The Problem with Digital Download Games

I’ve been buying more games recently as digital downloads rather than physical media for many reasons, including convenience, not having the disc spinning and vibrating in the drive, and simply not having to keep track of the disc media. When things are working, it is great, but sometimes the system breaks down, and then we consumers are screwed.

Recently, I’ve had a few problems with games bought through the PlayStation Network (PSN). When PSN is down, these games lose their ability to be played on my second PS4, which is the one I use, as opposed to my “main” PS4 that my wife uses. So last night, as I was playing Destiny (yes, my last post was a bit of exaggeration, and I still play Destiny sometimes), PSN went down for (all too frequent) maintenance. Then the system told me that I would be kicked in 15 minutes because the PS4 couldn’t verify my permission to use the game. Of course, I was in the middle of a Nightfall strike at the time, so I was quite concerned. Luckily, we finished the strike, but I was booted a few minutes later and remained unable to play. Of course, when I fired up my other PS4, PSN was down, so I couldn’t log in and play from there either. It wasn’t a Destiny server problem, but PSN was preventing me from playing. So I played LOTRO on my trusty PC.

So the problem is that Sony has draconian anti-piracy measures in place that punish their own customers when Sony breaks its own network. I can’t recall ever having a problem with Steam preventing me from playing a game, nor even Origin doing so, but Sony has done this to me a few times (Columbus day, for example – thanks Sony). Do I believe that Steam and Origin have better, more clever network engineers than Sony? Well, Steam for sure does, but given that Origin is EA and Origin has other stupid problems, perhaps the Origin folks are only a little better than Sony’s.

So what’s the solution? First, Sony should NOT enforce the crazy 15 minute license expiry when they caused the problem by taking PSN down. If the PS4 is verifiably on the internet and yet PSN is down, extend that timeline to 12 hours or so. That will give Sony time to fix PSN yet not inconvenience customers. Seriously, Sony, patch that into the next OS update! It is more important than fancy themes.

The long term solution is for Sony to stop thinking of PSN as a monolithic entity that is either “up” or “down.” The login and licensing servers should be separate and VERY stable, basically never going down for more than a few minutes at a time. Then, player communications should also be a separate service that is very reliable. Things like trophy handling and inspecting other player can be less reliable, because they aren’t as critical. The PSN store is only critical to Sony and its revenue, so it is in their best interest to keep it working, but if it is down for maintenance, it shouldn’t affect other things. Yes, I’m suggest re-architecting PSN so maintenance on one service doesn’t wipe out everyone. It’ll be a challenge, but your customers will be more satisfied and think more highly of you. This is an area where Sony has trailed Microsoft in the past, but Sony needs to take the lead now since they have the most popular console! Time to fix your network problems, Sony. And maybe then, we could try that Drive Club thing you’ve been teasing for a year…

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