When Sony threw its hat into the Console Wars in the mid-90s, some doubted whether the electronics giant would be able to find an audience amongst the loyal fans of their competitors. By marketing themselves towards older, more mature gamers, Sony not only survived in the console marketplace, they thrived. Game developers saw the promise in the platform and soon they were poaching big franchises like Final Fantasy and Metal Gear. They took risks on more adult targeted games such as Resident Evil and Grand Theft Auto, bringing in a demographic largely ignored by Nintendo and Sega at the time.
The legacy of these decisions is obvious. The PlayStation 2 is still one of the best selling consoles of all time (in a close heat for the top spot with the Nintendo DS), with a massive library that gives many fans reason to declare it the best console ever made. Now Sony is everywhere in the game market, from mobile consoles to VR.
That is not to say that every move Sony has made has been the right one. In fact, they've made quite a few decisions that have not only been misguided, but also strange or weird. As Sony finds itself in stiff competition for their mature demographic with Microsoft's Xbox offerings and the growing PC gaming market, these mistakes can be costly, even brand damaging.
These are the worst decisions Sony has ever made, from hardware failures to marketing snafus and everything in-between.
15 The Neglected “PlayStation Move”
In 2006, Nintendo released the Wii, a family focused console that, while lacking in the power of its competitors, featured innovators motion controller, the Wiimote. Combined with its lower price point and its array of party games, the Wii went on to sell more consoles than either the PlayStation 3 or the Xbox 360.
Sony wanted to get in on the motion game controller market and four years later they released Playstation Move, a wand similar to the Wiimote. Announced at E3 against Microsoft's own innovation into motion gaming, the Kinect, there was hesitation by the consumer base from the get-go. The Move was odd looking compared to Sony's usually sleek designs, with a bulbous glowing orb sticking out of the front of it. The real problem turned out not to be with the hardware, however, but with Sony's lack of support for it. Many fans who purchased the Move found very few games being developed for it.
Recently, the Move has been integrated into PlayStation's VR platform, though, as you will see later, that may not be enough to save it.
14 No Place Like PlayStation Home
For almost seven years, Sony ran a service called “PlayStation Home,” a virtual environment for PS3 users to just hang out and relax as their avatars. It was sort of like Second Life, except exclusively for PlayStation. Unfortunately, the user base was either unsure of what it was or what they were supposed to with it and it never really took off. In fairness, at times it seemed Sony wasn't sure what to do with it, either. Over the years, Sony would continue to innovate with PlayStation home, trying to find its niche among their users, even at one point featuring a virtual E3 booth through the service. Nothing worked.
They kept the game running for a while using steeply priced microtransactions (mostly for cosmetics to customize their homes and avatars) until finally pulling the plug in 2015.
13 Sixaxis Controls are a Clunky Mess
When Sony was developing the PlayStation 3, they wanted to do something new and innovated with their controllers. First, they revealed what has become known as “The Boomerang” controller, a strange, elongated mess that was quickly abandoned due to public criticism. Instead, the PS3 launched with the Sixaxis Controller, which mostly resembled their previous Dualshock models, but with motion sensors added that would allow the controller to detect movement as the player lifted or titled the controller. They demoed the technology showing how a flick of the wrist could be used to toss a grenade or how the entire controller could be used like a steering wheel. When it came to practice, gamers found the motion controls clunky and the games that forced their use pointlessly difficult. Plus, it got rid of the rumble feature and no one wanted that.
Later, Sony would replace the Sixaxis Controllers with the Dualshock 3, though the Sixaxis technology would later reappear in the PlayStation Vita.
When you have to release a guide to teach reviewers how to properly review your game, you know you have done something wrong. This was the case Sony found itself in with the dragon-riding game Lair. When this game was announced, with its beautiful trailers, stunning visuals, and its promise of dragon-wrought carnage, fans were excited. Unfortunately, it turned out fans of the dragon-riding genre were going to have to wait a little longer because Lair turned out to be nearly unplayable. It was another victim of the Sixaxis Controllers, which forced players to tilt the controller to fly the dragon and fight enemy dragons by slamming the controller left or right. The game also claimed to feature Remote Play functionality using the PSP, but since the PSP did not have motion sensing technologym it was not fully playable.
