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Sony settles over misleading Vita ads

Early adopters of handheld to receive $25 cash or $50 voucher; FTC also goes after advertising firm for astroturfing Twitter campaign

Sony has agreed to a settlement on charges that it ran a series of misleading ads for the PlayStation Vita around the time of the handheld's 2012 launch, according to the Federal Trade Commission. Additionally, an ad firm employed by Sony has settled charges of deceptive advertising through the use of Twitter endorsements from employees who did not disclose their connections to the ad firm or the Vita maker.

The misleading ads (one of which can be seen here) promised that the Vita would introduce "game changing" features like remote play with PlayStation 3 titles, allowing users to start playing games on the console, pause them at any point, and then pick up where they left off on the handheld.

"This feature, however, was only available for a few PS3 games, and the pause-and-save capability described in the ads varied significantly from game to game," the FTC said. "For example, with respect to MLB 12: The Show, consumers could only save the game to the PS Vita after finishing the entire nine-inning game on their PS3."

On top of that, the FTC alleges that Sony neglected to specify users would need to buy copies of the game on both systems to use that feature. Sony also advertised the 3G version of the Vita as being capable of playing live multiplayer games through the network, when it only allows for turn-based multiplayer. Finally, the FTC took exception to Sony's "remote play" feature, which was touted as letting users play their PS3 games on the handheld.

"In reality, most PS3 games were not remote playable on the PS Vita. Sony also misled consumers by falsely claiming that PS Vita users could remotely play the popular PS3 game, Killzone 3, on the PS Vita. In fact, Sony never enabled remote play on its Killzone 3 game title, and very few, if any, PS3 games of similar size and complexity were remote playable on the PS Vita."

An advertising firm assisting Sony on the Vita launch campaign also came under fire from the FTC. Deutsch LA created ads touting the aforementioned features, but it also ran a Twitter campaign using the hashtag "#gamechanger". A month before the system's launch, an executive with the company asked employees to post Twitter comments using the hashtag. Some of the employees did so without disclosing their connections either to Deutsch or Sony, in violation of the FTC's endorsement guidelines.

"The FTC has charged that the tweets were misleading, as they did not reflect the views of actual consumers who had used the PS Vita, and because they did not disclose that they were written by employees of Deutsch LA," the FTC said.

As part of the settlement, Sony will email those it can identify as early adopters of the Vita (purchased a system before June of 2012) and offer them a $25 refund, or a $50 voucher good for select games or services. Additionally, Sony and Deutsch LA are both barred from repeating their misleading advertising in the future.

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