The PlayStation Store Closures Are Not As Bad As I Feared, But They Are Still Pretty Awful!

Preamble

WHELP!
WHELP!

So, it's happening. Sony is sunsetting the PlayStation Store for the PS3, PSP, and Vita at varying dates depending on the platform. As this blog's title suggests, the full details are not nearly as bad as I was initially fearing. Sony appears to be using its cross-buy and cross-play programs to bring old titles to their suite of modern platforms. Likewise, the initial fear was that impacted marketplaces would just shut down without warning, leaving consumers high and dry. With the current announcement, you still can purchase games that you might have missed out on for a while, and it appears your ability to redownload titles, for now, will not be impacted. Now, don't mistake any of this as a sign of my support of Sony's current decision-making. This situation is awful and bodes poorly for consumer rights of digital goods and video game preservation in general.

I understand many people view the present situation as a sign that backward compatibility is a higher priority than its critics might contend. However, it is hard for me to write an exhaustive missive about something I'd like Sony to add to their consoles when they have made it abundantly clear they are not interested. However, I feel like there's something to be said about my present ability to purchase original Xbox games on the 360 and how being able to do this should be an industry standard. Nonetheless, there are many talking points that others have brought up related to this news that warrants greater exploration. Likewise, there are related issues to this decision that directly impact the industry and consumers.

Sony Doing This While Selling An All Digital Model Of The PS5 Is WILD!

One of these things is very much not like the other.
One of these things is very much not like the other.

Last year, if you had asked me why I would advise against buying the "All Digital" PS5, it would have been my skepticism regarding its default hard drive being an appropriate amount given ballooning download and patch sizes. Obviously, that has changed. When news first broke about these shutdowns, my first immediate reaction was directed at the disc-less SKU of the PS5. From a PR and marketing perspective, Sony's decision to shut down these digital marketplaces kneecaps their efforts to bill the disc-less PS5 as a legitimate console. Time and time again, console manufacturers have experimented with cheaper SKUs to lower console prices, and this generation is no different. However, even before Sony poisoned the well, history has shown that digital-only hardware is still an unproven direction for the industry. For one thing, both consumers and console manufacturers aren't entirely ready to make this leap. The all-digital Xbox One S is a recent instance, but a more direct example inside Sony's wheelhouse would be the PSP Go. Laugh all you want about how ill-fated the handheld was from the get-go, but your reaction furthers a point I want to re-iterate. It is incredibly easy to parse out when a manufacturer treats an SKU as a red-headed stepchild. Trust me, I know this as a Switch Lite owner.

Additionally, every time a new console in an established line of hardware is introduced, sunsetting is bound to occur. As a result, at what point will the disc-less PS5 be made utterly inert? Online services get pulled from older consoles all the time, but that doesn't make them worthless or the owner unable to return to them. For example, the original Wii had its online store shuttered in 2019, and while I still decry that decision, the Wii, at the very least, has an optical disc drive as a backup. That said, using the Wii and other platforms as a metric, developers usually pull the plug on the online features of their legacy consoles after about ten to fifteen years. That timeline fits this announcement, and it is one that Nintendo has utilized repeatedly. So, in roughly ten years, what happens to the disc-less PS5? Consoles that preserve all of their online servers are few and far between. What's more, there is no industry trend or precedent to guarantee that an all-digital console will retain its value outside of the generation it inhabits, and Sony's recent decisions make that nakedly transparent.

Even a company like Microsoft, which has received a lot of credit recently for promoting backward compatibility, has some skeletons in its closet. For one thing, the original Xbox is no longer able to play games online. While there was a legitimate reason to pull Xbox Live from their original platform, that does not ignore the fact the Xbox has lost functionality. Again, this approach is nothing new. This year, we witnessed Nintendo pulling online servers for multiple Wii U titles, with the most recent example being Mario Maker losing its online map sharing ability. The loss of that feature halves that game's value, and there's nothing anyone can do about it. The frequency of these situations underscores the crystalized fact that console manufacturers remove features and utilities when they are no longer convenient to them. Additionally, they owe you and me nothing. As such, I cannot imagine a scenario where I view the All Digital PS5 as an appropriate investment of my money. I shouldn't have to worry about a doomsday clock whenever I buy a video game console, especially if it costs me $400.

Buying As Many Games As Possible Before Everything Shuts Down Is Not The Solution Everyone Claims It Might Be

Before we jump into the main argument I'd like to make, I want to share a bit of a side tangent. Back when I commented about the timed exclusivity of the Switch releases of Fire Emblem 1 and Super Mario 3D All-Stars, a lot of users took umbrage with my advocacy in that blog. Some viewed my attempts to implore users to pick up those titles as indirectly excusing Nintendo's shitty business practices. It was a fair point to make, but if you were one of those who commented as such, I sure hope you are not preparing to purchase soon-to-be unavailable PSN titles. You cannot argue, in good conscience, that me buying a timed-exclusive copy of a never-before localized port of an NES title is an unconscionable act while you are actively scanning the PSN directory for PS3 or PSP titles that are about to disappear. Certainly, both companies are in the wrong, but I have seen no less than three users who gave me a hard time on my Fire Emblem blog then admit they are planning on buying a ton of PSN titles in light of this news. One person even went so far as to say they were "excited" about the possibility of a PSN sale. To which I can only reply, what the fuck are we even doing?