Later a patch would be released to allow Lair to be played completely with analog controls, but by then the damage had been done.
11 Hackers Shut Down The PlayStation Network
For 23 days in 2011, the PlayStation Network was completely down. Hackers had managed to compromise personal detail from around 77 million accounts (making it one of the biggest data security breaches in history) and prevented users from accessing the service, forcing Sony to turn it off. What's worse was the discovery that Sony kept much of this information unencrypted. Sony's reaction to the breach only dug the hole deeper, waiting an entire week after the outage to even warn users that their personal information may have been compromised. A class action lawsuit was filed.
Sony would attempt to make things right by offering free games to effected users, but for many this remains a wound on their trust for the company and Sony's estimates of cost of the outage was a whopping $171 million.
10 The UMD Format Cripples Sony's Mobile Plans
When Sony announced its intention to compete with Nintendo in the handheld gaming market, it was met with much fanfare. On paper, the PSP looked great, with more power behind it than any other handheld console, Remote Play for select PS3 games, and titles from beloved franchises such as Grand Theft Auto and God of War. However, Sony made one very odd decision when developing the console: creating its own format of disk for the games and movies available on it: UMD (Universal Media Disk). While large in capacity, the UMD's unique format made it difficult for developers to adopt their games to the system and, since no other device besides the PSP used it, consumers were unlikely to buy movies for it when compared to similarly priced DVDs.
Sony eventually started shifting away from the format in favor of digital distribution through the PlayStation Network.
9 The Racist 'PSP White' Ad
When Sony wanted to advertise the launch of its PSP White console in the the Netherlands in 2006, they likely wanted to stir up a little controversy. Get people talking about your ad and they are going to be bringing up your product. What they probably didn't want was the massive backlash that surrounded this one billboard, featuring a white haired, pale woman grabbing a black woman by the face with the words “PlayStation Portable White is coming” in big letters. The ad understandably drew controversy, but surprisingly Sony stuck to their guns, defending the ad for over a week against the backlash before finally agreeing to remove it. They never apologized for it, however, or made any admission of wrongdoing, drawing additional ire from many.
8 Attempting to Trademark “Let's Play”
Gaming giants like Sony have to walk a fine line between profitability and positive public perception. One way to surely enrage your fanbase would be to try and take something that already exists that your fans love and claim it as your own. They attempted to do that with the popular “Let's Play” term, commonly used in the titles of videos that show playthroughs of video games. Gamers became concerned that if Sony succeeded in getting that trademark, thousands of videos that already existed with that title would have to be removed for infringement, or that Sony could somehow demand a fee for anyone wanting to use the term. They rallied against the trademark claim and Sony was denied the trademark …
… but not due to fan reaction, but because the of a similar, existing trademark “Let'z Play of America.”
7 The PSX Never Makes It Out of Japan
The PSX (not to be confused with the original PlayStation, sometimes also referred to by that term) was a DVR and PS2 in one. At first glance, this seems like a brilliant idea, as DVRs were growing fast in popularity at the time. However, Sony made some very poor choices here. First, the device was not marketed by Sony Computer entertainment, but by the Sony Corporation itself as a general-purpose consumer video device (as opposed to a gaming console). It even lacked the PlayStation branding. Second was launching it at a price absurdly high for either a game console or a DVR: 79,800 JPY (about $725). In the end, the PSX was such a commercial failure that Sony never bothered releasing it outside of Japan.
6 'PSP Go' Goes Nowhere
As Sony began to switch away from using UMDs for the PSP and instead focusing on digital distribution through the PlayStation Store, they decided to release a version of the PSP that was completely download only and lacked the ability to use UMDs. It also featured upgradable flash memory, an improvement to the original PSP. However, its flaws, including a battery that could not be removed without voiding the warrant, a non-standard USB cable connector, and region locking through each PSP Go being restricted to a single PlayStation account. Its poor sales likely stemmed mostly from consumers lack of interest in giving up the physical media option completely. Sony was unable to garner interest in the system, despite dropping the price and offering free games. They eventually abounded it to concentrate on the PlayStation Vita.
