Sony is Doing the Right Thing, But is it Enough?

Earlier this week, Sony announced the reversal of its decision to shutter the PS3 and PS Vita’s online stores. Services for the PSP are still going away as planned, but fans still enjoying the other two systems can, at least for now, rest assured that they’ll still have access to the entirety of the PS3 and PS Vita’s library. This is also a big win for game preservation, as it means gamers won’t yet have to take extraordinary actions to enjoy the systems’ games. Sony still doesn’t seem terribly interested in actively preserving their legacy games, however, which means the clock is still ticking.

It was recently discovered that Sony’s three most recent console all carry a similar flaw: having system functionality tied to a difficult to replace CMOS battery. This is the battery that powers these systems’ internal clocks, and these clocks have an important function besides just keeping time: they also keep the system functioning normally.

Sony’s systems require the correct time in order to function properly and it’s this battery’s job to ensure that the system always has the correct time. When the battery eventually dies, the only way the system will be able to set its time will be by connecting to Sony’s servers via the internet. If those servers are shut-down, then this will be impossible. The result: game consoles that are unable to play digital-only games. Apparently even some disc-based games can’t run properly without an accurate clock.

Resistance 3 - Chimera Walker
Sony has apparently commented on this and is apparently working on a fix to prevent this eventuality. Even so, this calls into question all major companies’ attitudes towards older games, not just Sony’s. With the possible exception of Microsoft, which has invested heavily in backwards-compatibility in recent years, major publishers don’t seem terribly interested in keeping their old libraries alive and available for fans. Of course this is a task that only becomes more difficult as more games are made, but there should still be some sort of effort being made to keep classic games easily and legally available to the gaming populace.

With so many games coming out every year and with presentation getting ever better, one may wonder why people care about game preservation at all. There’s still plenty to play, and modern games usually look better than their predecessors, so it’s almost silly to worry about keeping older games around, right? No. Game preservation is highly important and not just because people still want to play them.

Simply being able to play them is probably the most important reason to try and preserve older games. More primitive graphics and such aside, classics are classics for a reason. They don’t just look good for their era. Rather, almost all true classics offer experiences that are unique in some way. Just look at Super Mario 64: its successors are all arguably better platformers and yet it still attracts new fans even today. It hasn’t been replaced by the likes of Super Mario Galaxy or Super Mario Odyssey because there is no replacing it.

Super Mario 64 - 3D All-Star - Chain Chomp
Something about Super Mario 64 is special. Maybe it’s the level design; maybe it’s the movement system; maybe it’s the overall flow, and maybe its some sort of combination of these. Even after 25 years, there’s still a place for Super Mario 64 in the modern gaming landscape, and the same is true for hundreds of other titles. It would be a tremendous loss for all gamers if these sorts of games were to one day become inaccessible.

There are other things like business practices to consider too. Older games provide gaming consumers a means of seeing older design philosophies: ones that aren’t built around DLCs, microtransactions or always being online. With major publishers monetizing their games ever-more aggressively, it’s important for gaming enthusiasts to understand and remember that games haven’t always been this way.

By experiencing older games, that memory can be kept alive and used to guard against the most aggressive and egregious schemes cooked up by the likes of EA and Activision. This can only be possible if older generations of games remain easily accessible. Should that access be interrupted or destroyed, then it’ll be all to easy for all games to transform into same sort of money-sinks currently infesting smartphone and tablets.

It’s tempting to say that Sony has done its fans a great service by reversing their decision to shutdown PS3 and PS Vita store services, but they shouldn’t have been considering it in the first place. At least, not while those stores remain the only means of accessing those systems’ exclusive titles. All online services come to an end eventually of course, but there should be some way to continue accessing the games. Microsoft has already set a great example with their Game Pass service, so perhaps Sony (and Nintendo) could try offering something similar in the future. These might not be permanent solutions to the problem of game preservation, but they could go a long way towards ensuring gamers’ access to the best experiences in gaming’s long and excellent history.