To return to the topic at hand, Sony has yet to address two significant points of order on their sunsetting of their digital marketplaces. Yes, their cross-play and cross-buy programs are to be commended, but there are holes in this stop-gap approach. For one thing, many PS3, PSP, or Vita titles never got full cross-buy support. Additionally, Sony's communication about which games have cross-buy or cross-play permissions, and even the fundamental difference of either program, has been terrible since their introduction. Finally, indie game developers, which we will talk about shortly, are all but left in the lurch, with Sony unlikely to come to their aid. But that's beside the immediate issue of how PSN titles work, and the looming tempest consumers are likely to face in the coming years.

The Tweet that I have linked above might seem confusing to some, so here's the abbreviated explanation. There are declared expiration tokens on stuff you redeemed through PS+ or even purchased through PSN. The way things work on the PS3 is that you get an added year or so to every game with a token set to expire whenever you renew your PS+ subscription or, in the case of PSN purchases, whenever you establish an internet connection on your console. Should you fail to renew your subscription or establish an internet connection, a kernel is set to make that game "disappear." If Sony pulls online support for these platforms without removing this kernel, everyone's fucked. Currently, I have heard mixed reports that Sony is aware of this problem and plan to ensure it does not affect consumers. Moreover, it is worth mentioning Sony is not alone in employing clock-based kernels to curate digital titles. Microsoft, for example, uses similar kernels to make sure you are re-upping your Game Pass or Xbox Live Gold subscription whenever you snatch their free batch of games every month. The difference here, however, is that there is a future risk of the entire system going to shit.

And before anyone accuses me of playing favorites, let it be known I lost hundreds of dollars on this failed program.
And before anyone accuses me of playing favorites, let it be known I lost hundreds of dollars on this failed program.

To make matters worse, Sony has said absolutely NOTHING about how long people will be able to continue to redownload their PSN purchases. Sure, you can download these titles now, but for how long will Sony allow you to do this? Given present circumstances, I don't think you're going to be able to redownload PS3 PSN titles in perpetuity. Sony's previous track record about honoring purchases on discontinued platforms or marketplaces isn't exactly stellar. When they shut down PlayStation Mobile, there was no off-site process to redownload those purchases on a then-supported platform. You just lost your shit. Unfortunately for consumers, this is an unspoken industry standard of sorts. When GameStop bought Impulse, people who bought games on that marketplace lost everything when it was discontinued three years after its purchase. When Microsoft shit-canned Games for Windows Live in favor of a PC shell of the Xbox Marketplace, people simply lost their old PC game purchases. Maybe you are more optimistic that things will be different this time around, but personally I don't see the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel.

So Many Of These PSN Games On PS3, Vita, And PSP Have ZERO Chance Of Being Re-Released

The above Tweet is by a former designer on the PSP and Vita ports of Jetpack Joyride. Their comments echo something that has been repeatedly said on social media by many developers who worked on PSP and Vita titles. Many of the dev teams that worked with these handhelds were sub-groups of larger teams working on bigger things. This is important because you cannot rely on developers looking at the current situation and seeing it as an opportunity to revive long-forgotten titles or impacted releases. Many were cash-grabs from the onset, but that doesn't mean they should be erased from the history books. I mention this because many of these portable games have exclusive features and modes. And we can expand this discussion beyond games if we want. Backgrounds, soundtracks, and DLC purchases are likely NOT going to get any consumer-friendly love as Sony eyes the button that shuts down all of these storefronts.

The situation gets even worse when you think about all of the exclusive titles that came out on the PS3, PSP, and Vita. Here's a list of just RPGs that are exclusive to these platforms. Likely, the exclusivity contracts on some of these games are bound to have expired. However, Sony still holds the publishing rights on many more, and unless they feel charitable, these games will live and die on these platforms. And we have to consider the technological hurdles no one wants to solve in translating these games onto modern technology. The number of people who even know of the existence of Zettai Hero Project: Unlosing Ranger vs. Darkdeath Evilman is likely small, so the odds of it turning up on the PS5 are low by default. Even if a developer wanted to emulate it for a Steam or PS5 release, it's an experience that requires a tactical handheld-based control scheme. Therefore, it's "stuck" on two platforms that are essentially "dead," and your ability to find a physical copy a bit of an ordeal. The same can be said about PSP or Vita exclusives like Tearaway, which are games I cannot imagine emulating well on a console or PC.

