How Microsoft and Sony handled the holiday hacks

By Peter Allen Clark


Christmas’ hacker attack provided an excellent opportunity to compare Microsoft and Sony's communication strategies.

As many gift recipients found out on Christmas day, hackers brought down both the Playstation Network and Xbox Live. A group calling themselves Lizard Squad claimed responsibility for the distributed denial of service (DDOS) attack that overwhelmed the two services for the better part of three days, in Sony’s case.

Apparently, they only let up when Mega Upload founder Kim Dotcom traded lifetime annual 500-gig storage with his site.

The service shut down aside, the simultaneous nature of the event allowed for a brief real-time glimpse into the juxtaposition between the two biggest video game manufacturers communications technique when it comes to crises management. A lot of people launched a lot of anger at Microsoft and Sony. More at Sony since the actual network disturbance lasted a full day longer than the competition. 

So how did the two giants come to terms with a shutdown of services on one of the busiest video game traffic of the year?


Microsoft's management

Though several official blogs host information for Xbox One and Xbox live, any information was slow to leak out from Microsoft on the day of the attack and even soon after. Neither the landing page for Xbox Wire nor the blog of Xbox’s Director of Programming Larry Hryb mentioned the fact that services were suffering  from any sort of problems either during or after the resolution.

Instead, Microsoft maintains an Xbox Live status page that provides updated information on acknowledged issues with either the service or software applications. 

The official forums provided a clearer view of Microsoft’s official responses to concerns about the inability to reach the services on Christmas day.

The first post regarding limited services occurred Dec. 25 at 12:17 a.m. PST. However, at least on the official forums, it was not until a 6:40 p.m. PST post that brought an official response from an official representative of Xbox Support Mister Quimby who said, “This issue has been bubbled up to the proper teams to investigate.”

Microsoft’s communication team also used the forums in order to announce the restoration of services. Mister Quimby posted an update about the Xbox Live restoration on Dec. 26 at 7:49 p.m. PST.

“We have received reports that this issue should now be resolved,” Mister Quimby wrote. “If you are continuing to experience connection issues, please go ahead and create a new thread.”

Most of the Microsoft communications came from Twitter. Xbox maintains five separate Twitter support threads and collectively they admitted the services had run into problems Dec. 25 at 11:41 a.m. PST. 

Hyrb and, head of Xbox, Phil Spencer, also relayed that message.


The official @Xbox Twitter account took Christmas day off from both updating and replying to consumer questions.


Sony's soliloquies

Sony said more to the wider public, although the content provided little new information regarding the outages. However, the problems for Playstation Network users lasted a full day longer than those on Xbox Live.

The official Playstation Twitter account let fly the first public acknowledgement of a problem on Christmas day at 6:51 a.m. PST.


From there, the main Twitter account and the support account continued to update all followers several times a day. Here are few of those messages: 

Replies gave little more information.

And @AskPlaystation asked followers to follow it for updates.

The official Playstation Blog also hosted a few updates of the service disruption and its renewal. Catherine Jensen from Sony’s Playstation Communications team updated the official Playstation Blog on Dec. 27 to announce the return of services.

“PlayStation Network is back online,” Jensen wrote. “As you probably know, PlayStation Network and some other gaming services were attacked over the holidays with artificially high levels of traffic designed to disrupt connectivity and online gameplay.”

Despite all the information and communications that Sony attempted, no official reasoning was given for why it took their engineers a full day longer to restore service.

The capper to the Playstation Network’s extended holiday came when Playstation Vice President Eric Lempel posted “A Holiday Thank You” Jan. 1 to the official blog.

“Since access to PlayStation Network was impacted during the holidays, we wanted to show our appreciation for your patience by offering all PlayStation Plus members that had an active membership or free trial on December 25th a membership extension of five days,” Lempel wrote.

It also offered a one-time 10 percent discount on a PSN item for all members.

Of course, this network outage lasted far shorter than the 2011 network account hack that shut the PSN down for 23 days.


What a difference a day makes...

Differences between the Microsoft and Sony communications response to the Christmas hacks boil down into hair splitting semantics. However, the two companies did employ different tactics, targeting different sets of social media users.

For instance, the Xbox Support Twitter accounts have 538,000 followers. Phil Spencer’s retweet went out to 113,000 followers, but one could surmise many of those also follow the support accounts. Compare that with @Playstation’s 5.7 million followers that received the many messages, few of which offered new information.

Additionally, the lack of Microsoft’s blog response might just reflect the nature of content usually provided by Hyrb and Xbox Wire. The Xbox blog sites usually deal with items like content, development and deals. Frequent replies from Hyrb and @Xbox point users to the Xbox Live service status page.

For the record, Sony also has a status page for the PSN.

And then there is Sony’s gift of five free days of Playstation Network access and the one time 10 percent off coupon. PSN members will have to decide whether those five days make up for the lost three that happened over a holiday.


Supposed members of Lizard Squad have already made some rounds of interviews with Daily Dot and the BBC. With the infamy they have received (even if they aren’t responsible for the attack) and the DDOS tools they are trying to market, this will probably not be the last time online video game services suffer an attack. Players will just have to wait and see what those companies say when it happens.