Sony Reminds Everybody Why All-Digital is Undesirable

As gaming moves increasingly further into digital distribution, it’s becoming more and more important to remember that an all-digital future is not necessarily a good thing. Digital game distribution is indeed a convenient and powerful thing, and it has enabled game makers to craft experiences that would have been impossible otherwise. Yet, it still has its drawbacks, and one of the major ones is a built-in expiration date. Digital games only exist so long as the infrastructure supporting them remains, and Sony just reminded everyone that that infrastructure can go away at any time.

Recently, Sony announced that PlayStation Store services for PSP and PS3 will cease operation on July 2, with store services for the PS Vita ending not too long after on August 27. Specifically, this means users will no longer be able to buy new games or video content on these platforms. Nothing can be purchased through the store, nothing can be bought in-game and no PSN wallet funds can be used via any of these systems. Users will still be able to re-download previously purchased content though, and that includes any previously claimed PS Plus free games so long as one remains subscribed to the service. That’s it, though. No new content can be acquired after the service shutdown dates.

PlayStation 3 - Blue BG
It may be tempting to simply write this off as just old systems being finally and fully put to bed. After all, the PS3 is going on fifteen years old, the PSP is sixteen and the PS Vita is the youngest at ten. These are old systems that are all way past their prime. It was only a matter of time before Sony stopped supporting them and indeed this is a natural step in every console’s life cycle. It wasn’t a big deal with every generation before this one, so why should it be a big deal now? Well, it’s because this was the first generation with lots of games and content that could only be acquired digitally. It was all just physical cartridges and discs before that, most of which can still be acquired without excessive effort. In the case of the affected systems, though, a lot of games and DLC packs are going to become permanently inaccessible for most people once these services are shuttered. That’s a problem.

At the time of this writing, Sony has yet to announce any sort of plan to preserve access to all the games and other content currently locked to these consoles. True, some can be found on the PS Now game streaming service, but some is not the same as all, and streaming is not the same as playing locally (looking at you, Google Stadia). Unless this content is somehow made available on PS5, it’ll all sit in gaming limbo until something is done. The best case scenario would be an emulation effort similar to what Microsoft did for the Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S, but it remains to be seen is Sony deems it worth the cost and effort.

Physical media may not be as vital as it once was, but it still has a place in the gaming landscape. It’s true that discs and cartridges can get damaged, and they don’t come with all the patches and updates, but they do at least preserve access to the basic version of the games they contain. So long as the physical media for games exists in sufficient numbers, those games remain accessible to everyone regardless of whether or not they had the good fortune to be around when said games were digitally supported. Seriously, don’t write-off physical media just yet; it’s still the best way to preserve access to games long-term.