NOV. 18, 2013 • By all accounts the PlayStation 4 launch had a smashing first 24 hours – selling 1 million of the estimated 1.2 million units shipped. Then widespread reports of defective units began surfacing, the most notable in the comments section reserved for consumer feedback on Amazon.com. The most common complaints were new PS4s either refusing to start up, shutting down during gameplay, or simply non-functional out of the box. Over the weekend Sony Computer Entertainment America posted a trouble-shooting guide identifying possible issues with either the power supply or hard drive in the new console. In an official statement Sony acknowledged problems but said the number of units was about .4% of those shipped. Further confusing the matter is that Sony is listing a possible fix of checking or replacing the PS4 hard drive at the same time some consumers are reporting Sony CSR personnel are advising that doing so voids the system warranty.
Impact: Launching a new video game system is never glitch free. In fact, releasing a new console today is likely more fraught with unexpected problems that enrage consumers. A major culprit is Internet connectivity. During prior generations a new game system was set loose upon the world in more or less tested and complete form. Now publishers have the luxury of shipping a box full of hardware that is not out-of-the-box complete until new owners download a full hardware upgrade patch. With high demand on publisher servers, these download and install requirements can take hours to complete – as our experience with the Wii U will attest. At least when the satellite installer sets up new set-top hardware he or she sticks around to make sure the equipment does not expire mid-upgrade. No such luxury for consumers who pre-ordered their PlayStation 4s. Worse, Sony is quoting turnaround times of two weeks or more to people with dead systems. The alternative is returning units to the retailer with no guarantee when replacement units will arrive. Looking at the above-mentioned comments on Amazon, those individuals with working PS4s think their new consoles are everything Sony promised, while those with dead PS4s are hopping mad.
Not that Sony is facing a crushing problem with defective PS4 units. Another side effect of today’s connected culture is that negative feedback is louder and more intense than in previous console generations. A .4% defect rate is not bad at all. During previous cycles some major retailers viewed nudging close to 10% defective returns as their threshold for worry. Manufacturing cutting-edge consumer electronics in Asia and shipping them across the ocean means many units will get jostled harshly enough to fail. What is more concerning is different parts of Sony sending conflicting advice regarding trouble shooting affected systems and voiding warranties. By all accounts SCEA is reacting swiftly to consumer complaints, yet sowing confusion is a sure way to take a manageable situation and digging a much bigger hole. As console makers jump further into the service model, they can ill-afford to make such mistakes. The new DFC Intelligence forecasts published last week lower forecasts slightly for the PlayStation 4 but this had nothing to do with the launch issues. Instead it was based on Microsoft correcting many of the issues with the Xbox One. However, overall the console market is expected to go back to appealing to a more core gamer audience as the systems become more complicated.