Update: Nintendo plans to shut down the 3DS and Wii U eShops in 2023, leading to another video game preservation calamity
If you’ve already played everything you want to play on the PS3, consider yourself lucky. Sony’s system from two console generations ago still has an excellent game library. But you’d never know it, considering how many hoops you have to jump through before you can access it. After letting my PS3 gather dust for the last few years, I decided it was time to give the console another spin. After an hour of grappling with — and barely defeating — the archaic interface and arcane restrictions, I almost wish I hadn’t.
There are still lots of worthwhile games to buy on PS3. And if you can’t find them in a used games store or on eBay, buying them digitally is still technically an option. But if you go down that path, you should be prepared for a lot of frustration along the way.
A stay of execution
Longtime Tom’s Guide readers may remember that there was a big to-do about the PS3’s online store last year. Sony threatened to shut the whole thing down, because the company wanted to focus more attention on selling PS4 and PS5 games. After a month of fan backlash, Sony agreed to continue operations for the PlayStation Store on PS3 and PS Vita, although the PSP’s online store was (mostly) doomed.
The only issue is that these deprecated console stores required some compromises to keep afloat. Unlike the PS4 and PS5, buying games on the PS3 has a number of inconvenient restrictions:
- You must buy games via the console itself, not a Web browser
- You must preload the funds you need into your account
- You can download a game only from its store listing, not via a Web browser or app
These may not sound like huge inconveniences. In fact, if the PlayStation Store worked perfectly on the PS3, they wouldn’t be. But each step of the process compounds on itself to create a vortex of unpleasantness, dragging out a five-minute process into an hours-long odyssey.
The setup for my story is simple. I have nothing pressing to play at the moment, and I’ve been slowly but surely working my way through the excellent Yakuza series. While most of these games are available on modern consoles, the questionable spinoff, Yakuza: Dead Souls, is relegated to the PS3. It’s not supposed to be a great game, but I’m invested enough in the franchise to see what it has to offer. As physical copies of the game go for upwards of $80 on eBay, the $20 digital copy looked much more tempting.
Don’t need no credit card
In retrospect, I should have foreseen that this would be a difficult process when I booted up my PS3 and found that the PlayStation Store refused to load. This, I discovered, was due to my system’s clock being set to the wrong time, as the PS3 does not automatically adjust for Daylight Savings. This was also the easiest part of the process to correct, requiring only one trip through an obscure series of menus.
Next, I had to find the game in the PS Store. Unlike the PS4, PS5 and Web stores, the PS3 uses an antiquated system that forces you to select one letter at a time, rather than simply typing out a game’s name on a keyboard. This is about as tedious as it sounds.
After adding the game to my cart, I attempted to check out. When you first log into the PS3’s store, a notice reminds you that credit cards and PayPal don’t work, and that you’ll have to add funds via either smartphone or PC. Since I had advance warning, I couldn’t be too upset about this, but it’s still an extra complication in an already complicated process.
I hopped onto my smartphone and logged into the PlayStation Store. Adding funds is not the most straightforward process to begin with, since the link that the PS3 store gives you doesn’t actually take you to the “add funds” page — it’s just a two-step tutorial on how to do so. The actual option to add funds is buried in your account profile under Payment Management.
Adding funds is not a straightforward process, either. You can’t simply price out the game you want to buy and type in the exact cost. Instead, you have to add funds in increments of $5, $10, $25, $50 or $60. If your game costs, say, $21, as mine did, you’ll have to live with four useless dollars clogging up your PSN account until you buy even more stuff. It’s an old, cheap trick to lock you into a digital ecosystem.
Even less straightforward were the inexplicable error messages I got when I tried to actually add funds. My credit card had an error; my PayPal had an error. I checked to make sure that Sony servers were running properly, but everything was in order. I decided that, perhaps, my PC would be a better option. But after logging in and attempting to add funds via both credit card and PayPal again, I got the exact same message: “An error has occurred. Please try again.”
At this point, my only recourse was to go online and see if other people had the same problem. I had two options: I could buy a PSN gift card and hope for the best, or I could attempt to add funds on a PS4 or PS5. Wanting to cut out the middleman, I booted up my PS5 and hopped into the PlayStation Store.
Except, as I discovered, you can’t add funds in the PlayStation Store — you have to dive deep into your account menu from the PS5’s home screen. It’s an unintuitive process from start to finish, but at least it (somewhat inexplicably) worked. At last, I had $25 in my PSN wallet.
A cavalcade of menus
That was the end of my payment difficulties, but a few more hurdles still stood between Yakuza: Dead Souls and me. After I finally bought the game, I selected the Download option, only to be informed that I didn’t have enough space — 20 GB, to be precise.
This part was, perhaps, understandable. I’ve had the PS3 for more than a decade, and had never really culled my game library. I took a few minutes to uninstall all of my digital games, securing 21 GB of free space overall. I went back to the PS Store, where I learned that my 21 GB of free space wasn't enough to install a 20 GB game.
This necessitated another trip to the Internet help forums. It turns out that every PlayStation game requires twice as much space to install (or to update) as it actually needs to run, due to redundancies in the installation process. In actuality, I needed 40 GB of space to install a 20 GB game, on a system with 80 GB of total storage space. The PS3’s online store never explains this part of the process, leaving you to guess how much space you’ll actually need to free up.
At this point, I had to navigate into the PS3’s Game Data Utility menu, which had large installation files from every PS3 game I’d ever played. I had to delete all this data — but it was absolutely vital that I did not touch the Saved Data Utility menu, located directly next to Game Data Utility, as this would have deleted all of my save files instead. Some of the installation data became corrupted while I was attempting to delete it, which necessitated a full console reboot.
At last, more than an hour after I first attempted to buy the game, I could begin the process of downloading Yakuza: Dead Souls onto my PS3. Due to the console’s antiquated Wi-Fi connection, the process would take about four hours. I turned off my system and went to bed.
When Sony first announced the PS3 store shutdown, I argued that such practices were counterproductive for game preservation. Without rehashing my whole argument, older games are already difficult to play, and removing them from digital stores makes it that much harder. While it’s admirable that we can still buy and download PS3 games, the process is so convoluted that I can’t imagine many people would want to.
To be fair, Sony has only so many resources, and it makes more sense to funnel those resources toward systems that people are actually using on a day-to-day basis. Even in its current, deprecated form, the PS3 store does take time, effort and money to maintain. It would require even more time, money and effort to make the experience meaningfully better.
And yet, people are still buying and playing old games, if the outcry against the PS3/Vita/PSP store closures was anything to go by. If manufacturers can’t commit any resources into making this process better, then at the very least, they should try to ensure that it doesn’t get worse.