On Saturday, Sony began to roll out a restart of their PlayStation Network and Sony Online Entertainment servers, starting with the northeastern part of the United States and rolling through the rest of the country and Canada, the UK, the Middle East and Australia. According to a map on the PlayStation Blog, the rollout for North America was completed at 12:03AM PDT on Sunday morning. The restoration of online services was announced in a video by Sony Computer Entertainment Group CEO Kazuo Hirai. As predicted in earlier communications from the company, Sony has started by re-enabling online play, trophy support, group chat and other social functions. Also enabled are the music streaming service Qriocity and applications such as Netflix, the NHL GameCenter app, and the MLB.tv app. As of this time, the PlayStation Store is still down, and there is no update as to when it will be up outside of earlier communications that it would be up “by May 31st”.
Before being able to go online, customers must first download firmware 3.61 and install it. Upon signing in, users are then forced to change their PSN passwords.
The Japanese PlayStation Network remains down at this time, as the company must show Japanese regulators that they have improved their security to the point where there will not be another breach of customer data, according to a Dow Jones report. According to Kazushige Nobutani, director of the Media and Content Industry department at the Ministry of Economy, they told Sony that they needed to see that Sony has put in adequate preventative measures, stating that Sony had failed as of May 13th to provide what they stated they would in a May 1st update, and to see what Sony’s plan was to restore consumer confidence in them.
The PSN restart did not happen without incident. Password change requests were so plentiful during the weekend that at one point, Sony shut down their servers for 30 minutes to reduce the queue of requests.
Customers of SOE games such as DC Online Universe, Everquest and Free Realms have been introduced to Sony’s “Welcome Back” program, with a full list of in-game benefits (listed here), in addition to 45 days – 30 days, plus one for every day the service was down – credited to users’ accounts. PlayStation Plus customers are also expected to receive 30 days plus one day for each day of outage in terms of credit (in this case, 26 days), though other details about the Welcome Back program are unknown. SCE’s Europe blog stated that customers would have a choice of two out of five PS3 games and two out of four PSP games, though it’s unclear if that will be in effect for North American customers.
The PlayStation Network was breached in April, which led to Sony shutting down their servers and solidifying their security. The information breach affected 77m PlayStation Network customers and 24.6m SOE customers. Sony has stated that they found a file on their servers implicating the secretive online hacktivist group Anonymous. Though the group has officially denied responsibility, though members believe that a splinter group of Anonymous members is responsible.
Analysis: Our long national nightmare is over. We can finally play Killzone 3 again.
I still have questions, however. For one, does my PlayStation Plus time start counting now, or when the store goes back up? Will I be notified when I’m due for a rebill on my PS+ account (a rebill that Sony decided I needed, despite my buying a code from Gamestop specifically to avoid that), or am I due for a surprise? What exactly is the Welcome Back program, and why are SCEA executives so tight-lipped about their plans? Do they even have any plans?
Most importantly, what makes firmware 3.61 more secure than the other updates before it? Sony has taken a lot of stick about their firmware update process, mainly due to the fact that it’s a major inconvenience to users to have to constantly update their firmwares for minimal benefit, and in the case of Sony taking out OtherOS, actual detriment. Those firmware updates – most of the latter ones being for nothing but “security reasons”, in Sony’s typically opaque language – have proven to be an abject, complete and total failure. Most reasonable observers would agree that those firmware updates were not for our protection, but for Sony’s protection; more specifically, to protect the integrity of their network against the threat of piracy. All illusions as to either have been totally destroyed. Will this, and any future firmware updates, protect our interests, instead of or in addition to Sony’s?
Personally speaking, I have my doubts. Firmware 3.61 will be cracked – hell, it might already be cracked by the time this goes up – and the cat and mouse game between Sony and the hackers will continue. Sony won’t be able to lawyer their way out of this one, either. The PSN outage will likely cost Sony billions of dollars in lost revenues, and could cost billions more in the long term due to lost publisher confidence. They can ill afford to play legal Whack-a-Mole with people of questionable identity, often in countries whose own copyright laws are far weaker than ours.
In the meantime, this is the first step of many for Sony to be able to return to some level of normalcy. The gamers will come back, and will commence spending money. They always do. It’s farther down the road that we’re going to see issues. Will publishers come back? Will this affect the NGP and Xperia Play? And will Microsoft blunt the good news with offers and benefits of their own, either to consumers or publishers in the form of further timed exclusives (like the Call of Duty map packs)? Time will tell.
As for me personally, I can go right back to what I have been doing all this time: not playing online. It’s just not my bag of jacks.