PSA: You can be banned by PSN without recourse or explanation.
Imagine if you will, you are in a chat party on the Playstation Network, playing Overwatch with friends. And all you do with your Playstation 4 are these two exact things – talk with friends and play online.
Suddenly, when you go to check the store for something, you get an error message you’ve never seen before: WS-37397-9. You don’t think anything of it, maybe a hacker group is attempting a DDoS on the PSN again or an update is rolling out (usually the only two reasons the store goes down). Either way no big deal. But suddenly your friends list disappears and is replaced with the same error code. Worried, you tell your friends in chat that you will be right back and that you’re going to restart your PS4 because something strange is happening.
And then you never come back.
This was my experience on Christmas Day. Ok – I’m a writer and I’m being a tad dramatic when I said I never came back. I did, four stress-filled, rage-inducing hours later. Only to have the issue repeat itself less than 24 hours later.
Let’s start at the beginning. We’re a gaming website. We stream almost every day. So we are very careful about what we do with our network, as it is our lifeline to all of you.
Once I restarted my PS4, the WS-37397-9 error was all I saw. From just trying to log into the PSN to the store to my friends list, I was basically locked out of everything. So I opened my laptop and searched, finding that this specific error code meant that my IP address was banned for violating the PSN’s terms of service.
Since the only thing we use the Playstation 4 for is party chat and games, this obviously couldn’t be the cause. There were a lot of suggestions – rebuild the database from safe mode (which I did), redownload the latest system update from safe mode (also did), delete the app you were in when you got the error (deleted, reinstalled and 2.01 patch of 13gb redownloaded). None of these worked.
So, I saw Playstation Customer Service was actually open! It was a Christmas Miracle (that soon turned out to be a hellish landscape). I called and got the El Salvador branch of Customer Support, which made sense because of Christmas. I explained what was happening to Jose, my rep. He asked me to go to https://account.sonyentertainmentnetwork.com/login.action and I did. I got an Access Denied page and Jose confirmed my IP was banned. I asked what had been flagged as a violation of terms of service. He responded by telling me I could go to https://www.playstation.com/en-us/network/legal/terms-of-service/ and find out what I could be flagged for.
This made me pause for a moment. I restated my question: “Ok, Jose, what specifically was my IP flagged for?” He reiterated I could view that document. If you aren’t following the disconnect, he was referring me to a generic document that would not address my specific instance. I pushed further and was informed my ISP would have all the information needed to rectify my problem. I boggled. My ISP would have no such information. I’m a business using business-class (read: expensive) internet. They don’t put restrictions on my ports, nor my usage. I immediately asked to speak with a supervisor. I got John Cala, who was the floor supervisor. He sounded identical to Jose. I re-explained the situation and explained how the answers given to me could not be correct. I was told they were absolutely correct, my ISP would have all the information. I asked “What method was used to communicate with my ISP?” I was told email. I asked “What email address was used to send this email, and what email address was it sent to at my ISP?” Silence, and then “Your ISP will have it, they can unban you.”
At this point, I started to piece together what must have happened. I’m on dynamic IP addressing for my business. While I was playing Overwatch, I must have been reassigned an IP to one that had been banned by Sony.
Determined, I went to research the issue further. Turns out that Customer Service generally isn’t helpful with this issue and that the fix is to change your IP address. Looks like I would be contacting Comcast after all. After some back and forth, it was determined that the CSRs could not release/refresh my IP address. So I paid $20 to set up a brand new, static IP address. As soon as the configuration was in my box, I was back online and in the PSN. Crisis averted. Or so I thought…
The Day After Christmas led to us streaming Overwatch that evening, as a few of our editors and site friends picked up the game. About two hours before stream time, I started getting an error message that the PSN was down for maintenance. I checked online and according to all the sites (including Sony’s), there was no downtime occurring. I thought maybe it was a hacker DDoS attack and that I was feeling it first, but none of the others in party chat were experiencing it. I restarted my PS4 and the exact same thing – I couldn’t sign in, no friends list, not able to start any games online, but with a different error message; WS-37432-9. I checked the Sony login page and it read Access: Denied. Now it became a mad scramble to fix this before streaming was supposed to start. I got on the phone with Comcast Business Support. They don’t change static IPs. Great, remove the static IP address. Reboot my modem; acquire a new IP address and BAM! up and running with only being late by 15 minutes to the stream.
But now, I’m worried. I reach out to an industry person I know. They say always speak to the California team. The person tells me that the CSR team in Cali is the best, and should be able to give me the information I’m looking for. I had a brand new IP address. Something might be wrong with my PS4. Something that’s getting me flagged. Is it going to happen again? I decide to try to be proactive and make sure it doesn’t by getting to the root of the problem.
The next day, I call in to Playstation Customer Support. I get a very nice young lady (I did not get her name, I believe it was Alex) who confirms that she is in the Bay Area with me. I explain the situation. She reiterates that my ISP will have all the information necessary to unban me. I go through the process of explaining why that would not be the case and she agrees that makes no sense. I explain how I’m wanting to get the info on why the two IP addresses were flagged, and after many pauses, she explains that she’s reached the end of her script and there is nothing further that she can do. She’s happy to pass me to the supervisor but he works from the same script, so he won’t be able to do anything for me, either.
Left with no recourse, I accept the transfer. I start the process over again, to be given the same results. Eventually he admits that they don’t have the information about what the specific flag was for the IP. I thank him for finally admitting that. I then inquire, “Who would have that information and how can I contact them?” I am told that they do not have that information. I ask, “The Playstation Network Engineering team does not have email or phone numbers?” I am told that is correct. By the floor supervisor. He tells me that if I desire, I can write a letter (2016) to
SIE ATTN: Consumer Affairs
2207 Bridgepointe Pkwy
San Mateo, CA 94404
And that’s all he can do for me. My account is in good standing, I’ve done nothing wrong, he reiterates, but my IP address is blocked. They will not and cannot unblock it, he continued. And they don’t have the information of why it’s blocked.
So, to reiterate, if you develop this issue; no matter how much you’ve spent on the PSN, no matter the fact that you are paying for a subscription to their service, an automated service can ban your IP address with no warning, no explanation and no timely rectifying of the situation.
I have long been a champion of Sony, but if this is how they treat their customers, it definitely makes me call into question my decision on choice of consoles; which has translated to tens of thousands of dollars (I am purchasing almost every week either for myself or for site coverage; this is not hyperbole – I do the taxes for the corporation yearly, so I know the amounts spent in the respective ecosystems).
This is an extremely anti-consumer policy, with CSR reps having flat out incorrect information and recommendations for rectifying the situation. I hope Sony realizes that when searching for the error code, they will find not one or two isolated cases, but many people experiencing the same frustrating loop of non-resolution and misinformation. Lastly, this is simply not a way to set up a winning proposition for doing business. Our site treats our readers and viewers like partners. If there is a problem, bring it to our attention and we will work with you to rectify it. This proposition from the PSN has no partnership built in. It is a hardline stance that costs people time, stress and money – for no discernable reason.
If you find yourself in this situation, refresh your IP address. If you’re lucky, you can do this by resetting your router to factory defaults. If you’re unlucky, you may have to contact your ISP. Also, a note: I did inquire with Comcast as to whether they had information from Sony about my blocked IP address on the Playstation Network. Of course, they did not.
Have you experienced this? Why would Sony use such an arcane method to block offenders (shouldn’t it be an account ban, not an IP-ban)? Let us know your thoughts below. I formally invite Sony to respond, as well.