Sony announces the ability to change PSN names (finally!)

In a sort-of-unexpected announcement, but one that was extremely welcome by the gaming community, Sony has announced a trial run to allow PS4 owners to change their PlayStation Network ID. No longer will you log into games and see player names like “DingleBerry420” or “XXXpl@y3r3lit3XXX” in your local user list. Sony will begin offering the beta trial to existing PS4 gamers in the current third phase beta for the next PS4 system software upgrade, and they plan to roll out the feature in full soon. There are some caveats already, as Sony prepares their customers for the new feature, so hit the jump to read all about it.

The announcement was made by director of social media Sid Shuman in a post on the PlayStation Blog. It came out the blue with very little fanfare, which ticks off one less thing we expected to see at Sony’s Paris Games Week show.

“We’re happy to announce that we will soon begin testing the long-awaited feature that will allow users to change their PlayStation Network Online ID from their PlayStation 4 system,” wrote Shuman. “During the preview, you will be able to change your online ID as many times as you want. The first change is free, and changes after that will cost €9.99/£7.99. For PlayStation Plus members, it will cost €4.99/£3.99 after the first change. Changes to online ID can be made through the Settings menu or the Profile page of your PS4.

“When you change your online ID, you will have the option to display your previous ID with your new ID, so your friends can recognize you. Once you decide to display your old ID or not, you won’t be able to adjust this after completing the online ID change process.”

Shuman noted that games that launched for the PS4 family after 1 April 2018 will be compatible with the name change, while games prior to this cut-off date have some chance of not working. Shuman did note that “a large majority” of games prior to this date do support it. He also mentions that not all games and applications for the PS3, PS4, and PS Vita would support the online chance, and may display errors. This means that if you’re still playing on these systems, that name chance could affect the functioning of your games. Trophies, or even just launching a multiplayer match may fail for no reason.

To this end, Sony does acknowledge that rolling back the first name change for anyone in preview is possible, and offers this for free to anyone whose gameplay experience is affected by the feature. There will also be a compatibility list of games which are known to not work with the feature, which will be handy.

Does this make sense?

I’m sure some of you are wondering why this was needed in the first place, and why they couldn’t simply change it. In databases like the one Sony’s using, the company originally set it up in the late 2000s with the username being the unique identifier (UID) for the account. UIDs can be anything from a username to a randomly assigned string of numbers and letters that don’t mean anything to the user, but are used in the back-end services. This presents problems for account name changes down the road, because the unique identifier has already been tied to other software licenses, and changing the account identifier would revoke those licenses.

Fortnite is the prime example of this, linking characters, items, and progress to a PSN account, unable to provide those same licences to a third-party if you wanted to port your account to some other platform. Ownership is easy to prove (and I’ll have more on that in another article later this week), but it’s difficult to automate and it’s going to require quite the rigamarole to get it done.

Sony then has to change the rest of their systems to be able to associate a new UID with that software license, and it needs to be done manually. This is why accounts, once deleted, can never be retrieved, because of how this database was architected. Sony likely saw it as an easier task of simply working on a new system in the future, rather than fixing the one they already had that had ballooned to enormous proportions once they rolled in the other account databases for the other, equally poorly architected databases to be merged into one service, the Sony Entertainment Network account.

This is also one of the reasons for why they caution that games and apps might not work. Sony isn’t going around and implementing a facility to allow for a change to the full UID. Instead, it’s more likely that they’re using the ability to link your real name to your account in the same way for a gamertag, but your original account ID still stands. Not all applications will be able to use the new display name, and it won’t be able to read the old one, nor will Sony be pulling developers out of the woods to update their games and apps that they worked on years ago.

So if you’re happy with your old gamertag that may or may not have referenced political figures, scrotums, popular rock bands, or incorporated weed memes, nothing needs to change for you and your account will work as expected. If you want to update your weed meme, this is going to be frustrating in the short term.

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