A large section of PlayStation history will go offline later this summer.
Sony announced this week that it will shut down access to the PlayStation 3, PlayStation Portable and PlayStation Vita storefronts on the PlayStation Network Store. The PSP store will close July 2, while the PS3 and Vita stores will close Aug. 27. Sixteen years of digital games will disappear overnight.
Owners of those specific pieces of hardware will still be able to re-download and play any games they’ve purchased through the PlayStation Store — for now. Users will also still be able to redeem voucher codes for games and PlayStation Plus. Any cross-buy purchases, such as titles available on the Vita and PlayStation 4, will still be accessible through the Download List on their respective devices. There are questions, however.
While Sony did specify that the store closures will not affect any user’s PlayStation Now subscription, or access to PS3 and Vita games claimed through the PlayStation Plus subscription, the Japanese electronics giant would not confirm what would happen to access to those titles should a PlayStation Plus subscription lapse. Granted, the last time a PS3 or Vita title was available through the premium subscription was February 2019. But Plus did start on the PS3, and some of its best games were available on the service during its several-year run.
Once those deadlines arrive, all new purchases will be prohibited and players will no longer be able to redeem gift cards through those devices. Sony is essentially closing the book on that chapter of the PlayStation’s storied life — for better or for worse.
From a monetary standpoint, it’s hard to argue with Sony’s stance in this situation. The PSP hasn’t been manufactured since 2014. The PS3 went out of production in 2017, and the Vita followed two years later. These are legacy consoles in an industry that is always facing forward and advancing into the future. Not to mention, despite their overall market success, these were still the three biggest disappointments in Sony’s gaming hardware history. Sony could be simply wanting to move on and milk the waning success of the PlayStation 4, while diverting most of its attention to the newly released PlayStation 5, which is still almost impossible to find.
Sony has always been a company focused on specific hardware generations, going so far as to make it a marketing tactic at the start of this generation while Microsoft embraced cross-generation offerings. But the PSP and PS3 were the first generation of Sony consoles to embrace online gaming and digital purchases, and cutting off access to those storefronts seems a bit problematic.
Microsoft has committed itself fully to its gaming legacy. Anyone who owns an Xbox Series S or X can play the newest next-generation games alongside launch titles for the original Xbox from way back in 2001. The Xbox Series S and X are the only titles on the market that can play four generations of games over that 20-year span. Only the Nintendo Switch comes close with its NES Online and SNES Online offerings, though those libraries are still extremely anemic and require an ongoing subscription.
With this store closure, Sony has essentially abandoned its legacy hardware — locking many those games on dead platforms with no hope of resurrection. Preservation efforts will be limited solely to physical copies, which have become more rare as the years progress. Having the ability to purchase those games digitally — even on original hardware — was a nice way to help maintain support. It would be nice for Sony to expand its backward compatibility offerings, and allow PlayStation, PlayStation 2 and PS3 games on next-generation hardware. But it seems Sony isn’t interested in that path.
The sunsetting of these storefronts also calls into question the long term prospects of digital software ownership. Sony maintains these games will be accessible by anyone who owns a license tied to their account. But how long will that last? Games have been delisted and permanently removed before. I’m looking at you, “P.T.” How long before that happens to a PS3 game, or a PSP title? It seems to set a dangerous precedent for restricting access to titles customers have purchased. Digital ownership has always been a precarious arrangement, and this makes it even more off putting
Hopefully, at some point in the future, Sony sees how successful Microsoft’s backward compatibility initiative is, and attempts to do something similar. There are too many great games locked on dated hardware that might not ever be accessible again. Making those titles available to play and to purchase on the PS5 or additional future consoles would go a long way toward proper game preservation and consumer rights. Until then, just make sure you download everything you wanted, and make sure your PlayStation Plus subscription doesn’t lapse.
Josh Rouse lives in Lawton and writes a weekly gaming column for The Lawton Constitution.