UPDATED: Sunday 21 December at 08:00 – Competitions updated at the bottom of the page
Here at Buzzpods we have watched the mess that is known as the Playstation Anniversary Competition with mild bemusement.
We initially announced the news of a special, limited edition PS4 20th Anniversary console on our news page. This announcement was met with fervent enthusiasm by Playstation fans across the world.
Despite Sony’s good intentions, the UK approach to distributing these consoles is likely to go down in history as one of the most bungled promotions by any company. It has been a total farce from the beginning and despite Sony attempting to ingratiate itself with games players and Playstation customers through its #4ThePlayers strapline, the way they have handled the distribution of the PS4 20th Anniversary console allocation for the UK has been #Not4ThePlayers.
Playstation 1994 Pop-Up Shop
The farce started last week on Wednesday 10th December when Sony opened a retro 1994 pop-up shop in Bethnal Green. At the shop, they promised the first 94 customers a PS4 20th Anniversary console for £19.94 and then the next 100 people (50 people on Thursday and 50 on Friday) could purchase one at the full retail price of £399.
Seems like a good idea?
Yes, apart from the fact that it wasn’t widely publicised and was geographically limited to people in London. In addition, not only were the first 94 consoles allocated on Wednesday but also the allocation for Thursday and Friday. As a result, many of these consoles found their way on to eBay, selling for between £2,000 and £5,000. One person even had 3 for sale by using his friends to queue up with him.
You may ask, well what could Sony have done to prevent this. There are two ways we can think of. Check that the people buying really are players by verifying their PSN details at the point of purchase and secondly, inscribing a small plaque on the machine with the buyer’s PSN gamer tag. Demand on eBay would be greatly reduced if the console was personalised to a player.
Playstation Anniversary Competition
Roll on this week and from Monday 15 December until Friday 19 December, Sony have been running a competition named #20YearsOfCharacters.
This was their attempt at both placating all the players who live outside London and could not get to the pop-up shop and to sell through the remainder of their PS4 20th Anniversary console allocation for the UK.
Full details of the competition can be found here: Playstation Anniversary Competition
Although Sony UK did a much better job publicising the competition than the pop-up shop, it has again degenerated into a #Not4ThePlayers farce.
The way the competition works is that Sony have published a very nice montage of Playstation characters from the last 20 years as shown below:
The montage above allows you to click on each character and see who they are and in which PS game they have appeared in.
Every day at a preset time, Playstation and Game (Sony’s distribution partner for the 20th Anniversary console) tweet a clue to one of the characters. Players must then quickly find the character and once clicked on, it will give them a link to a Game store page where they can fill out their details. The first 100 people doing this each day are given the opportunity to buy one console at £399. The rest are then put in a draw where one person is selected at random to win the opportunity to give Sony their £399.
The character image is refreshed a couple of minutes before the clue is tweeted out.
The problems all started on Monday when Sony seriously under estimated the demand for the competition. Thousands of people were refreshing the character image at the same time (akin to a Distributed Denial of Service attack) that brought Sony’s servers to a standstill. This created a lot of frustration amongst players that lead on to the meltdown of the competition over the remaining days.
Although Sony have moved to higher capacity servers and the load times did reduce, they were still suffering serious problems with load times as people refreshed their browsers at the same time.
This frustration then lead to groups of people banding together on forums and in chat rooms, where they gave up trying to solve the clue and click on the correct character but instead waited for the person with the fastest connection to get to the character and then share the actual Game page link amongst themselves. This meant that anyone abiding by the games rules and mechanics, had no chance of winning a console when hundreds of people did not need to wait for the slow character image to load and could go straight through to submitting their details to Game. Many people on the NeoGAF forums used this method on Tuesday resulting in many of them being in the first 100.
The situation became even worse on Wednesday evening when Dean Wild, a programmer who was disillusioned and frustrated at the mess Sony had made of the competition after he found out on Twitter about players bypassing the game’s rules. Dean reverse engineered the Sony character map and code and wrote a program to exploit a major weakness in the competitions technical implementation. Having reverse engineered how the Game page link wa generated, Dean’s program would hit the Sony website with the different permutations of the potential letters that would find the Game link for that day’s competition. Dean then released his program to the internet community on Wednesday evening in an attempt to both draw Sony’s attention to their poor technology and approach to the competition as well as “level the playing field”. Dean tweeted on Thursday morning that he had over 1,000 downloads of the exploit program before the start of Thursday’s competition at 8am.
Full details of Dean’s exploit can be found here Hacking the Playstation Anniversary Competition
Probably due to the short notice, Sony were not able to react to the release of this exploit and went ahead with Thursday’s competition without any changes to the competition websites. This resulted in many people using Dean’s exploit to get to the Game page where they could submit their details at 7:59am and 8:00am, before the clue was even tweeted at just after 8am (twitter time stamps indicate the tweet went out at between 08:00.15 and 08:00.18).
It remains to be seen if Sony and Game will spend this morning weeding out invalid entries made before the clue was tweeted or even disqualify IP addresses that hammered their site using Dean’s program before the official competition tweet went out. Interestingly, the competition rules state that the competition is open at 8am so legally, any entries received before 8am should be ineligible but whether Sony actually cares #4ThePlayers and applies these rules, remains to be seen.
So far there has been no response on the twitter feeds from Sony or Game who have been addressed within some of the tweets.
