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Internet vandals didn’t ruin Christmas for gamers, Microsoft and Sony did

I never got any video game gifts during the December holidays when I was a kid. My mother frowned on such things, you see. That didn’t stop me from developing a love for games that I still hold today, but it’s fair to say that I never knew the thrill of tearing the wrapping paper off the latest Mario or Sonic adventure.

I’ve read enough accounts of such memories over the years to feel like I missed out. And as I reach the stage of my life where the exit ramp for raising a family is less than a tank of gas away, I can’t help but think of how many memories in December 2014 were ruined by Microsoft and Sony.

By now you’ve surely heard about the attacks — that’s what Sony is calling it, finally — that brought down PlayStation Network and Xbox Live services on Christmas Eve. One hacker group in particular has claimed credit. I don’t want to take away from how crappy that is. The hackers can rationalize and explain it all they want, but it was through their actions that a bunch of kids were robbed of the ability to play with their new toys on Christmas. Sorry kid, your candy’s been stolen.

Hypothetical: You’re 14 years old and you just plugged in your shiny, new PlayStation 4. Oh happiest of days! You turn the machine on and pop Destiny into the drive, your excitement practically overflowing. And then you see this:

Destiny servers offline

No big deal, you think. You’re a child of the Aughts, you know what social media is. To Twitter! Sony’s support feed must have answers. You open up your browser, Google “PlayStation support Twitter” and end up here, on the @AskPlayStation feed, where you see this:

Wait, no. That tweet was posted on Christmas Eve. It’s Christmas Day now. Assuming it’s after 11:34 a.m. ET by the time all the gift-opening and console-connecting happens, this is what you see:

Well that’s not very helpful. “Some users”? “Issues”? A statement like that amid widespread reports from multiple media outlets of spotty to absent service is just confusing. Microsoft was no better. This tweet, from @XboxSupport, didn’t go up until 2:41 p.m. ET on Christmas day.

Both companies field questions from their customers using those support channels. The Twitter-savvy, basically anyone that knows how to type and use the Internet, can lob a support request in the direction of either company and get a response. This is what AskPlayStation’s “With replies” feed — which anyone can view with the click of a button — looked like on December 27, three days after the attacks actually started.

AskPlayStation Dec 27

Look at all those form responses. If you were a hopeful console owner that just wanted to communicate with a living, breathing person, this was a dispiriting sight. There may as well have been a bot on the other end of Sony’s support feed. There were days and days of responses just like these. Not helpful. Think of it as social-media noise cancellation.

It was much the same thing on Microsoft’s side. To be fair, there’s much more personality on that support feed — it’s amazing how comforting it is to walk away with the impression that you’re not being addressed by a robot. Xbox Live also came back online quicker than PSN did, so we had to look a little further back, to December 26, for comparable responses in the feed. The patterns aren’t hard to spot:

Xbox Support Dec 26

Here’s the even bigger problem: Neither company addressed the situation in a public statement — to press or through one of their own brand editorial channels — until December 27.

Even though issues persist on both services right now, on December 28, the only word of comment we’ve seen so far comes from Sony’s Catherine Jensen, Consumer Experience VP at Sony Computer Entertainment America, in a December 27 post on PlayStation Blog:

Screen Shot 2014-12-28 at 11.24.15 AM

And that’s just Sony. Microsoft hasn’t said word one yet. What an appalling failure of customer service.

Think about it. For two full days (plus a portion of a third), starting with Christmas, an army of people trying and failing to use their new consoles for the first time wanted just one thing: answers. And that’s exactly what they weren’t able to get for a good 48 hours after this whole mess first started.

Is it a question of manpower? Not enough bodies to handle support requests? Fine. The people at the top of the company can speak for everyone, and at least reassure customers with a smile and some encouraging words.

But wait. Where were each company’s top executives, stepping up to personally apologize and address the situation in public statements? There was only silence. Sure, it’s Christmas, but when you’re the  maker of this magical machine, the equivalent of Santa in some kid’s eyes, that silence is deafening. And it’s also an incredible show of disrespect for a global audience of new customers.

True, neither Microsoft nor Sony caused any of this; Internet vandals did, and shame on them. But it’s on each company to interface with their patrons, let them know that their $400 investment in a new piece of hardware isn’t just money flushed down the toilet.

That really irks me. And it ought to irk you. Joe and Jane Gamer weren’t just denied the chance to play with their new toys on Christmas Day. They were also robbed of any reassurance that they’d be able to start making memories soon.

I think this situation is a brother in arms to 2014’s rash of broken-at-launch game releases. The Driveclubs and Halo: The Master Chief Collections and Assassin’s Creed Unitys of the world. Gaming is a multi-billion dollar annual business, and the top dog companies are out of touch. Post-launch patch culture makes it easy to crap something out and fix what’s broken later.

Following on from that line of thinking, why mess up Xbox head Phil Spencer’s Christmas when Microsoft can just offer up some freebie or another (not Halo 3: ODST though… that’s taken) as a “make good” apology a week or two later?

Big Gaming (or whatever you want to call the AAA publishing space) doesn’t seem to care about the importance of day one anymore. The value of that first impression is at an all-time low in their eyes. And you have a right to be furious about it.

A group of nameless mischief-makers might have stolen away the holiday cheer, but make no mistake: It’s Microsoft and Sony that ruined your Christmas.