Looking Back

PS3 Store shutdown reversal signals a major Sony strategy change, analyst says

“It’s clear that we made the wrong decision here.”

- Jim Ryan, SIE President & CEO

Sony Interactive Entertainment

The PlayStation Store is no longer shutting down on PlayStation 3 and PS Vita.

On April 19, Sony Interactive Entertainment’s Jim Ryan confirmed that PlayStation was reversing a decision that would have made hundreds of games unpurchaseable. This only came after a major wave of backlash, but it also highlights PlayStation’s weakness when it comes to backward compatibility and properly supporting legacy titles.

Omdia Principal Games Analyst Steve Bailey weighs in on the situation, speculating to Inverse about what likely led to this decision and what it means for the future of legacy video game storefronts. When it comes to aging systems like the PS3, PS Vita, Xbox 360, and Wii U, what does it mean for digital storefronts to close?

What happened? On March 22, The Gamer reported that the PlayStation 3, PS Vita, and PSP stores would be shut down. This report was immediately met with backlash, because it meant that hundreds of games would suddenly become unplayable.

The PS3 was one of the first systems that embraced digital-only games, which throws this decision into question. While the PS Vita underperformed, it also has avid fans that don’t want to see the system ruined by the removal of its version of the PlayStation Store and all of the handheld system’s exclusives on it.

Exclusives that haven’t gotten a re-release like Infamous would only be available physically if the PlayStation Store for PS3 shut down, and other digital games would be gone forever. Sucker Punch Productions

Omdia’s Steve Bailey tells Inverse that “relatively low activity” might have prompted the decision, while Sony’s apology puts the blame on challenges with commerce support and a shifting focus in its blog post. Still, this move would've been a blemish on PlayStation’s reputation and one of the most impactful entertainment storefront shutdowns yet.

Thankfully, PlayStation executives came to their senses and Sony Interactive Entertainment President & CEO Jim Ryan took to PlayStation Blog to apologize and reverse the decision. The PlayStation Store will remain operational on both the PS3 and PS Vita for the foreseeable future, though the PSP store will still shutter on July 2.

“We see now that many of you are incredibly passionate about being able to continue purchasing classic games on PS3 and PS Vita for the foreseeable future, so I’m glad we were able to find a solution to continue operations,” Ryan says.

Why did Sony decide to maintain the PS3 and PS Vita Stores?

Sony credits its community as the reason behind the pivot. Bailey highlights the importance of features — like access to older games — that keep players happy. “Topics like backward compatibility, even if they result in little actual adoption by players, carry lots of weight in terms of marketing,” he says.

Unfortunately for PlayStation, Jim Ryan has long had a complicated relationship with legacy content that has only led to controversy.

“When we’ve dabbled with backward compatibility, I can say it is one of those features that is much requested, but not actually used much,” he said in a now-infamous 2017 interview with Time. “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?”

When the decision to close down the PlayStation Store on PS3 and Vita emerged, this statement made it clear that Sony was not concerned with preserving older titles.

Bailey notes that Microsoft has handled this issue much better in recent years. “I think Xbox has understood this well over the past few years: Even if an older title doesn’t get much eventual interaction, refreshing it in the minds of players can generate much positive sentiment on social media.”

Supporting legacy games and storefronts generates lots of marketing goodwill, and can quickly turn into a PR disaster when ignored. “Just because buying activity on the store may be low, that doesn’t mean a notable amount of its content isn’t still fresh in people’s minds,” Bailey says. Sony has finally noticed that, so the PS3 and PS Vita storefronts are safe ... for now.

Will Sony ever shut down the PS3 and PS Vita Stores?

The aforementioned PS Blog post says PS3 and Vita’s storefronts will remain open indefinitely. No new shutdown date is in sight, though Bailey speculates that Sony could still close the storefronts at one point in the future.

“If they were still determined to close the stores, mid PS5 cycle would be a more amenable place, as the PS5 itself would be in full flow and feel less exposed than it does during this opening year,” he explains. He also remarks that Sony could soften the backlash “by ensuring that the most coveted titles become permanent fixtures of PS Now.”

The backlash to the store closure announcement and Sony’s reversal should scare anyone else in the video game industry from shutting down their stores.

“It will make [platform holders] think twice about the availability of older content,” Bailey concludes. “While they may eventually close certain stores, they should be willing to consider preserving some of the more well-regarded titles, within the ecosystems of current stores.”

Game preservation is just as important as doing the same for books or movies, and this whole situation will hopefully make all platform holders take notice and prevent the shutdown of not just the PS3 and PS Vita’s storefronts, but ones on systems like the 3DS, Wii U, and Xbox 360 as well.

Related Tags
Share: