Early in the morning on the U.S. east coast, Kazuo Hirai will address the devastating outage of and loss of customer data from the PlayStation Network. Hirai's participation itself sends a message. To investors, he is Sony's second-in-command. To gamers, he's one of PlayStation's principal figures, if not its face for the past five years.
Hirai, 50, has been the top executive in Sony Computer Entertainment since the launch of the PlayStation 3. His appearance tomorrow, at 2 p.m. in Japan, is analogous to a head of state speaking directly to citizens in a time of crisis. In such times people want answers and accountability from their buck-stops-here leaders, and we've seen little of it so far.
A nearly two-week outage of its entire online gaming network, used by 77 million subscribers, is bad enough. Piled on top of that, on top of the shameful lack of network security, the loss of users' personal information, on top of lawsuits, government inquiries and rumors of credit card numbers for sale, even reports they've been used for fraud, is Sony's abysmal handling of this calamity from the outset.
Sony simply hasn't been ahead of the story in any meaningful sense. Every major announcement has been a reaction, leaving the perception, which is deadlier to a brand than any fact, that the company has sought to conceal or minimize the scope of the issue. First the network was down; then it was confirmed to be a computer attack; then personal information was lost; and there still is a question - no doubt lingering because of Sony's inability to completely address the matter with its customers - that credit card data has been stolen and is being used by criminals.
Some suggest, using back-of-the-envelope calculations based on the average per-customer cost of a data breach, that Sony could lose $24 billion in this mess. Assuredly, that would be over time, and it may come in the form of a decline in PlayStation-related sales owing to loss of consumer trust and brand tarnishment, multiplied by not losing the market position to act more robustly, as it could in better times.
That would seem to make tomorrow's appearance, especially for someone in line to take Sony's helm, the most important moment in PlayStation's history outside of its birth. The end consumer of Hirai's message will be investors and customers. Speaking as a customer - and I'm a PS3 buyer and a PlayStation Plus subscriber with my own money - here's what I want to see:
• A company that has, finally, forthrightly addressed and completely described the scope of the damage.
• A company that has acknowledged its substandard practices and sincerely apologized for them.
• A company that has described concrete steps it is taking to secure its customers' information.
• A company that, rather than deflecting blame or responsibility, has taken all of it - even if the breach was directly caused by outside malefactors.
That's just my scope, and it is very broad. Others will want more specific assurances, guarantees and answers. What do you want to see? What do you want to hear? What do you not want to hear? What headline don't you want to see when you wake up tomorrow?
Sony may not be listening here, directly. But our expectations and reactions absolutely matter in the larger picture, helping to frame Sony's response, and whether PlayStation is a brand recovering or declining as a result.