Sony is a media giant in every sense of the word. The massive Japanese multinational conglomerate has branches not just in consoles and video games, but nearly everything else - from movies to consumer and professional electronics. Heck, it even has a banking and insurance branch. But when gamers think of the name "Sony," the Console Wars of the mid-90s come to mind. The electronics corporation surprised everyone by entering their PlayStation console into the ring. Many didn't think it could hold its own against the Nintendo 64 and the Sega Saturn, but the good ole PS1 won the day by marketing to older gamers.
Sony not only survived and thrives on the console marketplace, but have proven themselves a force to be reckoned with in the world of game development with franchises like Grand Theft Auto, Final Fantasy, Metal Gear, and Resident Evil. Sony's legacy in deniable. But that doesn't mean Sony is without its dark side. In fact, they have quite a few skeletons in their closet, and in the past have made decisions that have been misguided, immoral, and even just plain weird. Because Sony is such a massive corporation, the mistakes it makes are amplified and can be extremely costly. These bad decisions range from hardware failures, to marketing taboos, internal strife, problems with diversity and corruption, and products that bombed in a big way.
It may seem to bring shame to Nintendo and Microsoft and emerge victorious at E3 every year, but here are 15 dark secrets that Sony would prefer to stay buried forever.
15 Making The Internet's New Favorite Punchline
"KNACK IS BACK, BAYBEE!" Or at least that's what fans of YouTube's videogamedunkey are saying. Back in 2013, Knack was a launch game for the PlayStation 4. It also wasn't very good. While the idea behind it might have been innovative, Knack was bogged down by a bland storyline, repetitive mechanics, and the utterly inexplicable decision to have Knack the character talk, much less with a deep Barry White voice.
"But wait," you might say. "Why have I heard so many people freak out about Knack II?" Well, that's the idea. The whole joke is that Knack wasn't a very good game despite being heralded as one of the reasons you should buy a PS4, and now there's a Knack II. Knack's development was the pet project of Mark Cerny, one of the PS4's lead architects, who believed in the game so much he acted as its writer and director.
14 Racist Ad
Like any big entertainment and media company that dabbles in the world of video games, Sony wanted to advertise its PSP White console back in 2006. It did what companies do and launched an aggressive ad campaign internationally. But it was their advertisement in the Netherlands that really drew controversy. So why does Sony want this dark secret buried and forgotten?
Because it's possibly the most tone-deaf racist ad of all time.
The billboard depicts a pale woman with white hair and clothes angrily grabbing a black woman by the face. The caption reads, "PlayStation Portable White is coming." The worst part is that Sony stubbornly left the ad up for over a week before agreeing to remove it, and then never formally apologized or admitted it was in the wrong.
13 Tried To Trademark The Term "Let's Play"
Wait, what? Yes, you read right. Even though "Let's Play" is a term used in the titles of millions of YouTube videos showing playthroughs of games, and is one of the most commonly used terms in the entire gaming community, Sony attempted to file a claim with the USPTO to trademark the popular term "Let's Play."
Gamers became concerned that should Sony win the claim, they would go on a massive purge of YouTube and Twitch, getting thousands of videos that already existed before the claim taken down for copyright infringement. The gaming community soon rallied against it, but the Patent Office smacked down Sony's claim, citing that"Let's Play" was too similar to a previous copyright on "Letz Play," a Georgia company. Six months later, Sony tried to plead the case again. This time the USPTO determined the term is ubiquitous online and Sony shouldn't have exclusive rights over it.
12 Worst Corporate Hack In History
In November of 2014, a group of cybercriminals hacked into Sony's main computer systems, leaking loads of sensitive information not meant for public consumption. According to the hackers themselves, the attack was over the super controversial Seth Rogan and James Franco comedy The Interview. But whatever the case, they made off with everything from executive salaries and illicit movie deals to nasty emails and gossip, and–oh yeah–the near totality of personal information of Sony employees.
The personal information compromised included not just names and addresses, but also social security numbers, driver's licenses, passport numbers, bank account information, credit card information, usernames, passwords, compensation numbers, and health info. Soon after Sony was embroiled in a class-action lawsuit from former employees claiming the studio didn't do enough to protect their personal information, and could have given employees more immediate warning when their info was compromised.
