Flickr

On March 29, 2021, Sony announced that the PlayStation 3, PlayStation Vita and PlayStation Portable virtual storefronts will permanently shut down later this year. This means that some games will be available through other consoles and services, while others will potentially be lost forever. 

This announcement was made with very little notice given to developers. The PS Vita is only nine years old, and developers were still making games for the console. For reference, the PlayStation 4, which is still a very popular console, will be turning eight years old this year. Although Sony stopped supporting the PS Vita, indie developers have found the platform to be a successful environment for their games. These developers have now been forced to either rush their games out, transition them to other platforms or cancel them altogether. Closing these stores also decreases avenues of income for indie developers, who rely on having their games available on multiple platforms. Though this move might not affect Sony much, it is a huge detriment to small-scale developers, the very people who are the roots from which the future of gaming grows.

Some consumers attempting to make their final downloads from these digital storefronts are unable to due to the systems being overloaded. The infrastructure of these stores simply cannot support the sudden influx of visitors, and it is cracking under the pressure. Even if they wanted to, many people may not be able to access the games they will dearly miss due to these constant crashes. On top of that, the lack of digital editions will cause the prices of physical PS3, PS Vita and PSP games to skyrocket, making it even more difficult to purchase older games.

Not only does this pose issues for current consumers and developers, but the long-term effects to the preservation of game history are concerning. The months — and often years — of hard work that go into developing and distributing a game are erased, along with the ability for players to relive fond memories, or even discover a game they may have missed.

Although other companies are doing some work to preserve their older games, such as Nintendo’s Nintendo Entertainment System and Super Nintendo Entertainment System applications for the Switch and Xbox’s backward compatibility, the negative consequences of going digital have already been demonstrated. Many were upset when the Wii Shop Channel permanently closed on Jan. 30, 2019, shuttering the most diverse and comprehensive retro library of games Nintendo has released yet, so PlayStation’s announcement feels like history repeating itself.

If game companies truly care about game preservation, they should stop making it harder to access games from earlier generations. With each store closing, more and more barriers arise for fans and archivists alike who simply want to access these experiences from the past. Though video games are a newer form of entertainment (at least compared to film, music and books), they have quickly become one of the most profitable and influential media industries. Preserving video games is just as important as preserving older forms of media.

Video game collections, like the University of Michigan’s Computer and Video Games Archive, recognize this level of importance and are devoted to making video game history accessible to everyone. Even outside of special collections, the number of public libraries with game and console collections is growing. Without these spaces and the efforts of fellow game companies, games could be permanently lost. Many old games have already disappeared — notably, the remake of “Crash Bandicoot” that was released as part of 2017’s “Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy,” which was built almost entirely from scratch, as the source code for the original game was missing.

Sony has seemingly decided that their past is not important enough to be documented by themselves. Sony is shifting their focus exclusively to their blockbuster games, possibly going as far as remaking one of their most successful games, “The Last of Us,” despite it only being eight years old. They are actively choosing to let hundreds of games disappear into obscurity in favor of repeating reliable money-makers, losing the trust of both developers and consumers. For consumers, buying digital is more akin to a long-term rental than actual ownership due to the threat of digital products being removed by companies who would rather turn a profit through panic. 

Is this artificial scarcity truly benefitting these companies? Sure, it boosts profits in the short term as consumers rush to make final purchases. However, these games shoot up in price from individual sellers online. Those profits could be going to Sony or, better yet, the developers who worked on these games. Instead, they go to individuals who take advantage of the value of older games. If they can acknowledge the value, surely PlayStation can too. 

Although Sony may not be taking a significant financial hit, the value of games is far more than just money — games are meaningful, unparalleled experiences. Nintendo clearly recognizes this, as they regularly release retro games either for free on the NES and SNES apps or as ports onto the Switch. Microsoft understands this as well, not only through Game Pass but also by their efforts to upscale the quality of retro games on the Xbox Series S/X. Sony’s two largest competitors are leagues ahead of them because they understand what these experiences mean to their audience.

The future of video games is exciting, but the past is equally essential. Sony’s game preservation efforts are half-hearted; though their streaming service PlayStation Now — similar to Xbox Game Pass and Nintendo Online — includes many games from previous generations, they only choose specific titles for this deemed important enough. They simply don’t seem to understand that even smaller, lesser-known games are meaningful.

If Sony truly wants to keep the trust of their fanbase, they need to acknowledge the negative effects of these digital closures. If Sony cared as much about people as they do profits, they would catch up to the rest of the game industry and consider the impact of their decisions.

Daily Arts Writer Harper Klotz can be reached at hklotz@umich.edu.