Sony and Its Disregard for Its Back Catalog of Games

The writing was already all over the wall. When Sony removed PS3, PSP, and PS Vita content from their digital storefront late last year, that should have been a tell-tale sign that their days were numbered. But we held out hope that things can resolve themselves since one can still purchase stuff on their dedicated platforms. That didn’t last long, at all.

With Sony’s recent announcement of the closure of the online stores for PS3, PSP, and PS Vita, the question of video game preservation again takes the forefront of the discussion. So, what happened?

Long story short, come July customers may no longer purchase games on their PS3 and PSP consoles. The PS Vita store will close soon after this August. The only good thing to come out of this is that buyers can still update their games to the latest version, provided they have physical versions of the said game OR already having bought them digitally.

No one can say for sure how long this arrangement is going to last either, however. If it’s anything like how PS Vita developers found out that their platform of choice is closing, Sony can just shut down all servers without warning.

Sony’s history with its back catalog is questionable at best. Early models of the PS3 were fully capable of running PS2 games. The same way how the PS2 can play the majority of PS1 games. What baffles me is that later models of the system cut the feature out entirely. One can argue that they were trying to cut costs on the overly bloated console, but why couldn’t it have an option? Much like the lighter-weight Xbox series S.

To understand Sony’s way of thinking, we need only look towards the top and the people who are running it. In 2017, Sony’s then head of global sales and marketing, Jim Ryan, shared his thoughts on the matter with Time magazine.

“When we’ve dabbled with backwards compatibility, I can say it is one of those features that is much requested, but not actually used much,” says Ryan. “That, and I was at a Gran Turismo event recently where they had PS1, PS2, PS3, and PS4 games, and the PS1 and the PS2 games, they looked ancient, like why would anybody play this?”

It doesn’t take much to figure out as to why the PS4 can’t play original PS3 titles. To be fair with Sony, the PS3 came in at a time when Sony was really into exotic hardware. It was incredibly difficult to develop games on the PS3, especially for third-party games. This is why games like Fallout: New Vegas, Skyrim, and Bayonetta were horrible messes at launch. First-party titles knew how to tame the beast, which is how we got visually stunning games like The Last of Us and Killzone 3.

During the PS4’s time, a sizeable chunk of games from the PS3 library was sold as ‘Remastered’ versions. Personally, I thought this was double dipping and lazy. But we did get some awesome ‘Remakes’ out of this too, so there’s that.

As with all things, it seems like times have changed yet again as the PS5 can run practically the whole PS4 library of games. (with a few exceptions, of course.) Making it so that customers feel less conflicted about going next-gen. On top of that, developers are taking advantage of the new hardware to further improve their older titles in terms of visuals and frame rates. Something that wasn’t possible back in the days of the PS2 and PS3. (Granted, games back then were complete experiences from start to finish.)

Sadly, as good as things are now, older players still remember what it felt like to abandon older systems entirely for the shiny new console at the time. We didn’t think much about it, but games preservation should have been something we pushed Sony to take action on long ago. I guess we were content with owning our old system and our collection of physical copies. One day, however, given enough time, my PS1 won’t be in any condition to read discs. And who’s to say that my physical collection won’t degrade as well.

The point here is, nothing lasts forever. As much as I love my physical collection, digital is the only way to preserve the medium in the long term. At least from what I can see. Sony, unsurprisingly, falls short even in this regard. Playstation Now as a streaming service is underwhelming at best. The lag alone makes it not worth it. Worst of all, being a streaming service, we don’t actually own the games. The best deal on offer is $100 a year for ‘access’. Stop paying for it and watch as your entire library goes up in smoke. Speaking of library, the featured selection rotates on a consistent basis. If the game wasn’t popular then, good luck finding it again. I don’t know how they can incorporate PSP and Vita games in there when they can’t even find a way to emulate PS1 games there too.

This brings us to the Playstation Classic. Ever since Nintendo willed the NES Classic into existence, I can’t believe Sony didn’t put more effort into making the Classic. Granted, the 20 games on offer were more or less iconic. But are you telling me that out of the literal thousands of games released for the original PS, 20 is the best you can come up with? Will there more games coming in the future? No. A cheap gimmick through and through. That is something the mini consoles have in common.

Looking back, I see now that Sony and Nintendo are taking the same approach when it comes to their games. In the case of Nintendo, however, we are looking at a back catalog stretching back nearly 40 years now. With a vast library games, you’d think that Nintendo cares a lot about game preservation. Well, maybe. If your idea of game preservation is making your customers pay for the same game over and over again on multiple systems, that is. For some reason or another, Nintendo refuses to entertain the notion of backwards compatibility. There is no problem with you buying older games from a carefully curated online store, on the Switch. You can have your 8th copy of Super Mario Brothers, just as long as you pay for them on each and every system you own.

Xbox’s library of games is a fraction of that of the competition. Be that as it may, it is very reassuring that this brand, in particular, has taken every step possible to ensure that customers keep the games that they purchase. Not only do they allow backwards compatibility throughout its 4 generations, they continuously strive to enhance the experiences of as many games as possible through smart delivery. (Free of charge.)

Sony prides itself in crafting single-player experiences that know no rival in terms of storytelling and visual appeal. The very thought that all those experiences being locked away to specific generations is deeply saddening. I don’t want to face the grim choice of having to buy a potentially expensive physical copy online or just letting the whole thing fade into obscurity. The position Sony has put us, the players, in – absolutely sucks. All because they couldn’t find a way to secure their ever-growing back catalog of games.

Sooner or later, it won’t just be the 2,000+ that we should be worried about. The whole 10,000+ catalog of games spanning PS1, PS2, PSP, PS3, PS Vita, and PS4 are in danger. It’s up to Sony to define their legacy going forward. All we can do is to remind them that the things that shouldn’t be forgotten, won’t be forgotten.