11 What Do You Mean It's $599??
If you thought Knack was a bad launch title for the PS4, then let's sit around and reminisce about the disaster that was the world's introduction to the PlayStation 3. It was the last of the seventh generation of consoles, which of course meant by the time it hit the shelves developers were already stampeding to the quicker-selling Wii and Xbox 360. Devs who signed up for Sony's rivals weren't exactly eager to incur further costs by developing for another console.
But what really sank the PS3's launch was the whopping pricetag of $599. Even gamers who remembered the super-popular PS2 fondly weren't eager to pay that much. Sony tried to justify it by pointing to the advanced hardware and blu-ray player, but the Xbox was $299 and the Wii even cheaper. The cost and lack of games almost sank the console.
10 Sony Pictures Is Sailing Treacherous Financial Seas
Sony Pictures Entertainment hasn't done too well when it comes to profits in recent years. While rivals Disney and Universal continue to dominate the summer and holiday box office, Sony's movies include such classics as Pixels, Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2, The Wedding Ringer, Aloha, and Chappie. Sony Pictures' 2016 reboot of Ghostbusters was supposed to be a smash hit, but ended up flopping.
Though they also boast some success with movies like Spectre and Hotel Transylvania 2, for every one of those there's another underperforming one like The Magnificent Seven. For the fiscal year, Sony reported that its net profits were down by a half from the last year, with the Pictures division posting a loss of $719 million. Worse yet, because Sony doesn't have the allure of companies like Disney, recruiting Pixar-like talent to themselves is nearly impossible.
9 An Executive Took Romantic Trips On The Company Dime
In the leak of 2014, a number of private documents from Sony's human resources department were made public. One of these was a folder titled, "Employee Issues" that contained what you'd expect: performance improvement agreements, termination notices, etc. But it also contained disciplinary letters, and a few stuck out. One email to an employee talked about how the person in question had violated communication policy by "sending explicit e-mails to other SPE employees." This person was "in a leadership role."
Even juicier was the one about an executive vice president. In June 2012, a bigwig from the business end of SPE was disciplined for not only having a romantic relationship with a subordinate, but taking romantic business trips with them... all on the company dime, of course. The person in question was not fired, which is probably more lenient than Sony would be with someone less higher-up on the food chain.
8 Gender Pay Gap And Diversity Is Terrible
It seems there's no end to the trouble the leak caused Sony. In addition to blowing the lid off their internal working, it turns out that according to email from executive Amy Pascal, the studio has serious problems with the gender pay gap. The most famous example was that Jennifer Lawrence and Amy Adams were paid less compensation for American Hustle than their male co-stars Bradley Cooper and Jeremy Renner.
Internal documents also revealed a pretty bad problem with diversity overall: of Sony studio's seven-figure earners in the U.S., of which there are 17, almost all were white (there was one African-American and one South Asian) and only one was a woman–Amy Pascal herself. Oddly enough the leak also revealed Princess Beatrice of York, sixth or so in line for the British throne, earned $30,300 annually working for Sony as an "intermediate coordinating producer."
7 Mark Zuckerberg Tried To Stop "The Social Network"
Of course, Sony also has some really hilarious secrets in addition to the sinister. Business Insider reported that Mark Zuckerberg did not want his college years portrayed in the Oscar-winning movie The Social Network. The Facebook CEO felt the movie got a lot wrong, particularly his motivation for starting Facebook in the first place.
"The whole framing of the movie is I'm with this girl (who doesn't exist in real life)... who dumps me... which has happened in real life, a lot," Zuckerberg wrote. "And basically the framing is that the whole reason for making Facebook is because I wanted to get girls, or wanted to get into clubs." Zuckerberg said he found the film "hurtful." Writer Aaron Sorkin felt bad, but Sony Pictures CEO Michael Lynton stayed strong. Lynton said in an email to a Warner Bros. executive that Zuckerberg tried to stop the movie from being made altogether.
6 The Playstation Move
In 2006, Nintendo unveiled the Wii system, a more family-friendly console than its gritty, futuristic FPS-loving PlayStation and Xbox competitors. The Wii lacked the raw power of the other two, but was more cost-effective and considered innovative in its unique motion controller system, including the iconic Wiimote. Wii would sell more than either the PS3 or Xbox 360. What many people don't remember (and what Sony would like to forget) is that they also dabbled in the motion controller market.
