Sony agrees to partial refunds over disputed advertising claims for PlayStation Vita console

WASHINGTON – Hundreds of thousands of people who bought the handheld gaming console PlayStation Vita are in line for a partial refund from Sony because of questionable claims in its advertising.

The Federal Trade Commission said Tuesday it had reached a settlement with Sony Computer Entertainment America, the U.S.-based arm of the PlayStation business, over advertising claims that the government contended were misleading.

As part of the proposed settlement, Sony will provide refunds to those who bought the PS Vita console before June 1, 2012. They’ll be eligible for either a $25 cash or credit refund — or a $50 merchandise voucher from Sony. The company will contact consumers about the refunds or vouchers via email.

The advertising claims at issue — Sony highlighted “game changing” technology features of the PS Vita — were made during the U.S. launch of the product in early 2012. The console sold for about $250.

Among the claims challenged by the FTC:

—That the pocket-sized console would revolutionize gaming mobility by allowing consumers to play their PlayStation 3 games via “remote play” on the console anywhere with a Wi-Fi connection.

—That people could engage in “cross-platform” play by starting a game on a PlayStation 3, pausing it, and continuing the game with the PS Vita from where they left off.

Not really true, the FTC said.

“As we enter the year’s biggest shopping period, companies need to be reminded that if they make product promises to consumers — as Sony did with the “game changing” features of its PS Vita — they must deliver on those pledges,” said Jessica Rich, head of the agency’s consumer protection bureau.

Sony did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

With cross-platform play, the commission says the feature was only available for a few PS3 games, and the pause-save feature varied from game to game. For “remote play,” the complaint says Sony told consumers that PS Vita users could easily access their PS3 games on their handheld consoles. But most PS3 games, the FTC said, were not remote playable on the PS Vita.

The commission did not provide an exact figure, but said hundreds of thousands of PS Vita consoles were purchased during the timeframe in question.

In a related move, the FTC acted against Deutsch LA, Sony’s advertising agency for the PS Vita launch, which also settled with the commission.

According to the complaint, Deutsch LA knew or should have known the advertisements had misleading claims. The FTC also alleged that Deutsch LA misled consumers by asking employees to post positive tweets about the console on their personal Twitter accounts — without disclosing their connection to the ad agency or Sony.

The settlement agreements will be subject to public comment for 30 days.