The year ended well with Vita's release, but Sony's 2011 was defined by the PS3 and PSN hacks.
Sony's year got off to the worst possible start with the news that the PlayStation 3 had been hacked. George "Geohot" Hotz, the man who devised the iPhone jailbreak, published the PS3's root key online, opening up the console to mass piracy. Less than a week after telling us it would re-secure PlayStation 3 with a series of firmware updates, Sony filed a lawsuit against Hotz and 100 unnamed members of fail0verflow, a hacking group also credited with the breakthrough.
Sony won the first round - a court granting it a restraining order on the same day a firmware update pushed pirates off PSN - but the case soon got bogged down in an argument over jurisdiction, Hotz arguing his home state of New Jersey, rather than SCEA's California base, would be the better venue. Sony set about resecuring its console and online network, sending an email to those running custom firmware telling them to change their ways or face PSN bans. Sony accused Hotz of "dodging the court's authority" after he went to South America and failed to comply with an order to hand over computer hard drives. Hotz insisted he was on vacation, but the hacking group Anonymous decided it had had enough. Which is where things went from bad to worse.
First, Anonymous released a statement slamming Sony for its treatment of Hotz and Graf Chokolo, a hacker who was working to restore the OtherOS feature Sony had removed from PS3 in 2010. A splinter group, Sony Recon, began gathering personal information on Sony employees and their families, but Anonymous backed down after an attack on PSN provoked the ire of gamers unable to play online. Days later, Hotz and Sony settled out of court. We like to think it was Hotz's YouTube rap that sealed the deal.
It didn't end there, of course. On April 21 Sony said it had taken PSN offline for maintenance. Then it said it was an "emergency outage." Six days later it admitted that the personal information of 77 million PSN users had been compromised, and that while it had found no evidence of credit card data being taken it could not rule it out. The company's MMOG wing, Sony Online Entertainment, later warned of the potential loss of 24.6 million users' data.
Kaz Hirai apologised and announced the Welcome Back programme, a choice of free games designed at tempting users back online once PSN was back up and running. But with the outage in its fourth week, we revealed that it was beginning to impact on retail, with die-hard online gamers running out of patience and trading their PS3s in for 360s. On May 16, Sony finally began restoring PSN - though the Store itself wouldn't return until June 2, with Japan forced to wait a further month. It was a protracted, thoroughly embarrassing saga, and to see how it all panned out we suggest a look at our PSN attack timeline.
Sony announced its PSP successor at a Tokyo event in January, smartly held just eight days after Nintendo's European 3DS launch event, codenamed Next Generation Portable. With its 5-inch OLED screen running at four times the resolution of a PSP, dual sticks, front and rear touch pads and cameras, and a quad-core ARM CPU it was clearly a high-end gaming device, but what was most surprising about the announcement was PlayStation Suite. The cross-platform, hardware-neutral framework meant Vita, as well as Sony tablets and other Android devices, would be capable of playing PlayStation Certified content. It showed that, unlike Nintendo, Sony understood how the portable gaming landscape had changed since the release of PSP and DS.
Much was also made of Vita being far easier to develop for than its predecessor, with Sony Worldwide Studios boss Shuhei Yoshida saying PS3 ports would be easy, Andrew House acknowledging PSP's "development challenges," with both WipeOut 2048 developer Studio Liverpool and SCEE saying it was the most dev-friendly PlayStation yet.
At E3, Kaz Hirai revealed NGP's final name, as well as confirming its US price - $249 for WiFi only, $299 with 3G - though his announcement of AT&T as Vita's 3G provider of choice didn't go down so well. Hirai said the machine would be released in 2011, but Sony spent much of the year managing expectations, warning that a worldwide release was difficult, and even more so following the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami in March.
As such it was little surprise when Hirai confirmed Vita would only be released in Japan in 2011, with other territories to follow next year. The system eventually hit shelves on December 17, and sold 324,000 units - 65 per cent of its launch allocation - in the first two days. The system will be released in the US, Europe and Australia on February 22.