Sony's 25 days of PlayStation Network downtime, a result of an external intrusion which led to the loss of the private information of over 70 million users, is one of the biggest news stories of 2011. The platform holder realised a long time ago it would be impossible to just restore the service and sweep the issue under the rug, instead launching a firm and total admission of guilt, which included the apologetic bowing of many of the company's chief executives at a Tokyo press conference.
Yesterday, Sony announced specifics of its compensation program. All PS3 users with a PSN account registered before April 20 2011 will be able to choose two games from a list of five - LittleBigPlanet, inFamous, WipEout HD/Fury, Ratchet and Clank: Quest for Booty (or Super Stardust HD if you're in the USA), and Dead Nation. All users without PlayStation Plus will be given 30 days of PlayStation Plus absolutely free, current PlayStation Plus subscribers will get 60 days for free, and US customers will receive some unspecified movie rentals.
From the way people are acting, however, you'd think Sony just broke into your kitchen and defecated into the fruit bowl. Vast swathes of people are showing the emotional range of a schizophrenic ADHD sufferer after being forced to gobble their bodyweight in Skittles, with responses ranging from bolshie dismissal to unfettered rage.
Many people are simply taking umbrage at the range of games are on offer. I've seen my fair share of people looking shiftily at inFamous with more cynicism than Richard Dawkins at a Christianity convention, deriding the decision on the basis of it being a cheeky way to inflate interest in the upcoming sequel being released next month. Does that really stop inFamous from being a good game, however - a well-received title which scored a respectable 8/10 in VideoGamer.com's inFamous review.
Still, the biggest 'losers' with these games are the people who've already invested heavily in the PlayStation 3 throughout its lifetime; Sony's most dedicated fanbase who've played (and bought) all of these first-party titles years ago.
But it's hard to think of what Sony could have possibly done to combat the sense of entitlement many PlayStation owners are currently feeling. Awarding everybody PSN credit would have been the perfect solution but also economically unfeasible and hard to implement across PlayStation Network's millions of users, and giving away a more recent game - such as Killzone 3 or LittleBigPlanet 2 - would have been a great move in terms of consumer public relations, but it would also have severe ramifications on both Sony's financial forecasts and its relationship with third-party publishers.
Imagine, for instance, you're a publisher getting ready to release a big game in the next month, only to browse the internet one morning and see Sony giving away a current and direct competitor to your product, for free, to millions upon millions of potential users. Many gamers would surely be happy with Sony's free offering and see absolutely no reason to nip to the shops and drop another £40 on your upcoming title. You would be absolutely livid.
This would be terrible for Sony, who is already facing the ire of third-party publishers behind closed doors. Sony needs to be delicate to both appease gamers with its promise of free games and careful not to throw anything up that would cause a clash with upcoming titles.
As pointed out by the company on its PlayStation Blog, it's nearly impossible for Sony to tailor its freebies catalogue to the specific tastes of everybody. Instead you can see a wide-range of genres from an admittedly somewhat dated catalogue: a racer, two platforming games, an open-world title and a top-down shooter.
If you're a regular consumer of Sony's content, though, PlayStation Plus is perhaps the most interesting freebie. After the panic and speculation about Sony losing credit card information (though Sony has said they both encrypted credit card information and have no evidence of it being accessed) it is important for the company to restore consumer faith in the PlayStation Store. The worry here isn't the teenager who posts angry flamebait on internet forums about Xbox LIVE being better, but those paying Sony customers who might reconsider before dropping another twenty quid in their PSN wallet.
Handing out a free month of PlayStation Plus, then, should provide enough temptation for people to dip back into the service - many items on the PlayStation Store are offered with a chunky discount for PlayStation Plus users, and any items bought during you free 30 days will still be available when the subscription expires. I imagine more than a few people (me included) might be tempted to pick up a few recent PSN classics (PixelJunk Shooter 2, perhaps?) for a discount before the end of the 30 free days.
It's also worth remembering that Sony hasn't announced what games you'll actually be able to play on PlayStation Plus in June. While your license to use those games will expire with the PlayStation Plus subscription, I don't think anybody should be dissatisfied if Sony makes it possible for people to play something like, say, the absolutely gorgeous Outland.
But the real fact of the matter is this: Sony doesn't owe anybody free games, and the people chugging across the internet spewing their anger need to remember that. While UK law states that a breach of personal data requires recompense, it's particularly hazy on what this actually means; it certainly doesn't mean there's a line buried at the bottom of the Magna Carta saying Sony should be dishing out free, gold-plated copies of Uncharted 3 at Christmas, each sealed with a kiss from Nolan North.
Blinded (and subsequently disappointed) by the promise of some free games, many people seem to be losing sight of the original issue: the loss of their personal information and the 25 days of PSN downtime. What's most important is Sony ensuring its customers' stolen personal information isn't used for any fraudulent activity, surely? But the company is doing exactly that, offering a year's worth of identity theft protection with Debix for customers in the USA and promising to reveal a similar scheme for Europe (which itself is more of a bureaucratic problem with all the EU states) in the near future.
When it comes to the thorny issue of the downtime: while PlayStation Network is a free service, to lose it for almost a month is certainly a major annoyance; online functionality is now inexorably woven into the fabric of modern gaming, and to be without it is simply unacceptable. Sony needs to focus its efforts on keeping PlayStation Network (and the PlayStation Store) properly secured and eminently reliable, and ensure that such a massive outage never happens again. I would absolutely prefer a protected and steadfast PlayStation Network over a free game handed out as a token gesture.
As for the gamers? Well, if some people are as dissatisfied with the actual selection as they claim then they can just vote with their wallet and abandon PlayStation Network entirely. If you really want to punish the company, however, you can always just trade in your physical copies of LittleBigPlanet and inFamous towards your next full-priced game purchase - maybe you could even go for a pre-owned copy of inFamous 2 to make sure Sony doesn't get a penny from you. I think you'd be taking it a little bit too far, mind.
While I feel that people who've played all the games on offer (and I am one of them) might be a little disappointed with the overall selection, if you haven't yet played WipEout HD then you really are in for a treat.