The day Sony gave free lifetime Playstation+ membership to thousands of users… by mistake

October 27, 2013

Disclaimer: the technique described below was not found by me, I merely verified it worked. I am publishing this article because the “trick” involved here has now been corrected by Sony. I was also not able to know who initially found that flaw initially, so credits go to the person who contacted me about this, someone I’ll name NC.MA for now.

A few days ago I was contacted by a person who had been transmitted a way to get unlimited Playstation Plus membership for free. I could confirm it works. I could of course not confirm that the membership is actually unlimited, but the status of my test account seems to confirm it, and I could definitely download and play Playstation Plus games with the account I created for the test.

As you may or may not know, Playstation Plus arrived in Brazil a few days ago. And it appears Sony have been really nice to its Brazilian users, “selling” the PS+ 1 year membership for free. Maybe because their devices are so overly priced out there that the only way for them to convince people to buy a Vita is to give as many games as possible for free. That, or this was more likely just an internal test that was not supposed to be seen. I couldn’t find any official mention of this offer on the intertubes, so I’m pretty sure it was not supposed to be known. This is what the 1 Year PS+ membership subscription page looked like 2 days ago on the Brazilian Playstation Store, when accessed from a PS Vita.

free_psplus_1year_brazil

Independently of the reason, it was possible over the past few days to get 1 year of free PS+ subscription on the Brazilian PSN. To do so, one simply had to create a Brazilian account on their Vita, and visit the Playstation store page. (I describe here how to switch your PS Vita account, my example in the article is for the US, but you can apply the same logic for Brazil).

Once the account was created, there were options in the PSN to get 1 year of PSN for free. Icing on the cake, Sony did not ask for any payment method for an automated renewal. But it does not stop here.

By repeatedly clicking on the “get free” button to acquire the 1 year free membership, people were able to keep increasing the expiration date of their free “trial”. I put “trial” in quotes here, because everything points to that subscription not being a trial, but a full fledged membership that just happens to be free: The store not asking for a payment method for future renewals, the fact that one can order as many as they want to increase the expiration date, and the fact that it is not described anywhere as a promotion of any type.

By clicking 7 times on the button, I got myself 7 years of free Playstation plus on the Brazilian store with my experimental account, as shown in the screenshot below:

I'm a Playstation plus member until 2020, for free

I’m now a “lifetime” Playstation plus member, for free

Detailed steps, as initially explained to me. (Please note that as of today, this does not work, and this is the reason I’m publishing this):

  • Create a Brazilian account on the PSN store and activate your vita with it (the whole process is described here for a US account, replace US with Brazil in the explanations)
  • In the PS Vita Settings > PSN > PS+ Automatic Update settings, check the checkbox “update automatically”

free_psplus_psn_settings

free_psplus_automatic_updates

  • The Vita will then ask you to subscribe to PS+, taking you to the PSN Store, at the PS+ subscription pages

free_psplus_join

  • There are several options there, 1 year, 3 months, etc…
  • The 1 year selection gives you a choice between $99 and FREE. Select FREE

free_psplus_1year_brazil

  • Clicking “Free” several times in a row will keep increasing your subscription expiration date. In my example, I’ve clicked seven times.

  • To confirm this worked, you can check in “Services” on the PSN the expiration date of your prime plus membership. And you can of course get PS+ games, all you can eat.

psplus_free_gravity_rush

The subscription bug was on the PS Vita, but the PS+ membership generated this way is, of course, valid on the PS3 as well, as I could confirm:

psplus_ps3_free

This was definitely not intentional from Sony, and the steps involved seem to show this was not a “free trial”, but a full fledged PS+ membership available for free, probably as part of an internal test just after the Brazil PS+ launch. This shows that although the Vita itself is extremely tough to hack, pirates can always find their way. Seems like a great example of the door lock being extremely secure, but Sony let a window open.

Will my lifetime PS+ subscription magically go away overnight? Probably. This actually raises a good series of questions. Given how easy this was to achieve and find, I am going to guess many, many people found out about this over the past days, not only the small group of people who contacted me. Are Sony going to let thousands of users get away with dozens of years of free PS+ membership? Or will they cancel all of those eventually, without any message to the impacted users?

It is unlikely that anybody genuinely thought they were getting a nice offer and will “complain” to Sony if these memberships get cancelled, but would Sony go as far as banning the accounts? Hopefully not, given how no hack or breach of the T&C’s was involved here, faithful Sony customers who thought they were getting a great deal might become collateral damage if that were the case.

As of today, the “free” offer is gone:

bug_fixed

Credits go to NC.MA and his group for this discovery. Proof that a system is as secure as its weakest link, and that insane hacking skills are not necessary to “pirate” (Is this considered as piracy?) games on the Vita or the PS3 (hmm, or the PS4, for that matter, as I assume the membership will be valid there too). The information was also originally leaked here

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