When it comes to marketing and advertising, there are standards in place to ensure that people aren’t being misled or sold certain items based on false premises. The antitrust commissions do their due diligence to keep big corps in line when it comes to advertising, and apparently Sony wasn’t entirely free of duplicity in the eyes of one commission when it came to the sale of PS4 consoles.
GamingBolt is reporting that the Italian antitrust commission fined Sony €2 million in unfair business practices for how the PS4 was being sold in Europe. Specifically, this was in relation to how the PS4 retail boxes were being marketed, with the boxes failing to mention that the cost of playing online multiplayer was not mentioned on the box, even though it advertised the ability to play online.
According to the commission, Sony has been selling the PS4 without this clear indication since the console’s release back in November 2013. GamingBolt does note that the PS4 retail boxes actually do have in fine print that the PlayStation Plus subscription is required to play games online. So the main issue for the commission was that the fine print isn’t legible enough to make customers aware that they need to pay a separate subscription fee for PlayStation Plus in order to make use of the advertised online functionality.
Now it’s not entirely true that Sony doesn’t inform users about PlayStation Plus. There is usually a big yellow tab on the back of the PS4 retail box — even for the units sold in Europe — indicating that you can use PlayStation Plus to play games online. The general description, however, does fail to mention that PlayStation Plus is subscription based. Instead, it says that it brings “multiplayer action” and “Dynamic 4K” resolution to the system, along with offering two PS4 games each month, along with PlayStation Store discounts.
It also mentions that you can get a free trial from the PlayStation Store. Below the description there’s another description — in the really fine print — that mentions that “subscription fee[s] payable.” It also mentions that the games are only available through the course of the membership, and that the PlayStation Plus trial is available only once to users.
Technically, however, the fine print doesn’t exactly say how much is payable, or what the total costs would be to engage in online multiplayer. This is likely due to the fact that the pricing models sometimes fluctuate for these online services, much like Xbox Live for the Xbox gaming consoles. Nintendo also recently started charging for its premium Nintendo Network service, which was previously free for the Wii, Wii U, and during the first year of availability for the Nintendo Switch.
What’s interesting, though, is that technically Nintendo and Microsoft could be hit for the same issues with failing to disclose the total costs for playing online. Albeit, Microsoft’s Xbox One X boxes don’t quite have the multiplayer features plastered on them the way the PS4 does. It does have a small description on the back about Xbox Live being required to play online, but doesn’t mention anything about the costs. But then again, it may also depend on the retail box, the version, the bundle, and a host of other factors.
In the case of Sony, the company has 30 days to pay the fine and change the boxes, or it can appeal the fine.