How Sony is Failing Their Older Games

VOICE OVER: Aaron Brown WRITTEN BY: Aaron Brown
Welcome to MojoPlays, and today we're looking at how Sony is failing their older games by ignoring all their possibilities with backwards compatibility. With the recent news that Sony will be shutting down the digital storefronts for the Playstation 3, the Playstation Vita and the PSP, we wanted to examine how Sony is letting down not only their millions of fans but also the legacy of their previous console generations.
Script written by Aaron Brown

How Sony is Failing Their Older Games

Welcome to MojoPlays, and today we’re looking at how Sony is failing their older games by ignoring all their possibilities with backwards compatibility.

With the recent news that Sony will be shutting down the digital storefronts for the Playstation 3, the Playstation Vita and the PSP, we wanted to examine how Sony is letting down not only their millions of fans but also the legacy of their previous console generations.

So before we begin, let’s take a quick look at some numbers; Sony released the Playstation back on December 3rd 1994. Since that time, there have been almost 8,000 games released for the original Playstation. And while not all of them were critical or commercial successes, the sheer volume of games available is nonetheless impressive. Sony followed up the success of the PS1 almost 6 years later with one of the best selling consoles of all time, the Playstation 2. During the PS2’s lifecycle, the console had over 3,800 games available. While not as impressive numbers-wise compared to its older counterpart, the quality of titles speaks for itself with many classic franchises being born on Sony’s second system. That’s almost 12,000 games from only 2 console generations.

With the release of the Playstation 3, Sony originally designed the console to allow all these titles to still be played on their newest hardware much in the way PS1 games could be played on the PS2. However, after a redesign of the PS3, this option was no longer available to gamers but a large majority of the previous generation’s titles were made available on the PS3’s digital store. While a bit imperfect compared to simply putting a disc into the console, the option was at least still there.

Fast forward to the release of the Playstation 4 in 2013 and all of those games from Sony’s legacy of consoles are no longer available. All purchases made on the Playstation 3 storefront and all the last gen titles gamers had cherished were now gone, and there was no way to play them without digging out your PS3, if you were lucky enough to still have it. While this left many gamers understandably confused and upset, Sony didn’t help matters by making their Playstation 3 library of games only available for play on their Playstation Now service. While PS Now is a great idea in theory, only a small handful of titles were downloadable while the rest were resigned to streaming only. Not only is this not a viable option for most gamers but many games become nearly unplayable due to framerate drops or the game simply disconnecting due to poor internet service.

So why would Sony simply abandon many of the series and titles that made their consoles so successful in the first place? Well many of those answers can be summed up in an interview with Sony Interactive President Jim Ryan who stated: “When we dabbled with backwards compatibility, I can say it is one of those features that is much requested but not actually used much. That, and I was at a Gran Turismo event recently where they had PS1, PS2, PS3 and PS4 games, and the PS1 and the PS2 games, they looked ancient, like why would anybody play this?”

It seems that by “dabbled” he might be referring to the short lived initiative in which Sony was releasing PS2 games on the PS4 with newly added trophy support, and asking gamers via social media what games they’d like to see released next. This endeavor was extremely short lived and of the few titles that were released, many were certainly not at the top of any gamer’s wish list.

Even Sony’s attempt to tap into the similar success that Nintendo found with their retro consoles, the NES and SNES Classic, was met with middling results. But some of if not the majority of the blame for the Playstation Classic’s failure lies within Sony itself. They released a retro console with games that hardly anyone would classify as “classics” of the PS1 era with a couple exceptions. And on top of that, they weren’t even the best versions of Sony’s own games, instead using emulated software that ran worse than the original titles did over 2 decades ago.

And while Sony has seemingly decided to focus solely on the future with many of their games beyond a few remakes and remasters of classic titles, Microsoft decided to take a different approach and give gamers what they really wanted.

At E3 2015, Phil Spencer announced that the Xbox One would become backwards compatible with nearly all of Microsoft’s game library through an upcoming update. Simply put the disc in your console and play almost any game all the way back to the OG Xbox. Gamers were understandably ecstatic with the entire auditorium erupting in loud cheers and clapping from excited fans everywhere.

