Friday, July 23, 2010

PSN Problems

I’ve been trying to give Sony my money for some time now, but they just won’t take it.

Everything started last week when I logged into the PlayStation Network to do my heroic duty by purchasing DeathSpank. Upon trying to confirm my order, I was greeted by a mysterious “80023103” error. With dread in my heart, I navigated to another menu and tried manually adding funds to my Sony “wallet.” This time I was greeted by an equally unhelpful “Funds cannot be added to your wallet at this time.”

Drastic times call for drastic measures, so I actually tried using Sony’s web interface to confirm my credit card and add funds. This yielded no results. The dread in my heart started to crystallize and slowly transformed into cynical resignation. I began to get the feeling that I wouldn’t be saving the world or grinding for loot any time soon.

A quick call to my credit card company confirmed that nothing was wrong on their end. In fact, the credit card representative told me that several $1 charges from PSN had been put on the card and then removed. This is usually a good sign, as companies tend to test the card by making small charge when you first submit your information. If the charge goes through, they clear the card for more purchases. It seems that Sony knew of my card, but simply refused to use it.

I then called up Sony’s customer service and talked to a really nice guy about my problem. After I described my issue and all the ways I had tried to fix it, he sheepishly told me that there was nothing they could do but suggest I buy pre-paid PlayStation Network cards for all my purchasing needs. He also said that many people have been having problems similar to mine since the last few firmware upgrades. Before I hung up the phone, we shared a laugh about how many calls he gets every day from whiny kids who want their Modern Warfare map packs.

Until now, I’ve been fairly happy with PSN. Demos and purchases went smoothly, the store was easy enough to navigate, and the transactions were straightforward. I’ve always appreciated that the prices are listed in terms of actual currency, rather than the deceptive and somewhat condescending “points” system used by Microsoft and Nintendo.

However, my recent experience has exposed the main drawback in their system, as well as any console-based digital distribution system: because the proprietary nature of the console environment, players and games are subject to competency of the companies maintaining the networks. If I could go to the store and buy a physical copy of DeathSpank, it wouldn’t matter if Best Buy couldn’t sell me one; I could go to Game Stop or Target. But, because the PSN can’t sell me DeathSpank, I can’t have it.

Of course, I could follow the nice Sony rep’s advice and go purchase a pre-paid PSN card. However, doing so would mean I would likely have to pay sales tax, shipping costs, or both on the purchase. This would effectively mean I would be paying more than $1 for each usable dollar of PSN content, an idea that I find utterly repugnant.

It’s almost poetic that this is happening just as Sony is trying to convince me to pay for their service. In addition to the fact that PlayStation Plus still lags behind Xbox Live’s feature set, it seems there is also a possibility that it cannot handle such basic functions as making a transaction with a major credit card company.

In my more desperate moments I began fantasizing about a world in which Steam and Impulse somehow convinced the major console companies to allow games to be sold through their system. Seeing as how Portal 2 will have Steam Cloud support on the PS3, perhaps this isn’t as far-fetched as one might think? Steam provides an experience superior to those offered by Sony, Nintendo, and Microsoft, and does so without charging usage fees for the service. It would be a shame if the for-pay model became the standard when there are other viable options.

But this idle speculation does nothing to fix my immediate problem. My options seem to be either to waste my money by buying pre-paid cards or to waste my time praying to the digital deities in hopes that the network might magically start working again. This whole situation illustrates the problem with the move towards wholly-digital gaming: while players live more convenient lives, they lose self-sufficiency. I am at the whims of Sony’s non-existent network support. The poor guy who I was on the phone with was just as powerless as I was to change the situation.

Maybe the next firmware update will fix things? It couldn’t make things worse, right? Don’t answer that.


  1. Uggh =(

    One of my friends at Telltale was having the exact same problem (while trying to buy DeathSpank, actually). And not only does that suck for you guys, but we can't sell you the game we made either. Hopefully Sony sorts out what's wrong and fixes it post-haste.

  2. "Before I hung up the phone, we shared a laugh about how many calls he gets every day from whiny kids who want their Modern Warfare map packs."

    The horror... THE HORROR!.

  3. Hey Nels,

    I seem to remember Jake "Videogames" Rodkin sharing stories of a similar ordeal over Twitter. Well, at least I'm in good company...

    This whole problem really irks me for the exact reason you point out: companies like Hothead are disproportionately harmed by these technical issues because they have no other way to get their games to players. Plus, having a smooth launch is crucial for small and independent developers who might not have mountains of cash to sustain a marketing campaign.

    When I bought Braid for the PS3, I actually purchased a download code via Amazon, which I thought was a pretty neat way of doing it. Here's to hoping that more companies can work out some sort of multiple vendor agreement.

    Until then, I'll just keep my eyes peeled for cheap PSN cards and continue to re-play the DeathSpank demo longingly. ;-)

    Hey Anonymous,

    Unfortunately for the call guy, he can't mute and kick all the obnoxious pre-teens. Truly, he works in the heart of darkness.

  4. Perhaps it's for the best that you can't buy Deathspank. Let's you save your money for Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. Which you can pre-order for 5 bucks less than the regular price through ubi's website (plus, they email you the download code which means you won't have to deal with PSN not liking your credit card).
    I was having some trouble for a while with the PSN store until I copied my billing address letter for perfect letter with the one used by my bank (check your mail that they send you). Having the abbreviations and periods in the right place seemed to make all the difference. Probably won't help, but it's worth a shot.
    Also, sometimes, I really hate the digital content revolution. I am happy for patch updates and meaningful DLC, but I think it's mostly just being used to milk us gamers of our hard earned money. Having smaller games like Deathspank is cool, but I'd rather see them released as budget titles through regular brick and mortar stores.
    Thankfully, the PSPgo proved that gamers aren't yet ready to embrace an all-digital console yet.

  5. Hi Radewagon,

    Hah, thanks for the recommendation, friendly neighborhood Scott Pilgrim proselytizer. ;-)

    I'd be interested to see more stratification in terms of brick and mortar prices. The $60 dollar price point is pretty hard to escape. Unfortunately companies like Gamestop and the fact that physically manufacturing something has certain minimum costs doesn't make me very hopeful.

    I don't suppose Valve is interested in getting involved in the physical retail business?

  6. I don't quite see how buying pre-paid cards is a waste of money, you pay $20 for a voucher which adds $20 to your store account, and you get a free blu-ray box with it. I use them to replace the worn boxes that come with pre-owned games to make them look new (yes I'm a nerd), and sometimes the gamestore even has discounts on the pre-pay cards, so you can buy $20 of PSN money for only $17.50, for example.

    Nowadays I actually view it as a waste of money to buy things from the store with a credit card (though I suppose it is more environmentally friendly).