Sony Computer Entertainment America (“Sony”) has agreed to settle Federal Trade Commission charges that it deceived consumers with false advertising claims about the “game changing” technological features of its PlayStation Vita handheld gaming console during its U.S. launch campaign in late 2011 and early 2012.
As part of its settlement with the FTC, Sony is barred from making similarly misleading advertising claims in the future, and will provide consumers who bought a PS Vita gaming console before June 1, 2012, either a $25 cash or credit refund, or a $50 merchandise voucher for select video games, and/or services. Sony will provide notice via email to consumers who are eligible for redress after the settlement is finalized by the Commission.
“As we enter the year’s biggest shopping period, companies need to be reminded that if they make product promises to consumers — as Sony did with the “game changing” features of its PS Vita — they must deliver on those pledges,” said Jessica Rich, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “The FTC will not hesitate to act on behalf of consumers when companies or advertisers make false product claims.”
As part of its launch campaign for the PS Vita, Sony claimed that the pocket-sized console would revolutionize gaming mobility by enabling consumers to play their PlayStation 3 games via “remote play,” and that they could engage in “cross platform” play by starting a game on a PS3 and then continuing it on the go, right where they left off, on a PS Vita. The FTC alleges that each of these claims was misleading.
In a related action, the Commission charged that Deutsch LA, Sony’s advertising agency for the PS Vita launch, knew or should have known that the advertisements it produced contained misleading claims about the console’s cross platform and 3G capabilities.
The FTC also alleges that Deutsch LA further misled consumers by urging its employees to create awareness and excitement about the PS Vita on Twitter, without instructing employees to disclose their connection to the advertising agency or its then-client Sony. Under a separate settlement order, Deutsch LA is barred from such conduct in the future.
The PS Vita is a handheld gaming console that Sony first sold in the United States in February 2012 for about $250. Unlike the PS3, which allows consumers to play video games on a television, the PS Vita is a portable device that enables gamers to play “on the go,” untethered to a television screen.
FTC Complaint Against Sony Computer Entertainment America
The FTC’s complaint against Sony charges the company with making false claims about the PS Vita’s “cross platform gaming” or “cross-save” feature. Sony claimed, for example, that PS Vita users could pause any PS3 game at any time and continue to play the game on their PS Vita from where they left off. This feature, however, was only available for a few PS3 games, and the pause-and-save capability described in the ads varied significantly from game to game. For example, with respect to “MLB 12: The Show,” consumers could only save the game to the PS Vita after finishing the entire nine-inning game on their PS3. In addition, Sony failed to inform consumers that to use this feature, purchasers had to buy two versions of the same game – one for their PS3 and one for the PS Vita.
The FTC’s complaint also alleges that Sony’s PS Vita ads falsely implied that consumers who owned the 3G version of the device (which cost an extra $50 plus monthly fees) could engage in live, multi-player gaming through a 3G network. In fact, consumers could not engage in live, multiplayer gaming.
The complaint further alleges that Sony also falsely claimed that with the “remote play” feature, PS Vita users could easily access their PS3 games on their handheld consoles. In reality, most PS3 games were not remote playable on the PS Vita. Sony also misled consumers by falsely claiming that PS Vita users could remotely play the popular PS3 game, Killzone 3, on the PS Vita. In fact, Sony never enabled remote play on its Killzone 3 game title, and very few, if any, PS3 games of similar size and complexity were remote playable on the PS Vita.
FTC Complaint Against Deutsch LA
The FTC’s complaint against Deutsch LA charges the company with similarly misleading consumers through ads that it created touting the PS Vita’s cross-platform gaming and 3G features.
The Commission also alleges that Deutsch LA misled consumers with deceptive product endorsements for the PS Vita. Specifically, the agency used the term “#gamechanger” in its ads to direct consumers to online conversations about Sony’s console on Twitter. About a month before the gaming console was launched, one of Deutsch LA’s assistant account executives sent a company-wide email to staff asking them to help with the ad campaign by posting comments about the PS Vita on Twitter and using the same “#gamechanger” hashtag, according to the complaint.
In response to the company-wide email, various Deutsch LA employees posted positive tweets about the PS Vita to their personal Twitter accounts, without disclosing their connection to Deutsch or Sony, the FTC alleged. The FTC has charged that the tweets were misleading, as they did not reflect the views of actual consumers who had used the PS Vita, and because they did not disclose that they were written by employees of Deutsch LA.
Proposed Settlement Orders
The proposed settlement orders prohibit both Sony and Deutsch LA from making similar misrepresentations in the future when promoting the features or capabilities of handheld gaming consoles. The proposed order against Deutsch LA also bars it from misrepresenting that an endorser of any game console product or video game product is an independent user or ordinary consumer of the product. In addition, the proposed order requires Deutsch LA to disclose a material connection, where one exists, between any endorser of a game console product or video game product and Deutsch LA or other entity involved in the manufacture or marketing of the product. These requirements are in line with the FTC’s Endorsement Guides.
The proposed order against Sony requires it to send email notifications to all consumers it can reasonably identify as having bought a PS Vita before June 1, 2012.