However, even despite the ever growing success of Microsoft and Xbox’s backwards compatibility options including the success of Game Pass, Sony seems content to just ignore its legacy of amazing titles, many that are still playable to this day despite their obvious age. Gamers hoped that with the release of the Playstation 5, Sony had finally listened to their fan base and would make the PS5 a legacy console celebrating 5 long generations of gaming and allowing players to revisit all those classic titles. While no one was expecting to be able to pop a PS1 disc into their PS5 and play it, having a least a retro game section in the Playstation Storefront would have been a step in the right direction for Sony. And still to date, there have been no attempts made by Sony to listen to their fans and follow in Microsoft’s successes.

Basically the majority of the answers all boil down to money as they always do. Sony doesn’t see any financial gain in the prospect of allowing what they consider a very small majority of gamers the ability to play their older titles. There is much more financial sense in pushing gamers towards the next new thing rather than retreading what came before.

And yet at the same time, there is clearly a market for backwards compatibility that Sony is obviously ignoring. The Xbox Series X launched without a single major exclusive to help push console sales but still managed to sell out worldwide. Building off of nothing more than the ability to play 3 generations worth of games not only through Game Pass but a gamer’s own personal backlog. Not to mention the ongoing uncertain times for new video game releases as it is. Many titles are seeing drastic delays to the next calendar year and there isn’t much new to look forward to on the horizon. With game developers still trying to adjust to the new working conditions due to the Covid-19 crisis in the world, many titles are missing their projected release dates altogether. And this trend doesn’t see any signs of slowing either. While you can still play PS4 games on your PS5, with a lack of anything new to entice gamers, there’s currently not much to do with your shiny new PS5 console. All the while, Microsoft’s strategy of playing whatever you want from whatever generation you want is certainly paying off for them.

Sony could understandably not want to look like they’re chasing Microsoft’s success but in most cases if a gamer was given the option, they would pay to replay those games. It’s worked for Nintendo for years. How many times have we all bought Super Mario Bros on every single new system Nintendo releases no matter how many times we’ve found the princess was in another castle?

There is also the issue of game preservation to consider. What happens to all those titles when Sony shuts down the PS3, Vita, and PSP storefronts? According to Sony’s report, as long as you own the game prior to the shutdown you can still download them on your respective systems, but what about younger gamers who don’t even have their first console yet? There’s countless generations of gamers who will never have the chance or even be given the opportunity to experience all those games for themselves. You could argue that someone interested could simply track down a retro console if they were so desperate to play, but why should they have to? And not to mention even if you were able to find a working PS3, Vita or PSP, with the storefront shut down, the systems are only usable with physical copies of their games and even those are becoming difficult to find. Then gamers wanting to relive their favorite games from their childhood or share those memories with their own kids would be at the mercy of eBay, and the scalpers who purposely inflate the prices of those physical copies to cash in on that nostalgia.

Despite the many decades that gaming has existed and how the industry has grown in the last few years, compared to movies and television, video games are barely out of diapers. Video games have been fighting for years to be considered in the same conversation with other works of art and if there’s no way to revisit those games then how will they ever reach the same status? Thousands upon thousands of people dedicate their lives to these works and once they’re gone, they’re gone, and there’s no way to reclaim them. Most consoles have a shelf life and disc based consoles are especially short, so if even the digital space isn’t a safe haven for all these titles, then what hope is there for future generations of gamers to experience all those stories?

Sony is willing to ignore its past to focus on the future and financially that makes sense, but gamers who helped Sony achieve the success they’ve found should at least be afforded the option to play what they want no matter how old or “ancient” looking the game might be. This is our past and in most cases, our childhoods and it’s worth holding onto.

As for right now, all we can do is cross our fingers that the latest rumors of Sony applying for a new patent to emulate older games comes to fruition sooner rather than later. And hope that Sony finally taps into the legacy of incredible games they’re leaving behind.