Towards the end of March, Sony announced the closure of the PlayStation Portable, PlayStation 3, and PlayStation Vita stores, on their respective consoles. They said they were going to shut down over the summer, meaning we would no longer be able to buy games or any other media on those consoles (but you would still be able to redownload stuff you’d already bought). The PSP storefront on the PSP actually closed five years ago, so this announcement meant that the remaining functionality of the store would be removed.
To me, when I found this out, it seemed like something inevitable: in Europe, the PSP is 16 years old, the PS3 is 14, and the Vita is 9. With the exception of the Vita, which was unfortunately nixed quite early on in its life, these consoles had full life cycles and honestly did pretty well in the end (despite the PS3’s troubled start). It’s a matter of deciding when to let older consoles go, as is often the case: the closure of the Wii Shop Channel in January 2019 is an example of this, the final nail in the coffin after the shutdown of Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection several years previously (removing the ability to use online functionality on most Wii games). It did, however, feel like a huge shame to lose the PS one Classics available across the three affected consoles, and the PS2 Classics on the PS3. Most of these are not available on PS4 too (only 54 out of the 336 PS2 Classics are available on PS4 as well as PS3), so you can’t even argue that they are available elsewhere: if you didn’t have a physical copy on the PS1 or PS2, that would have been it.
Furthermore, the PlayStation webstore was redesigned in October, with games for anything older than the PS4 no longer being present: there were ways of getting around this using special URLs, but shortly after the announcement this was no longer possible, so by all accounts the store closures on the consoles themselves was looking pretty much confirmed. The end of an era, I guess.
Until, of course, nearly everything was unconfirmed. De-confirmed? In any case, the decision was reversed on 19 April, but only for PS3 and Vita. The original reasoning for closing the stores concerned, according to Jim Ryan on PlayStation.Blog (where the reversal was revealed), ‘commerce support challenges for older devices and the ability for us to focus more of our resources on newer devices where a majority of our gamers are playing on’. Those reasons do make sense, when you consider the ages of the consoles involved. But of course, the other side of the coin when you’re making older, digital content permanently unavailable is that you’re essentially wiping out, for example, games that are really hard to find as a physical copy. And that’s not even considering games that are digital only. Ack!
Fortunately, though, the PS3 and Vita stores live another day. Sony decided to ‘keep this piece of our history alive for gamers to enjoy’, which is quite a nice sentiment, and gives the impression that Sony genuinely cares about consumer feedback (which is easy for companies to say, but sometimes not proven). There’s no end date either — they haven’t said, for example, that they’ll be keeping the stores open for another year, or two — so it seems we can expect them to keep going for the foreseeable future. I find the decision to keep the Vita store open particularly interesting, largely because (and I’ve discussed this before) Persona 4 Golden, one of the most popular games on the Vita, was ported to PC last year. People joked that the decision to port that game, which up until then had been stranded there, was the final nail in the coffin for the Vita, and, well, with hindsight, maybe that was a harbinger for what was to come. Regardless, we were all wrong, and the Vita somehow keeps going. Somehow.
No such luck for the PSP, though. As of 2 July (according to that blog post), all remaining store functionality will be gone. Looking back five years, when the original closure happened, and now looking to the removal of PSP games on the browser version of the store, there are certain games that we can finally say were never released digitally for the PSP, like Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII (not that such a thing would have happened, say, next week, given that this game came out in 2008): but it is apparently being remade for mobile, so that’s something. Obviously, we have the whole issue of emulators in situations like this, and the ethics of using those when games are pretty much inaccessible otherwise — but that’s a different story entirely.
So it looks like Sony does care about keeping its history alive. Perhaps, in the alternate timeline where the store closures took place after all, Sony were planning on moving the affected games, or at least the most popular or requested ones, over to PS4 or PS5. Perhaps they realised that the time and resources that would have been involved weren’t worth it, versus the effort of keeping the original stores open. Or, maybe they really were leaving those games to be lost to history. I suppose we’ll see what happens with the PSP store and the 35 games that are now gone forever (unless, of course, they were previously purchased, in which case they can be redownloaded). Maybe they’re not great games — maybe you can argue that it’s not worth the upset. But they’re still part of the console’s, and Sony’s, history.
It’s good that these consoles are still going so many years later: the backlash definitely speaks to how sorely missed the stores will be when they are, probably inevitably, shut down in the future. But for now, we can buy and download old games to our hearts’ content, and I think that’s something to celebrate.