Gunmen Of The ApocalyPS3

See you in Silicon Hell.

Today, it was as if the expected meltdown of Y2K had finally happened, 10 years late. In a bizarre and unexpected cock-up, millions of PlayStation 3 consoles around the world were left partially stricken by a hardware error in their internal clocks.

Apparently due to a simple calendar mix-up involving incorrect leap year information, similar to the problem that affected the Zune music player on New Year’s Eve 2008 (causing literally tens of people to be inconvenienced), PlayStation clocks tried to roll over from 28th February 2010 to 29th February 2010 this morning. The latter date, of course, doesn’t actually exist, and in the confusion millions of consoles jumped into their virtual Deloreans and for some reason chose to believe that they’d suddenly time-travelled back to 1st January 2000. Yes, really. (Maybe they wanted to exist in an era where Sony was winning the console war. I digress.)

When the befuddled consoles attempted to log into the PlayStation Network or simply synchronise Trophy data offline, there was a date conflict of John Terry proportions. Trophies – gone. DRM permissions for downloadable content – gone. Most annoyingly, the problem completely prevented users from playing certain games – such as the current chart no. 1, Heavy Rain – even when disconnected from the Internet.

Sony’s response to the situation wasn’t exactly first class in terms of PR or reassurance. Initially describing it simply in terms of users being unable to connect to PSN without giving a reason behind the issue, it soon returned with the message that PS3 Slim owners were unaffected, without elaborating on the problems for so-called “Fat” owners. There was no subsequent official word for many hours, leaving a vacuum during which feverish speculation was gathering on the Internet about what had caused the problem, and how potential fixes could be delivered.

Finally, around 5pm, Sony issued a statement which said… well, not much really. Pledging to fix the problem within 24 hours while giving no indication as to how, it left many people wondering whether the company really was simply waiting the situation out to see whether it would resolve itself at midnight GMT – the time when the internal clocks will, in theory, advance to the next day, which may solve the problem automatically. Or it may not. The suspicion is that, worryingly, Sony doesn’t yet know the answer itself.

And so we wait for certain brave (or foolish) souls to dare turn on their consoles after the stroke of midnight to see if all is well. If it isn’t, then Sony has a serious problem. The only temporary fix at present involves diving into the innards of the console in order to remove the battery that powers the internal clock, and obviously in today’s litigation culture there’s no way that Sony could possibly risk recommending such a course of action to its customers. If the clock problem doesn’t magically disappear, the company could be left with a catastrophic situation – one that might involve a mass recall of affected consoles on an unprecendented scale. That would obviously be a multi-billion dollar disaster for Sony that it would struggle to cope with, and would almost certainly kill the momentum that the PS3 has slowly started to build up over the last few months.

In just over two hours, we’ll know more about the lay of the land. Here’s hoping that it’s Apocalyps3 then, rather than Apocalyps3 now.

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