According to the ads, “It’s a problem as old as gaming itself. Stay home and just keep playing, or get to work on time so your coffee breath boss doesn’t ride you like a rented scooter.” For gamers who face that dilemma, Sony Computer Entertainment America marketed its PlayStation Vita as the solution. But according to a settlement announced by the FTC, Sony didn’t deliver on its promises. The lawsuit also charged that Sony’s ad agency, Deutsch LA, had employees post rave tweets about the PS Vita without disclosing their connection to Deutsch or Sony.
Even for gamers who wear out the upholstery in front of the PlayStation, every now and then, they really do need to get off the couch. But how can they keep playing since they can’t take the console with them? Enter the PS Vita. According to the ads, “With Cross Platform Gaming, you can play your PS3 game, pause it, then pick up right where you left off on your Vita.” What’s more, Sony’s ads led people to believe that buying the 3G version – which cost an extra $50 plus monthly fees – would let them engage in live, multiplayer gaming.
So what’s the straight story? The FTC says Sony exaggerated the Vita’s capabilities. In fact, users can’t easily access their PS3 games on the PS Vita. Most PS3 games can’t be played remotely because Sony didn’t specifically design the remote play feature into the PS3 system. For example, the popular PS3 game Killzone 3 was featured in a Sony video about remote play, but was never playable remotely on the Vita – and very few, if any, games of a similar size and complexity worked with the remote play feature.
What about pausing on the console and picking the game up where you left off with the PS Vita? Good luck with that because according to the complaint, the heavily hyped cross platform feature was available for only a few PS3 games.
Here's an example of how things actually worked – or didn't work – for many users. Ads for “MLB12: The Show” promised gamers "NEVER STOP PLAYING" and touted "Cross Platform Game Save" that let users "Play on your PS3 system and then continue your game on the go with PS Vita." But users could pause the game on their console and pick it up on their Vita only after they’d played the entire game – all 9 innings. In addition, Sony didn’t tell gamers that to use this feature, in most cases they had to buy two versions of the same game – one for their PS3 and another for their Vita.
What about Sony’s claim that users could engage in live, multiplayer gaming through 3G? Actual game play delivered less than the company promised. According to the complaint, PS Vita users are restricted to “asynchronous” multiplayer gaming – a fancy word for “My turn, then your turn” – and can’t engage in games that feature live, simultaneous play.
The complaint challenges Sony’s ad claims as false or misleading. To settle the lawsuit, the company has agreed to offer buyers $25 in cash or a voucher for $50 worth of merchandise from a group of Sony products and services.
The FTC’s action against California-based Deutsch LA charges that the ad agency knew or should have known that certain cross platform and live, multiplayer gaming claims for the PS Vita were false. But the allegation of interest to most businesses focuses on the ad agency’s deceptive use of social media to promote the Sony product.
According to the complaint, about a month before the Vita debuted, one of Deutsch’s assistant account executives sent this email to all Deutsch employees:
Fellow Deutschers –
The PlayStation Team has been working hard on a campaign to launch Sony’s all-new handheld gaming device, the PS Vita, and we want YOU to help us kick things off!
The PS Vita's innovative features like 3G gaming, cross platform play and augmented reality will revolutionize the way people game. To generate buzz around the launch of the device, the PS Vita ad campaign will incorporate a #GAMECHANGER hashtag into nearly all creative executions. #GAMECHANGER will drive gamers to Twitter where they can learn more about the PS Vita and join in the conversation. The campaign starts on February 13th, and to get the conversation started, we’re asking YOU to Tweet about the PlayStation Vita using the #GAMECHANGER hashtag. Easy, right? . . .
In response, Deutsch employees used their personal Twitter accounts to hype the PS Vita through tweets like:
- "One thing can be said about PlayStation Vita . . . it’s a #gamechanger"
- "PS Vita [ruling] the world. Learn about it! us.playstation.com/psvita/#GAMECHANGER"
- "Thumbs UP #GAMECHANGER – check out the new PlayStation Vita"
- "This is sick . . . See the new PS Vita in action. The gaming #GameChanger"
- "Got the chance to get my hands on a PS Vita and I'm amazed how great the graphics are. It's definitely a #gamechanger!"
The complaint alleges that Deutsch’s failure to disclose that tweets were from employees of Sony’s ad agency was deceptive.
Interested in weighing in on the proposed settlements? File your comments about Sony or Deutsch by December 29, 2014. If you have clients (or gamers) with questions about the program to get cash back, the proposed order requires Sony to email eligible consumers.
Next: Takeaway tips from the cases