Sony Shutting Down Old PlayStation Stores Portends a Dark Digital Future

Hundreds of games are about to become collector's items.

The Gamer is reporting Sony is planning to shut down the digital storefronts for the PlayStation 3, PlayStation Portable, and the PlayStation Vita this year, with an official announcement supposedly set for the end of March. This report came out on March 22, so this announcement could be coming literally any day now.

PS3 and PSP will be the first to go, with Sony reportedly looking at July 2 as the final day they’re live, with the Vita to follow a little over a month later on August 27.

Well, this sucks. If you own any of the above systems and have been wondering about some digital games you haven’t downloaded to them yet, now’s the time to do it. As you won’t have a means to access those purchases without a store to go to.

There was a point a few years back where I went out of my way to buy physical copies of some Vita games I already owned digitally. Vita cards were rarities, even before Sony discontinued the perfect angel of a handheld. But a select few games I knew I’d want to play sometime were released to stores. And since accusations of the thing being a dead handheld were prevalent even a year into its lifetime, I figured it would be best if I grabbed them while I could. I made the right call. Soon, those games won’t be available to download anywherePersona 4 Golden will only be available on Steam, the Danganronpa games won’t be readily downloadable for anyone on the systems I’d argue they’re best suited for. And even the few Sony first-party games that never got ported elsewhere like Uncharted: Golden Abyss and Killzone: Mercenary will only be playable if you’ve downloaded it before August or have one of those cards.

I mourn the Vita’s digital store the most in the moment, as it contains both its own games and PSP games, as well as a ton of older PlayStation games that can be played. But the PS3’s storefront is an entire console generation gathered in one place. A non-insignificant amount of its exclusives have been remastered and made available on PS4 and PS5, but there’s several that haven’t. I’d love to replay the console version of Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time, but I don’t own a PS3 to play it on and it’s not been remastered. I’ve still got my Vita copy, but it’s not as pretty. The original two Infamous games also are trapped on that box with no remaster to speak of. Sony’s answer to these questions has mostly been the PlayStation Now streaming service, which, admittedly, circumvents much of backwards compatibilities’ tech troubles by letting you stream games to most devices with an internet connection. But it still requires an internet speed often not found in rural areas to work well enough to substitute playing games natively.

Sony seems to understand the consequence of not working on consoles with backwards compatibility in mind now. The PlayStation 5 can play (most) PlayStation 4 games, and that’s kind of a baseline feature at this point given Microsoft’s doubling down on it with the Xbox brand. It seems almost unfathomable that a hypothetical PlayStation 6 wouldn’t be able to play PS5 and PS4 games a decade from now. But fuck, that realization feels like it’s come too late.

I’ve had several conversations with friends over the years about the merits of an all-digital future for media. Not just video games, but movies, music, books, whatever. Much of that discussion gets brought back to the inconvenience of physical media. It takes up space, it’s clutter, and who wants to get out of your chair to switch games when you could just hop to the console’s menu and press a few buttons instead? I live in a rural area, so my internet speed isn’t exactly great for a digital future. I’ve taken whole consoles to friends’ homes to use their superior internet connection. But it’s announcements like these that remind me that digital futures mean more than me spending several hours downloading the latest AAA hotness. There are hundreds of games that are only going to be available through very expensive, prohibitive means as their physical copies become exclusive collector’s items sold on eBay for much higher than their market price. When there’s an alternative that’s been staring us in the face for years.

For too long, backwards compatibility has been framed as a bullet point on the back of a box. An argument in the never-ending online console wars. But right now I’m just thinking about what games I paid for that I might be losing forever if I can’t track down a reasonably priced Vita memory card to download them on. Or thinking about what games I need to go searching through the store for that I even passingly considered buying at one point.

Despite the Playstation 5 playing PS4 games and Sony seemingly thinking forward on these things, it’s not like things are getting much better when it comes to preservation. Digital scarcity has become and actual thing as Nintendo makes ports of old games a kind of limited event, weaponizing the fact that it can pull a game from the eShop whenever it feels like it to force people to buy now or miss out forever.

This is the digital future you wanted, right? The one where you can save shelf space, but we can lose hundreds or thousands of dollars of purchases at a corporation’s whim? The one where we don’t have to get up to switch games, but a developer’s work on a game that was only released digitally can be wiped from the face of the Earth?

Well, I think it’s shit. If you’ll excuse me, I’m off to scroll through my Vita purchases and stock up.