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would you sue a company for removing a seldom used feature? plenty do

July 23, 2010

Do you have a Sony PlayStation 3?  The reason I ask is because if you do are you pissed off at Sony for taking away features and options from the PS3? I first purchased a PS3 in March 2006, 3 days after its Australian launch. I love the PS3 as also I did the PS2 and the original PlayStation one. I have seen every incarnation of these consoles help propel the Sony Corporation a little further ahead in the battle of domination for the gamers’ heart and soul and their hard earned dollars. Game consoles like any technological device have greatly morphed since their first release into the main stream consumer market. I remember the earliest TV game consoles that basically just played variations of the game Pong.

Pong was one of the earliest arcade video games was a tennis game like simulation that features simple two-dimensional graphics. The aim of the game was to defeat an opponent of either a computer controlled opponent or a second human player in an electronic game of tennis. The game was originally manufactured by Atari and enjoyed huge commercial success in game arcades around the world providing a serious contender to the once almighty pinball machine. I also love the pinball machines but that sounds like a post for another day. By 1975 Atari had released a home version of Pong and like its arcade predecessor it also proved to be a huge commercial success. The game was remade on numerous home and portable platforms following its release and laid down an important foundation for the game console market of today.

When it came to which edition of the new PlayStation2 I choose the version that allowed backward compatibility with the games that I had already invested in for my PlayStation 2, interestingly enough both versions played the original PS1 games but strangely since they looked so archaic compared to the newer games you really wondered why they bothered at all and if you would ever play them again anyway. My choice would all be for nought anyway as less than a year after its initial release the backward compatibility for PS2 games was official dropped and no further editions of that console were to be sold. My first PS3 ended up stolen and of course the replacement console now lacked this feature, however strangely now the rumble was back after being conspicuously absent in the first release. This new console was every thing I wanted it too be, it had the best media server that I had ever experienced, the game play was excellent and the graphics and display in 1080 HD was simply magnificent. I am not a big player of games and really enjoy the driving simulations but found I was playing less and using the consoles other features more, it became the indispensible entertainment portal and update after update ensured that it was as cutting edge today as when first released. One interesting feature that I never used but came as an option was the ability to ‘Install Other OS’ option.”  This allowed as the description indicates the ability to install another operating system on to the console Sony even stated “We believe that the PS3 will be the place where our users play games, watch films, browse the Web, and use other computer functions. The PlayStation 3 is a computer. We do not need the PC.”

I found this really quite perplexing as first of all I had brought a dedicated console to avoid using my PC to play games and now there was an option to turn it in to a PC, strange and as I said I did not use this feature but it was nice knowing it was there after all I must of paid for it and it really was good that a company could be as open thinking as to allow people to use devices they had purchased what ever way they liked. Sony even reiterated that they were not about to remove this feature through future firmware upgrades with Sony engineer Geoffrey Levand writing to a PS3 mailing list in August 2009 stating, “Please be assured that SCE is committed to continue to support for previously sold models that have the ‘Install Other OS’ feature and that this feature will not be disabled in future firmware releases.”.

However this feature was recently removed contrary to the stated early intentions not to hobble this feature and Sony released the following statement. “This feature enabled users to install an operating system, but due to security concerns, Sony Computer Entertainment will remove the functionality through the 3.21 system software update. In addition, disabling the ‘Other OS’ feature will help ensure that PS3 owners will continue to have access to the broad range of gaming and entertainment content from SCE and its content partners on a more secure system.” I installed the update and lamented on Twitter the loss of a never used feature and the eroding of my rights, but in reality I didn’t really care at all. I don’t hack, I thinker yes but I had a perfectly good PC and a laptop so I certainly was not going to turn the PS3 in to another computer and so that was that and the feature disappeared as an option.

Now in Australia we accept the reality of things and note that although we might be annoyed at the actions of a company but if its just that, we get over it and move on with our lives, because really is it that important and frankly if the company has acted in bad faith that we have laws and government agencies to crack down on that type of thing. I would assume that in the USA that they also have laws and government agencies to help in these type situations but as well but they also seem to choose another course of action and that is too sue the company or organization that annoys them obviously in a the hope of a bucket of gold at the end of the proverbial rainbow. Well it is no different in this case as arstechnica alerts me to Sony now facing single class-action for PS3 other-OS removal Sony Computer Entertainment of America (“Sony”) falsely represented that PS3 purchasers would be able to use their PS3s as a computer by installing another operating system, such as Linux. In a recent firmware update, Sony removed the ability of consumers to utilize this feature. As a result, seven class actions were filed against Sony in federal court in San Francisco, California.

