Sony's Original Vita Ads Were Misleading, Says U.S. Government

Sony has agreed to settle with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) over claims that the company falsely advertised its PlayStation Vita console when it was first released in 2012. The company is now required to issue refunds to Vita customers affected by the advertising.

As spelled in a blog post, the "main point" of the FTC's complaint—which is directed at both Sony and its relevant advertising agency, Deutsch LA, Inc.—is that "the PS Vita ads deceived people into buying a product that didn't work as promised." Here's a passage that spells out the longer version, emphasis added:

In 2012, Sony and its advertising agency, Deutsch LA, Inc., promoted the PS Vita on the internet and in promotional videos, TV commercials and stores. Ads said you would "Never stop playing" and showed users enjoying the "remote play," "cross save" and real-time 3G features. But the FTC says that despite the ads' promises, customers really couldn't use remote play to run most PS3 games on the PS Vita — not even Killzone 3, the popular PS3 game Sony featured in its promotional video explaining remote play. And the claims that you could "cross save" by pausing a game on one system and resuming it on another? Sony didn't tell that you actually had to have two copies of the same game for this feature to work. What about the live, multiplayer game sessions that looked exciting in the ads? The PS Vita couldn't do that, even if you bought the 3G version.

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According to a press release from the FTC, the organization charges Sony with misleading consumers with false claims about a number of specific features of the PS Vita. Most of these centered around the Vita's highly anticipated ability to play PlayStation console games (i.e., ones on the PS3 or PS4) by streaming them to a Vita. The problem, according to the FTC, is that the features were far less comprehensive than Sony made them out to be—specifically in regards to the Vita's compatibility with the PS3.

Here's an example of one of Sony's U.S. advertisements for the Vita, which highlighted "cross platform gaming" as a feature that would let owners play a PS3 game, pause it, then "pick up right where you left off on your Vita":

First, Sony said that the Vita's "cross platform gaming" or "cross-save" feature would allow owners to "pause any PS3 game at any time and continue to play the game on their PS Vita from where they left off." But this feature only worked with "a few PS3 games and the pause-and-save capability described in the ads varied significantly from game to game." The FTC highlights the 2012 baseball game MLB 12: The Show as an example of this:

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.

Secondly, the FTC's complaint claims that Sony's 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." This feature didn't work the way Sony said it would.

Finally, the complaint alleges that Sony misled customers about the Vita's "remote play" feature with advertising that claimed "PS Vita users could easily access their PS3 games on their handheld consoles."

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"In reality, most PS3 games were not remote playable on the PS Vita," the FTC's press release states. "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."

The terms of the settlement prevent Sony from making "similarly misleading advertising claims in the future." The company must also provide customers who bought a Vita before June 1st, 2012 with refunds. These refunds will give affected customers either $25 in cash or credit, or a $50 merchandise voucher.

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The FTC said that Sony will notify Vita customers eligible for refunds by email "after the settlement is finalized by the Commission."

To contact the author of this post, write to yannick.lejacq@kotaku.com or find him on Twitter at @YannickLeJacq.

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