Sony's PSN outage: why now, and what does it mean going forward?

As the ITworld blogger gang's resident gamer, I feel like I should talk about the 5-day (and counting) outage of Sony's Playstation Network. The network first went down Wednesday evening and as of the time of this writing is still down. We've run an IDG News Service story on the situation already.

Here's the thing. I really don't have much to add to the discussion of the outage that hasn't already been said. It's frustrating for gamers who depend on the service to play their games with friends; that's stating the obvious. The problem is that Sony is so close-mouthed about the situation that we, its customers, are almost completely in the dark. All we've learned so far is that they claim the problem is due to an "external intrustion" and that they're rebuilding the system to improve security. Rebuilding the system? That doesn't sound like a quick fix and it leads me to wonder if we're talking about weeks of downtime.

So given that we know so little about what's going on, I started wondering about the timing. Given that this is all due to an external attack, why now? Is it just a reaction to the Geohot lawsuit debacle?

I'd love to know what Valve is thinking about this, and I also wonder if it's just a coincidence that the attacks happened the day after Valve brought its Steam service to the Playstation 3 with Portal 2. It worked great on Tuesday, but before you log into Steam you have to log into PSN, so since Wednesday evening it hasn't worked at all. One of the big selling points of the PS3 version was that you could play online with friends who had the Windows version. That's been off the table since a day after launch.

The attacks also came right after Sony offered a "Buy a year, get an extra 3 free months" deal for its Playstation Plus subscription service. I'm guessing not a lot of people are taking advantage of that offer right now.

In addition to Portal 2, another major release hit this week: Socom 4 and it is a game played primarily multiplayer. Perhaps that triggered the timing of the attack?

Conspiracy nuts might point out that this past weekend Microsoft was offering a free weekend of Xbox Live Gold service to gamers in Europe. Shutting down PSN is a great way to drive multi-console owners into Xbox Live!

Whatever the reason for the timing (and maybe the only reason is that some group of fun-hating cyber-thugs just discovered whatever exploit they used), this is a huge black-eye for Sony and I'm not sure how they'll regain the lost trust of gamers.

And let's not forget this isn't just the free servce for playing games. Their new Qriocity streaming music service ($10/month) is also offline. I actually considered signing up for that; glad I didn't, now.

Oh, here's a tip. If you try streaming Netflix on your PS3 you'll get nagged about signing in. If you try you'll fail, of course, but after a few failed attempts Netflix will let you past that gateway and you'll be able to stream content.

So poor Sony, and poor PS3 owners. But what's next? That's what really has me thinking. Of course PSN isn't the only service that's had in trouble this past week. Amazon's cloud servers were down for a few days and service was still spotty over the weekend. Sony Online Entertainment lost about 12 hours to an attack, too.

It's easy to point fingers at the 'incompetence' of these companies but let's be honest. If it happened to them, it can happen to anyone. In fact it does happen to anyone. Remember that Gmail problem from the end of February? Have we become too reliant on 'the cloud' or are service interruptions just a part of modern life, like the phone lines being down or power going out used to be (both of which were a lot more common when I was younger).

What do you think? Has the past week made you leery of "the cloud" or are you just willing to roll with the odd outage in exchange for convenience? And if you're a PSN user what, if anything, can Sony do to make up for this extended outage?

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