In a Tweet just now, we are pleased to see that Game have acknowledged that people are cheating and will be applying the 8am rule as we suggested above.
We hope they fix this before tomorrow’s competition #4ThePlayers.
Well done Game for taking some action.
Here are @Gamedigital’s tweets:
“anyone who entered before the clue was posted won’t be counted as it isn’t in the spirit of the competition”
“Shame to see people attempting to exploit something meant for the dedicated Sony fans. We’re doing all we can behind the scenes”
“Emails from yesterday have not been sent. Filtering out dups, cheats etc.”
It appears coders are now becoming more sophisticated at cheating their way around the Playstation competition.
An updated tool has been released on the internet that builds on Dean’s script which periodically checks the game tweets and then automatically submits the competition entry once the clue is tweeted, thus circumventing Game’s post submission checks.
Exact details from the Tool writer:
“Checks for new secret URL and clues being tweeted every 0.5 seconds, when new secret URL is up and clues have been posted, the web form is automatically submitted.”
We had refrained from sharing this but as it has now been tweeted we are now providing the full details and link to the tool here: Playstation Anniversary Exploit Tool #2.
Sony and Game need to look at the above and take another look at how they will run this game on the last day.
Chris Owen (Envisager), one of the Playstation COmmunity Managers acknowledged on the Official Playstation COmmunity Forum that there was a problem with cheaters and that SCEE were doing everyting they can to address it before Friday’s competition at Noon. Here is what he posted:
“We launched #20YearsofCharacters on http://eu.playstation.com/20yearsofcharacters with the intention of giving our true fans the best opportunity of purchasing the PS4 20th Anniversary Edition console.
Following feedback from the PlayStation UK community we would like to remind everybody that the daily link for this activity won’t be live until seconds before the clue is announced on twitter.com/PlayStationUK
Unfortunately we are now aware of some users attempting to run programmes to reveal the URL early and give themselves an unfair advantage. Users we identify as using these tactics will be disqualified from the process and will continue to be. Since reports of this behaviour surfaced we have been adding additional encryptions and will continue to do so in advance of the final clue tomorrow.”
It appears that despite whatever controls Game put in place to try and weed out the cheaters, they seem to have failed.
There are many people on forums claiming they have received emails from Game confirming they have been selected as one of the 100 winners for each of Wednesday and Thursday’s competitions. Some of these people will also be in possession of two limited edition 20th Anniversary consoles. Nearly all these people have openly admitted to cheating the system yet they have been successful at the expense of those who followed the rules.
This competition also calls into question SCEE UK’s CSR strategy and approach to inclusivity for those within the gaming community that may have disabilities and cannot physically compete on speed alone to win.
This has to be one of the biggest PR disasters in gaming history and Fergal Gara, Managing Director of SCEE UK, should be looking to replace the members of his staff who were responsible.
Many people have now lost faith and trust that Friday’s competition will be fair whilst other’s have been alienated by Sony and looking to Microsoft’s Xbox One in protest.
It looks like SCEE UK has listened to the criticism over the last couple of days and changed their site so that the exploits no longer worked on Friday’s competition. This is great as people now had to solve the clue as opposed to using programs to find the registration page.
The only problem was that they still not fix the server issues with many people waiting for the character page t load after refreshing at 12pm. There are reports that people are still waiting for pages to load. This harks back to the exact same issues on Monday, before people had reverse engineered the site, when the Sony servers couldn’t cope with the load meaning that the lucky 100 with faster backbones to their internet connections would have been with a chance whereas the rest sat watching loading screens.
It seems that although the exploits were patched, SCEE UK still did not learn from its mistakes earlier in the week.
It does appear though, that those who entered legitimately on Friday had a much better chance of winning compared to Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday so we should congratulate Sony UK for listening and doing their best to address the holes in their technical implementation.
This Playstation Anniversary competition seemed a good idea but it now appears that due to the initial flawed technical implementation of the game mechanic, SCEE and Game were fighting a losing battle.
You can follow the situation as it evolves over on Twitter using #20YearsofCharacters
For the true players who may have been stumped by the clues, here are the clues and answers to the 5 days of the competition:
Monday: Clue: A reluctant magician, an owl of the forest. If you come here you’ll find me. I promise; Answer: Rinoa Heartilly from Final Fantasy VIII
Tuesday: Clue: The music industry doesn’t have the depth of talent it used to; Answer: PaRappa from PaRappa the Rapper
Wednesday: Clue: “naked hat ran” to seek his fortune; Answer: Nathan Drake from Uncharted Drake’s Fortune
Thursday: Clue: Number 17. A bar tender with deadly ancestors; Answer: Desmond from Assassin’s Creed 3
Friday: Clue: I’m so exotic. No one has ever died wearing me; Answer: Hunter from Destiny
In addition to the above two attempts by Sony UK to get Playstation Anniversary consoles to players, they are also running competitions where you can win one for free, as opposed to winning a chance to buy at retail price.
Full details of the competitions can be found here:
Open to everyone: IGN Competition – ends 10am on 22 December 2014
Open to PS Plus Members Only: PS Plus – Playstation Anniversary Competition – ends midnight on 5 January 2015
Subscribe here on our website or follow us on one of our social media feeds to be kept updated on the latest gaming and tech news and reviews.