So we now have one consolidated class-action complaint with a court date set for sometime in September where the parties will discuss the next steps for the lawsuit. I really don’t understand the merits behind this case, sure these people were pissed off but really is it that horrible that they need to waste courts resources to punish a company for doing for what ever reason an action that was perfectly legal and broke no laws and coincidently no machines since the software upgrade was voluntarily installed and only removed a small seldom used option. IT will be an interesting one to follow and I will report back on this story once it gets to court if that actually happens. The other interesting thing will be what resolution will actually be hammered out; in the arstechnica article they foresee the most likely outcome to be that none of the plaintiffs are likely to get rich. If the plaintiffs win, the lawyers will get paid, Sony will probably have to pay PlayStation 3 owners a small refund to make up for the loss of the option, or there will be a coupon or game giveaway. The other thing that I find interesting is that this article sees this case since Sony doesn’t have any real defence of their actions and if this can may serve as a warning to other corporations then it’s a good thing as arstechnica puts it What’s important for gamers in a broad sense is that Sony loses money in the case, so there will (hopefully) be a financial incentive to keep all the advertised features working in future systems and firmware updates.

What do you think should Sony be punished for removing a feature? If there was class action in Australia would you join? What is adequate compensation? All great questions why not leave a comment and answer them.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Tenty permalink
    July 24, 2010 7:49 pm

    Whilst I don’t exactly agree with suing the company, it is the principle of the matter. In this case, it would be like being sold a car, being told that you can use the car radio, and then the car manufacturer says to you, actually, no you can’t, we’re going to remove it on next service. A lot of people who purchased a product based on a feature are now pissed off due to the fact that it’s taken away from them. Ok, I admit someone not constantly using their radio in the car is a little far fetched, but the exaggerated example still stands. Maybe I could suggest that a car radio is a security concern so they remove it from all future cars as people break in and steal car radios all the time!

    Whilst I’m not a person who may have attempted to use this feature on my PS3, I may have, and now, thanks to updates, this is no longer an option. The difference is that I didn’t buy my PS3 based on hacking it to install a different operating system on it just to use it as a replacement PC.

    Lets take a different stance on the issue, lets say I bought a product, any product, do I not have the right to use the product how I wish? Granted it may not be supported in a non-standard configuration, but what are my rights? I can possibly turn an xbox into a web server, I could turn a couch into a motorised vehicle on 4 wheels, I could hack a wii or turn an old camcorder into an infrared webcam.

    I can understand if I am renting the product from the provider like a foxtel IQ, as the equipment does not technically belong to me. But being that I’ve bought a product, and it’s not on a rental agreement, why should I have to forgo features that were advertised?

    I think it’s good that consumers are fighting back and if I cared, I’d join the law suit band wagon as well, but I don’t care as it’s not functionality I purchased the PS3 for to begin with. I would care maybe if down the track I finished using the PS3 as a games console and my PCs were slow and out of date that I’d want to use my PS3, but right now? Not for me. Best of luck to the crusade!

    • July 25, 2010 12:04 pm

      Thanks Tenty and yes its is a dilemma as we don’t wan’t companies abusing their power however I reaction needs to be weighed up against the seriousness of the the said abuse. I some how feel safer knowing that it is the US is sending the message even if they looks like dicks in doing so as the impact will be felt bus us.

      Thanks again for taking the time to read and for such a well thought out response I really do appreciate it.

  2. clyties permalink
    July 25, 2010 3:46 pm

    G’day Rory :)

    Thanks for this article, and others I’ve read, coming here from Delimiter. What you say is interesting and relevant, but if you don’t mind, I would like to suggest a couple of ways to make the text more readable. (I tried to find a way to send this to you privately, but couldn’t.)

    1. Read each sentence or paragraph over before posting.

    2. Read each sentence or paragraph out aloud. Wherever you pause in reading, insert a comma. (If I read this sentence aloud, there’s a brief pause after “reading”.)

    Number 1 catches a lot of involuntary errors. Without doing that, I’d be posting typos all over. Number 2 gives you a better idea of how other people will read your writing. When you’re writing it, the meaning is perfectly clear to you, but the reader has to start from scratch. Shorter sentences, and breaking longer ones up with commas, help the reader understand.

    The spellchecker is also a friend (provided you have it set on Australian English ;) ). It doesn’t help with homonyms (their, they’re, there) but it does catch more typos.

    I hope you don’t mind these suggestions. I now have difficulty reading (due to disability), so these things jump out at me more. Good luck with your blog. :)


    • July 25, 2010 6:00 pm

      So thank you and I so appreciate you kind words and with each article I do feel i am improving, I know I make lots of errors and I kick myself , but I do reread constantly and correct. I am learning to be a writer and so it comes harder, the thing that inspires me is that for all the mistakes people appreciate the thoughts. Like I have said I really appreciate the feed back and so hope that I will improve. Stayed turned the best is yet to come.


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