You’ve no doubt heard that Sony is shutting down its PSP, PlayStation 3, and Vita storefronts, while simultaneously punishing studios for poor critical reception and stripping away the agency of brand new teams such as Michael Mumbauer’s that was dedicated to remakes. The latest in these revamps? The Last of Us, a game that was already remastered for the PS4 meaning that you can currently still play it on the PS5. Sony’s preservation goals are muddied to say the least and in dire need of a shake-up. With studios dedicated to remakes, I posit this: Sony needs to have studios dedicated to preservation as well.
To put it into perspective: VGC found that 138 games will no longer be available following store closures. That’s a damning number of developer work being shelved, pushed into inaccessible obscurity, and that’s before mentioning still-in-development Vita games that will never see the light of day. Frankly, it’s disgusting, and sure, maybe these stores weren’t being used enough to warrant the funding, but there are better ways to go about handling a library of time-consuming work and artistic vision.
One of the better ways is to employ an Xbox-style approach – build a functioning emulator of the older gen which, in Microsoft’s case, was the 360. Maybe the PlayStation 4 wasn’t ready, but 5 definitely is. What this would look like is having all those games that were lost suddenly added to the PS4 and 5 storefronts, but when booting them up from the dashboard, you plummet into a PS3 emulator. The library of compatible titles would have to be gradually worked upon. But, over time, a studio dedicated to this effort could bring a good chunk of that now-lost 138 games back into playability. What’s more, they’d be reached by newer, younger audiences, and even bring back oldies to players who no longer have a PS3. It’s a win-win for preservation and for the players, and Sony gets more money in sales.
Xbox emulation lets you use old 360 copies but something tells me that wouldn’t quite fly with PlayStation given the recent revelations. You can pick those old 360 games up at second-hand stores, or just use your old dusty discs lying around, and avoid Microsoft’s storefront altogether, keeping the change out of its pockets. An emulator might be a bit much for Sony: a hefty investment with potential losses in return on sales. Remaking Uncharted – which was already remastered by Bluepoint – was reportedly dubbed as ‘too expensive’ hence the now allegedly in-development The Last of Us remake. Pushing for an emulator with Sony is like pushing for Nintendo to actually do something with Metroid or Zelda for their anniversaries. So, with that in mind, perhaps Sony could employ a method it has before.
I was torn between getting a PS2 and a PS3 a few years back: ultimately, I did find a PS2 in my loft, but that’s beside the point. I opted to get a PS3, but I could still play a good chunk of old, PS2 classics thanks to those neat little HD bundled packages that brought the classics up to the then-current-gen, making them accessible to those who missed out or lost access to their old-gen hardware. Hell, one of these HD ports was Ratchet & Clank: Gladiator/Deadlocked, a digital exclusive that will now be lost forever. It was a tidy alternative to backward compatibility that even came with physical copies you could display on your shelf.
Now, this is where a dedicated studio would come in: instead of working on an emulator and making games compatible, Sony could employ a sizable studio with the job of porting PS3 titles up to the PS4 and 5. This would be far less work than a fully-fledged remake ala Demon’s Souls, but still a lot of work, enough that an entire studio would be required, and it would take some time to get through that hefty library. So in all likelihood, only the first-party entries seen as worthwhile would make the leap. It’s not a solution, but it’s the best bet right now given Sony’s track record and its current reported attitude.
Or, failing all of this, there’s one final idea that I’d like to drag out of my coffee-addled, student brain: Sony brings the PS4/5 storefront to older hardware or, at least, a variant of it, one that has a brand new tab dubbed ‘Legacy’ that holds PS3, Vita, and PSP games, letting you buy and download them still on the older generations. Essentially, don’t close the stores – merge them.
No matter what approach Sony takes – if it even bothers – video-game preservation, like with any art, is vital, and cutting off access to an extensive library of digital-only purchases is not only an anti-consumer move of an incredibly high order, but it is also very anti-developer. Not to mention, it’s damning for the future. How many titles will be lost to the aether, unplayable for generations, and how many will require piracy and illegal emulation, resulting in no further funds for the developers? It sets a worrying precedent in the industry, and strangely, it undercuts Sony’s push to digital exclusivity with its new PS5 model. One foot in the door, one foot out. There’s a distinct lack of conviction.
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James Troughton is a writer at TheGamer. He’s worked at the Nintendo-based site Switchaboo and newspaper TheCourierOnline and can be found on Twitter @JDTroughton.
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