If Sony is not going to support Backward Compatibility, then I would love to see them revive the old PSOne Classic Program
If Sony is not going to support Backward Compatibility, then I would love to see them revive the old PSOne Classic Program

Speaking of which, the circumstances surrounding the Vita are even more lamentable. Now, say what you will about the much-maligned handheld, but it got a largely unreported second wind. Some of you may recall a recurring blog series on the site by BlackLagoon wherein they listed all of the digital-only titles that released on the Vita every month. Seriously, give some of their blogs a read and marvel at the breadth of support the Vita got even after Sony pulled the plug on new physical releases. The Japanese indie dev scene fell in love with the Vita, and the homebrew community certainly kept it afloat as well. However, most of these games only came out digitally. The immediate consequence of shutting down the Vita's online store is that many of these titles are not bound to get official releases on newer platforms. Furthermore, a majority of the Vita's digital-only releases came from doujin hobbyists who may or may not still be active members of the industry. As a result, you cannot reasonably expect hobbyists to make the financial investment necessary to localize and release their works on Steam or the Epic Games Store.

But what about the potential of HD remasters? First, I think there's a lot of wishful thinking that goes into devising a free market-driven solution to this problem. Likewise, not every developer or publisher is bound to view their catalog as highly as members of the internet might suggest. To the defense of these publishers, games like Jumping Flash or Pain exist due to extenuating circumstances. And to be honest, there's a lot of trash on the PS3. Nevertheless, these titles are a part of gaming culture so a market must exist for some games to get the HD Remaster treatment. Unfortunately, there's something to be said about how spoiled the gaming community has become about HD remasters. Few consumers appreciate the effort that goes into these titles. However, the standards and expectations for these sorts of projects are high. You're not going to see something like Game Room come out to "save" the PSP's catalog because no one is supporting a half-assed effort to preserve legacy titles. Worse, should remasters come out, you can bet your bottom dollar that the PSP and Vita will get the short end of the stick. Even before his ousting, Kojima repeatedly stated he wanted the Metal Gear Acid games to get console remasters. He even used every interview opportunity he had for a bit to talk about why he thought those games deserved a second chance, but that was back in 2008.

No Matter What, There Will Be A LOT Of Lost Media

It's all fun and games until indie devs get screwed.
It's all fun and games until indie devs get screwed.

What will booting up a PS3 look like five years from now? Before you answer that I want you to consider some things. Do you think your purchased backgrounds and wallpapers will still be there? Will your wishlist of game titles be available? How many features on the start screen will become wholly unusable? Think about the amount of customizability that will no longer be available to you in five years' time. Think about how much of that customizability required an investment of money. Sure, there are bound to be many of you who will say you never bought into any of these ecosystems or that their demise will not affect you in the future. However, my argument here is that this is a foolish perspective to have.

Let's say you pop in a game disc into your PS3 seven years from now. For argument's sake, let's use Asura's Wrath as a case study. In this scenario, you reach the end of the game and are prompted to explore the game's epilogue through DLC. With the shutdown of the PS3's store, you cannot do that. I know Asura's Wrath is a bit of an egregious and extreme example of a game that requires the purchase of DLC to get "the full experience." Still, this scenario applies to any game that had cosmetic DLC or even full-fledged expansion packs. When you try to play old titles that have yet to leap to modern consoles, there is the chance you will not be able to consume everything that the game originally had to offer. If you review the press release they published earlier this week, Sony was rather mum about the availability of microtransactions or DLC, and that paints a pretty bleak picture for the future. Games like LittleBigPlanet had a TON of cosmetic paid packages that you are unlikely to get a hold of if you do not act quickly and guarantee your saved data remains safe. And if you have been enjoying Alex's Rock Band streams, I cannot imagine how frustrating this situation is to someone who potentially invested hundreds of dollars on song packs.

Though, it is worth mentioning a lot of LittleBigPlanet's cross-media promotional DLC has already been pulled for rights reasons.
Though, it is worth mentioning a lot of LittleBigPlanet's cross-media promotional DLC has already been pulled for rights reasons.

Then we have the one-off programs that Sony and other developers pioneered in previous generations that have no continuity on the PS4 or PS5. The most notable example, by far, has to be the PS1 and PS2 Classics programs. Through these efforts, old titles were released with minimal technical issues on the PS3. To many, these ports still stand as the definitive versions of their respective games. However, Sony's efforts to provide an olive branch to long-time fans never extended beyond the PS3. Titles like Chrono Cross have no continuity, beyond emulation, to the PS4 or PS5. Then you have weird programs like PSP Minis which attempted to build a community of indie devs around Sony's handhelds. Those games have no fucking hope of making a comeback anytime soon with the shutdown of these stores. Ultimately, for anyone trying to recapture their gaming past or explore older titles they may have missed, your only option is emulation if your income is limited.

There's no denying that we live in a different era than when the PS3 first launched. Nevertheless, in a world where in-app purchases reign supreme, I think there's a larger reckoning to be had about consumers and their rights when it comes to digital goods. I know it sounds weird to get emotional about a Patapon background on the PS3, but with these goods potentially gone forever, I can't help but feel like I have lost something. I feel a similar sense of ownership over my saved data and the ability to re-enact moments of my gaming past. Unfortunately, all signs point to this becoming the "new normal" for digital video game goods.

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