The Legacy PS Store Rumors Emphasize Problems With Digital Media and Libraries

With Sony rumored to be shutting down the PlayStation Store for the PSP, PS3, and PS Vita this summer, people are left wondering what will happen to their digital libraries if the company actually closes down their online storefronts. Whether it’s accessibility, saving space, or damage protection, more players have begun shifting towards a digital game library over the years. However, this also raises the question of how ownership for digital games changes once a distribution service is taken down. Without backwards compatibility available on newer consoles, players have very few reasonable options to access older games. As digital gaming becomes more popular, it becomes evident that there is a heavy downside to players not actually owning their games.

Although Sony has yet to officially confirm the news, rumors have been circulating that the legacy PS Store will shut down later this summer. The PS3 and PSP stores will supposedly remain open until July 2, 2021 while the Vita remains open until August 27, 2021. Sony is rumored to announce the closures at the end of this month which gives us some time to think about any digital games missing from our libraries. That said, the biggest problem that the closure brings is that there is no backwards compatibility for PS3-era games on the PS4 or PS5 and the current PlayStation webstore doesn’t support the sale of Vita, PSP, and PS3 games. Once the storefront closes, it’s likely that users will no longer be able to digitally download or update their games. The only option left to players is to buy physical copies but since the games already have inflated prices due to rarity, the prices will likely go even higher with the closure of the storefront. When faced with these astronomical prices of physical games, it seems obvious that future generations of players will favor emulation to access these older titles.

One of the reasons why Sony is being criticized so heavily is because of its historical stance on backwards compatibility. Since the PS4, Sony has refused to introduce backwards compatibility on its newer consoles alleging that it’s a heavily requested feature that is rarely used in practice. Contradictory statement aside, it seems that Sony believes that the newest games are what drives profit, and integrating backwards compatibility is too much of a hassle. Given that competitors like Microsoft have included backwards compatibility in its Xbox consoles and remasters/remakes have been quite popular, it’s weird to see how firm Sony is with its stance. Sony seems to believe that backwards compatibility is a niche feature that a majority of users won’t have interest in. Even if players aren’t all interested in backwards compatibility though, the feature itself can help renew interest in lesser-known franchises and games. For example, despite its initial small audience, Demon’s Souls has spawned an entire subgenre of games and the Dark Souls franchise has exploded in popularity over the 2010s. Success stories like these rely on humble beginnings and a small but dedicated fanbase. You still see people playing Garry’s Mod or Morrowind don’t you? The philosophy that Jim Ryan has about players not caring for older titles is ridiculous.

The closing of the legacy PS Store highlights a big downside to digital game libraries in that users don’t “technically” own what they buy. This is a problem that PC players have been grappling with for a while now and with video games transitioning to digital media, console players will soon face a similar problem. For PC players, this issue has been prevalent ever since physical CDs have slowly become replaced with services like Steam, Origin, and Epic Games. Players are only licensed to play games and that means that in the unlikely event that a service like Steam is discontinued, there’s a possibility that players will no longer have access to their library. While it’s unlikely that platforms like Steam will shut down, the problem is that there’s no real precedent for the larger distribution services.

Over the years, smaller clients like Desura that have shut down offered players a set time to download backups of their games or alternative Steam keys to some games. Thankfully, Desura was mostly DRM-free so players could easily keep most of their games. But what about the smaller ones like GameStop’s Impulse? The support for legacy downloads was only available for a set amount of time before closing down completely. While some users were reimbursed through refunds, it’s hard to tell if this would be feasible for much larger platforms. For users that miss the window of legacy downloads, they were out of luck because they were only licensed to play the games instead of owning them. As a result, players have started favoring platforms such as GoG which offers DRM-free games, and Humble Bundle where games often feature a DRM-free version.

At some point in the future, digital libraries on consoles will be faced with a similar dilemma. The open-ended nature of PC gaming and its ability to easily modify games means that emulation and digital preservation are accessible so long as there is community support behind it. However, console games are much more difficult to preserve through emulation and depending on the country, the legality can be murky. Even if console players wanted to acquire an old PS1 or PS2 game legally, they could be forced to spend hundreds on a rare physical edition. With the legacy PlayStation Store closing, it’s evident that the issue of digital preservation is becoming more urgent with no definitive solution in sight.

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I turned my incoherent ramblings on music, anime, and video games into an entire blog.

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