Four years after Nintendo, Sony released the PlayStation Move, a controller very similar to the Wii's. Along with this came the Kinect, Microsoft's own (rather buggy) step into motion gaming. The Move made audiences hesitate due to its odd looks, which included a bulbous orb on the end (which also glowed). There were very few games developed for it, and Sony seemed to lose confidence in it shortly after release.
5 Even They Don't Like Adam Sandler Movies
Sony Entertainment is infamous for cranking out terrible Adam Sandler movies: You Don't Mess With the Zohan, Grown Ups, Just Go With It, Jack and Jill, That's My Boy, and Grown Ups 2 to name just a few. In a leaked text file called "Sony_2012_Comments," unknown Sony employees give feedback on what it's like to work for the company. While there was a wide variety of things said, there was one common thread: Sony employees are just as tired of Adam Sandler movies as the general populace.
Sony should "stop or reduce support for areas that have no more value (Sandler movies, DVD)," says one. "There is a general 'blah-ness' to the films we produce," says another, citing "the mundane, formulaic Adam Sandler films." Another claims that the deal structure with Happy Madison disproportionately benefited Sandler more than Sony. "Will we still be paying for Adam Sandler? Why?" opines someone.
4 The "Playstation Phone"
One of Sony's biggest product flops has to be the Xperia Play, a strange device better known to history as the "PlayStation Phone." The nickname is something of a misnomer: it was rumored to be a phone for PlayStation, but it later switched its branding to Xperia. At the time, handheld gaming consoles were under attack by smartphones with downloadable games for cheap. Sony decided to counter with a device that would combine the best of a smartphone and a handheld game console like the PSP.
There was just one big problem: instead of having access to the PlayStation Store, the Xperia Play used the Android operating system and a rather modest dedicated section of Google Play. Instead of a being a PSP with phone features, the Xperia Play turned out to be an Android smartphone with slide-out game controls. As a result, neither mobile or console gamers were impressed.
3 Bizarre And Hideous Powerpoint Presentations
I saved the best thing about the Sony leak for last–among the gigabytes of leaked rest a treasure trove of powerpoint presentations made for internal use at Sony, no doubt assembled by well-paid individuals. They were posted by Gawker to the collective cringey delight of the world. It's no surprise Sony Pictures is in dire financial straits if this is how their marketing team markets things. In a word: the presentations are absolutely awful, with cheap pastel colors, bad Photoshop, and content completely disconnected from reality.
If you want a laugh, take a look at how they think of memes. Or if you want to weep over the rampant commercialization of art in American society, look at how they reduce every movie to bullet points about "themes" such as "men's issues/potty humor," and put notes on their slides like "avoid socio-political themes."
2 Sony Smartwatch
It's a smartwatch! A cellular-powered device taking the form of a tiny OLED computer on your wrist. The very prospect should excite the futurist in you and open your imagination to a taste of our sci fi future. Fancy touchscreen wristwatches have been with us through Dick Tracy, Star Trek, Johnny Quest, and James Bond: there's something eternal about them. So emerged the Sony Smartwatch, the sleek, cool next generation of the idea.
Or so Sony thought. Really the Smartwatch turned out to be a clunky, buggy mess, needing a constant Bluetooth connection with an Android phone to do pretty much anything. The OLED display was low-res and muddy, the swiping mechanic was broken, and the touchscreen was unusable. Poor reviews and poor sales haunted the Smartwatch, and it's largely considered a $150 rip-off and one of the worst things Sony has ever done.
1 Everything About The PSX
Not to be confused with the original PlayStation, the PSX was a Sony digital video recorder (DVR) combined with a fully integrated PlayStation 2. Seems like an amazing idea for 2003 at first glance, doesn't it? The PSX could have been a huge hit, but Sony made several grievous mistakes that doomed it. For starters, it was marketed by the main body Sony Corporation instead of the Sony Computer Entertainment branch.
What did this mean? It means the PSX was presented as a video entertainment device instead of a gaming console. It didn't even carry the PlayStation branding. Sony's second big mistake was charging the absurdly high price of $725 at launch. The PSX would end up being one of Sony's worst commercial failures; it was never sold outside Japan.