5 Where Are The VR Games?
Sony was the first console to jump on the VR gaming revolution jumpstarted by the Oculus Rift. When they announced their VR headset (codenamed Morpheus during development) console gamers were excited to be part of this forefront of gaming technology and for less than half the price of a PC capable of running VR. PlayStation VR launch bundles flew off the shelves and it seemed like Sony was in a unique position to take early dominance of the VR gaming market.
And then … silence. Their launch titles, such as Batman Arkham VR, were notoriously underwhelming and very few VR games have come to the console since then. Sony has got a legion of fans with VR headsets ready and waiting to buy up anything they put out just to use them, and for some reason they don't seem to care.
4 And For That Matter, What About The Vita?
The latest (and possibly last?) attempt by Sony to dominate the handheld console market is the PS Vita. Like its predecessor, the PSP, the Vita crushed the competition when it came to pure power, while lacking the silly UMD format disks. It seemed Sony might have finally done what it set out to do: put out a strong handheld console for the mature gamer who wants something else besides Nintendo's family friendly offerings.
And then they promptly forgot about it. Unlike the PSP, which received a strong lineup from some of Sony's most beloved franchises, Sony has left the Vita dangling in the wind at the hands of third party and indie developers. While some of these games have proved successful (and were subsequently ported in HD to the PS3/PS4) the Vita's primary selling point, games, seems lackluster.
The Vita can now be linked to a PS4 and used like a controller, but that alone will not likely save the console if it never receives the support it deserves.
3 SOE's Many Problems
Sony Online Entertainment, aka SOE, owned the rights to some of the most beloved online games of all times. Everquest. Star Wars Galaxies. Planetside. And then came the string of expensive failures. Matrix Online was forced to be shut down after only four years. Everquest Next, the supposed third installment in the beloved franchise, faced years of delays as it was stuck in development hell (only to eventually be canceled). Vanguard: Saga of Heroes had an ill-fated launch and continued to bleed subscribers until it, too, was forced to shut down. MMOs are among the most expensive games to produce and each of these failures cost Sony not just in money, but in the trust of fans of the genre.
SOE would later be sold by Sony and re-branded Daybreak Game Company.
2 Sony Launches The PS3 At An Astounding $599
To say the PlayStation 3 suffered a tough launch was putting it mildly. It was launched last of the seventh generation consoles, with developers already flocking to develop for the fast selling Wii and Xbox 360 and hesitant to pay additional costs to develop for another console. The launch price of $599 was almost the final nail in the coffin for the successor of the super popular PS2. Sony tried to justify its price point through the included blu-ray player and its impressive hardware, but with the Xbox 360 Core available for only $299 and the Wii even less than that, the PS3 had trouble selling consoles, which in turn made it hard for them to attract developers.
Sony would release cheaper versions of the console at a reduced price closer to their competition and over time the PS3 would come to nearly catch up with its competition. But the high price point had almost spelled the doom of this console and perhaps Sony's time in the console market overall.
1 Sony Ericsson Xperia Play (The PlayStation Phone)
As the handheld game console market was losing market share to mobile phones with cheap downloadable games, Sony announced it would put out a console that was best of both worlds: a phone and a handheld game console comparable to their other offering, the PSP. At first it was rumored to be the “PlayStation Phone,” but later the device lost the PlayStation branding and instead went with the Xperia brand.
The big problem: no access to the PlayStation Store. The Xperia Play ran on Android and used a dedicated section of the Google Play store for its specific games, one with a library that in no way compares with the offerings of the PlayStation Store. Handheld console gamers instead opted for a DS or a Vita, and smartphone users didn't go for it, either. When the next generation of Xperia phones came out, Sony abandoned the concept altogether.