purposes if this blog post) guerrilla wars. Those costly conflicts in which a much more powerful force is slowly worn down by attrition caused by a much smaller and weaker but more cunning and determined foe. I think it's safe to say Sony is in just such a conflict. Not in the literal sense of course. Nobody is dying as the result of violence at Sony (I hope), but nevertheless the economic and ideological aspects of "Sony's War" are all too real.

So what was the spark that started this conflict? Well it's been smoldering on for a long time. A conflict of interest in which the guerrillas are the hacker community, an extremely loosely allied group of individuals who pride themselves on freedom of information backed by a talent for computer science. And Sony, a massive corporate conglomerate dominated by a long tradition of business culture. I could go into the history of how these two have been skirmishing for years. Usually it comes down to Sony wanting more money and the hackers wanting more freedom. Regardless I've never really sided with either group. Or rather I am sympathetic to both sides. After all Sony employees need to eat, but when their execs are writing themselves fat year end bonuses while at the same time complaining that they don't make enough money...well let's just say it's hard to feel sorry for rich people. Meanwhile one could think of hackers as being Robin Hood figures looking out for the poor and powerless. Then again it's also easy to find hackers who engage in activities that are nothing more than mean spirited thievery and vandalism. I think it's generally safe to say that there are moderates and extremists on both sides of this conflict with a mild tug-o-war over the boarder line of what's fair ideally based on common sense...until now.

It's just my opinion but I strongly believe that Sony really set things off in earnest when they decided to pull the other OS option retroactively from their PS3 systems (not a good idea when your slogan is "It Does Everything!"). Let me ask you this; Would you grab a green beret's hat off his head and throw it in his face? Because metaphorically speaking that's exactly what Sony did. They insulted one of the most elite group of tech-savvy people simply so they could make a little more profit...or so they though. As it turns out they might as well have dumped a bucket of gasoline on the sputtering flames of the conflict. Since then there's been a lot of back and forth with the hackers hacking and Sony going sue happy with it's small army of lawyers. For a while it looked like Sony was beating everyone into submission through shear ferocity. But then came the counter-attack. PSN, over 70 million user accounts world wide, had it's security compromised forcing Sony to shut it down. Needless to say this is going to cost the company a lot of money. One can't help but wonder if it would have been less costly to just leave the PS3 other OS option alone.

Sadly, it's too late now. Sony might as well be the USA in Vietnam, the USSR in Afghanistan, or the Roman Empire in Gaul. But wait those of you who know your history might say "Hey didn't the Romans eventually pacify Gaul?" to which I would answer "Yes...yes they did." However it wasn't done by dragging people out into the street for public execution (although they tried that) rather the way the Romans eventually achieved a degree of success was by winning the people over. And therein lies Sony's way out of this mess. Gamers are a fickle bunch but they've been burned enough times to appreciate it when someone gives them a fair shake. Maybe for the execs at Sony that sounds like the road to the defeat of lower revenue, but that would be a shortsighted view dominated by an obsession with quarterly profits. No, what is need is a sustainable situation - an arrangement where honest consumers of games don't suffer. Because let's face it the real losers in this conflict isn't really Sony or hackers, it's everyone who can't log in to PSN and play the games they paid for.

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