Could a Sony Computer Entertainment Hack Cripple PlayStation?

The move to a digital world has come with many casualties. Rights ownership is largely a thing of the past, as everyone just purchases licenses to content in digital formats now. The advantages include saving a lot of physical space and avoiding a catastrophe like a flood or fire damaging a collection — an all-digital library being destroyed would just result in the hardware needing to be repurchase. While that’s an extreme situation, it’s also a realistic one. If the digital marketplace goes down, however, then you’d be completely out of luck. If that seems unrealistic, then you need to pay attention to history for those who forget it are doomed to repeat it.

It was only a few years ago when Sony was hacked and PSN as a whole went offline for over a month. This resulted in people being unable to download any content — including games, which made reviewing a bit harder even then and retrieving past purchases impossible. Some games, like Capcom’s Final Fight Double Impact, were rendered completely unplayable due to requiring an online check before being played. This crippled the PS3 for a while and Sony lost a lot of goodwill as a result. They regained as much of it as possible with a variety of free games, but the damage was done. You couldn’t call the emperor anything else but naked at this point, and Sony did what they could to fix the problem quickly while offering up some free games — like Infamous 2.

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Sony was effectively forgiven by the public, who at least also got to use a free year of credit monitoring due to this, and Sony seemingly filled the security holes that led to the attack. Fast forward from then until last month and Sony Pictures is hacked. The upcoming release “The Interview” is believed to be the reason for it, with North Korean hackers being the lead suspects so far due to the fact the movie focuses on taking out Kim Jong-un. The end result of this hack is that Sony Pictures now has a ton of pissed-off people to deal with. Employee e-mails got out and buried stars like Kevin Hart, Angelina Jolie and even their own films. Adam Sandler’s films were thrown under the bus and bits like the new James Bond movie “Spectre” being massively over-budget paint a horrible picture for the company. What’s worse is that social security numbers got out for not only over 45,000 employees, but celebrities like Conan O’Brien and Sylvester Stallone.

If SCE was hacked and we saw private e-mails made public, gaming journalism as we know it would likely change. There would definitely be some private conversations getting out about certain outlets, resulting in possible blackouts from some places depending on the nature of the release. If something got out with personal attacks on a site’s owner and/or staff, then the site could easily go “okay, we’ve got tons of other companies to cover – we don’t need to cover one that disrespects us.”  One lesson SCE can learn from the Sony Pictures hack scandal is to keep any disparaging comments to verbal conversation only. While there may be a leak of that to some degree, at least that would keep things contained to just a few conversations at most and not expose everything. If a third-party deal was signed (like for a console-game tie-in) and SCE complained internally about the terms, it could have disastrous results for them.

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Most importantly, a hack could easily burn bridges with third party publishers. SCE’s credibility would be killed and with the PlayStation brand being one of the few bright spots for Sony, it could actually kill the parent company. Would it continue in some form? Sure — some company would buy the rights to the name, but it would just exist as a brand. The PlayStation name carries a lot of weight, so it would make sense to keep that alive in some form — even if it was just for a set-top box capable of playing PS1, PS2, PS3, PSP and Vita content.

Sony as a company is in worrisome straits right now – not dire though. The PlayStation brand is their saving grace, and hopefully the Sony Pictures hack leads to them redoubling their efforts with security. Moreover, it should lead to some introspection. If they’ve got a slew of issues with their stars and the films they make, then it’s clear that they need to re-evaluate things for 2015 and consider the longer-term consequences of some releases. They’re not happy with Adam Sandler movies, so it would seem like a wise idea to either stop making them or release them under another brand under their umbrella.

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Sony Pictures’s current strategy seems to be just going as low-profile as possible and not making any more waves. The cast of The Interview wasn’t allowed to answer questions, and it seems like they’ll be squeaky-clean for a little while when it comes to public statements. SCE would probably take a similar tactic as it’s likely a company-wide directive. An SCE hack would have everyone scurrying to just use PSN code cards instead of credit cards, and perhaps lead to a large class action lawsuit — especially if user information was compromised. SCE needs to tread carefully and doesn’t appear to have made any public comments about the Sony Pictures hack, which is probably a smart move. There’s no need to give a hacking group a reason to come after you and Sony as a whole could dissolve if SCE was hacked. It would take some time, sure, but that would be the eventual result. The gaming industry needs competition and Sony has raised the bar a ton over the past decade. Losing them would set things back, and that wouldn’t benefit anyone.