The Advertising Standards Authority ruled that Sony’s PS4 20th Anniversary Edition competition caused “unnecessary disappointment” and gave them a stern talking to.
Back in December 2014, Sony made its 20th Anniversary Edition PS4 available for sale in limited numbers. They created an overly convoluted system that had to be followed if one wished to get their hands on one of the highly coveted machines. This was supposed to ensure that only Sony’s most loyal customers would have the chance to purchase the console.
Here’s how the whole thing worked (or didn’t, as the case is).
Sony set up a website that contained an image filled with video game characters. At predetermined times each day of that week, a clue would be tweeted from Sony’s PlayStation UK Twitter account and GAME’s Twitter account. People had to solve the clue, then go back to Sony’s website and click on the correct character. If this was done, a secret form was made available. The first 100 people to fill out the form each day would then be allowed to purchase the console from GAME.
However, it didn’t take long for people to start exploiting the system. They began to pool their resources and share the relevant links as quickly as possible, meaning that thousands of people were submitting their forms after just minutes of the clue being released. This made it much harder for those who actually played by the rules.
To make matters worse, an exploit was found that allowed people to gain access to the URL containing the form, without having to solve the clue at all. Sony promised to clamp down on security after this, but the damage was done.
Six people then complained to the ASA, saying that the winners hadn’t been published and claiming that terms and conditions had been breached. In other words, they thought the whole thing was unfair.
Game told the ASA that it had disqualified all of those who accessed the submission form before the clue had been published, but it admitted that five people had managed to buy two consoles during the promotion. GAME’s system was apparently unable to handle “the unexpectedly high volume of entries”.
Things became even more confusing, as GAME ran its own parallel competition which allowed five entries – picked at random – to win the console outright, without having to pay. This led some to question the fairness of the whole thing. GAME published the details of the five winners and provided screenshots to prove it.
However, none of this stopped the ASA ruling that the competition was unfair, due to five people being able to buy more than one console, and the link to the form being able to be shared.
The ASA stated that “neither Sony nor GAME could tell whether consumers had accessed the link after having solved the clue, or having been sent the link. We considered that meant entrants who had attempted to enter by solving the clue were likely to have been disadvantaged and therefore unnecessarily disappointed”.
“Because, for the reasons given, the promotion had caused unnecessary disappointment, we concluded that it had not been administered fairly, and therefore that it had breached the Code,” the ASA said.
However, after all of this, the ASA simply told Sony and GAME not to do it again. No further action was taken.
“We told Sony Computer Entertainment UK Ltd and GAME Retail Ltd to ensure that future promotions were administered fairly and avoided causing unnecessary disappointment to participants.”