Months back, I wrote on the subject of physical versus digital game ownership. With the recent news that Sony would be shutting down all new online purchases for its legacy consoles – namely, the PlayStation Portable, PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Vita – the topic is more relevant than ever.
It’s not bothersome news for the many gamers who only play the latest and greatest, but for those of us with a backlog or an affinity for collecting, Sony’s plan is foreboding. To its credit, Sony could be handling it a lot worse – gamers will be able to redownload purchases as they please, and, with the stores set to close on Aug. 27, they’ve given fans almost half a year to prepare.
Sony is only preventing people from making new purchases on older platforms – the PSP, PS3 and PSVita ceased production in 2014, 2017 and 2019, respectively. Nevertheless, there are valid concerns. Hundreds of games without physical releases will be locked away from any new potential buyers.
I’ve seen many people online frantically discussing which games they should purchase before the stores go dark in August even if it means putting those titles on the backburner until they get more free time. This phenomenon is especially troublesome – these panic purchases will surely boost Sony’s revenue, only encouraging them to employ similar antics in the future.
For a company with nearly three decade’s worth of legendary game releases, Sony seems awfully eager to put many of them in the grave. In the years to come, it will become easier to collect for the PS1 and PS2 than for the PS3 all because those systems never had an online storefront.
In a similarly vein, Nintendo has elected to repeatedly rerelease its classics via the “Virtual Console” service on each new iteration of hardware. Despite zero gameplay differences, Nintendo asks gamers to pay full price each time. Can there really be any wonder why old Nintendo games attract rampant piracy?
It’s baffling to me that in 2021, Microsoft is the company to look to for game preservation. The brand-new Xbox Series X|S platform runs every Xbox One game better than ever and plays the vast majority of Xbox 360 games and even a handful of original Xbox games dating back to 2001. Just pop in the disc, and it’ll run.
As an Xbox guy, I’m satiated, but I’m still saddened to see Nintendo and Sony getting away with anti-consumer antics. Gamers would do well to demand more from the hardware producers that were once at the forefront of backward compatibility.
In 2000, it was a big selling point that the PS2 could run all PS1 games – a fact that helped push its main competitor, Sega, out of the console business for good. 2001’s Nintendo’s Gameboy Advance could play three generations of games, even the original black-and-white Gameboy titles dating all the way back to 1989.
Suffice to say, both companies could continue down that path if they put in the effort. But due to laziness, greed or both, they’ve been actively choosing to selectively ignore or exploit parts of their legacy.
Similarly, the increasingly popular “games as a service” model is glaringly antithetical to the goal of game preservation. On one hand, it’s incredibly engaging for games such as “Fortnite” and “Destiny 2” to be constantly changing and growing. On the other, it’s sad to see old content disappear forever.
All of this points toward one glaring issue, that of game ownership. When you purchase a game disc or cartridge, you own the software, and that’s that. But when you purchase a digital copy, you technically only possess a license to play the game.
Nowhere is this dichotomy more evident than with “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: The Game,” a 2010 beat’em up that abruptly disappeared from digital storefronts in 2014 due to a licensing issue with Universal Pictures. As a digital-only release, players were dismayed to find they could not redownload the game.
Fast forward to 2020, and Ubisoft worked out a deal to get the cult classic rereleased on modern platforms. But the game remains locked away on older platforms, and once again Ubisoft hasn’t printed any physical copies.
What’s that old saying – fool me once? As with any product, the bottom line is that consumers need to do research to avoid being exploited. Although it’s a great game, on principle there’s no way I’m ever purchasing “Scott Pilgrim” again.
Riordan Zentler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe to the Spokane7 email newsletter
Get the day’s top entertainment headlines delivered to your inbox every morning.