This weekend I had the pleasure of upgrading the hard drive in my PS3 from a 250 GB to a 1 TB drive. Now for some of you the jaw drops and you can’t imagine what I’m doing with all this space – do I have a hacked console with “backups” or am I doubling it as a computer? No, friends, I’m just using it to store the more than 1,200 items of digital content I have purchased since my first PSN purchase (Pain) in early 2007. This isn’t the first time I have done this on my PS3, either. I have a launch 60GB “Phat” console that I upgraded in 2008, then thinking that 250 GB should be more than enough space. I’m also not doing this because of the PSN+ items either, I don’t require much space for these items because I only download what I’m playing in the moment due to the timid and subscription-based nature of those products. Basically if I buy something that isn’t a PSN+ freebie I download it for permanent storage on my console. The reason I do this – purchase new hard drives every few years for just around $100 on both my 360 and PS3 along with the endless hours and hassle of transferring the data – is because I paid for this data, it’s mine, and I want to keep it forever. Unfortunately I don’t think that Sony, Microsoft, or even Valve for that matter, can or will be as concerned down the line if I have access to this data.
Lets face it, this is the first console generation to focus on and thrive with downloadable content. It started slow, a few 30 MB games here or there, and has since flourished, I have 10+ GB full digital titles on my 360 and PS3. In full disclosure I understand that I am the minority, most of the people I talk to on forums or my respective communities do not need more than a few dozen gigs, if that, to support their digital purchases. Furthermore, a lot of gamers out there have the turn-and-burn mentality that once a game is played/completed/dismissed, it will not be replayed in the future (just ask my co-host Chip Cella about that one). That’s fine, it’s your game, do with it what you will. For me, it’s everything from freebies that are tied to promotions (I have Halo Reach, Fable III, Jurassic Park: The Game, and many others because they were given out free from purchasing something else) to review copies I have received (it’s much cheaper and safer now for developers to give a download code for a game’s review) to random purchases (I got Split/Second for $10 on PSN because it went on sale as did Two Worlds II at $5, neither was a Plus deal). I own these games and cherish them just as much as the cascade of titles that adorn my man cave walls. I want them to be as available and easy to play in the future as my physical copies. I don’t think gamers have embraced the reality that as we move into the next generation, the way these companies may handle our digital media will be haphazard and result in digital libraries being wiped out online.
You probably think there’s no way Sony or Microsoft would simply turn off the servers for the 360 or PS3, but I think you’ll find in the future that you are mistaken. Now, will it happen in the next 5 years? Probably not. Will they tell us first? Most definitely. Why do you think these services will go away? Basically because the hardware architecture of the new consoles is incompatible with the previous ones so eventually once the next generation has caught on and the previous is discontinued – this transition will probably happen quicker than previous consoles given the extended lifespan of this generation – then it will not be cost-effective to keep them live. It’s literally hundreds of terabytes of server storage for all of this content and that’s simply too much to keep live once the 360 and PS3 are obsolete – imagine you getting pissed at Wal-Mart for not stocking PS2, Xbox, or Gamecube games nowadays because you may want to go buy the game. They simply cannot support these massive data stores, so eventually they will have to turn them off. We’ve already seen hints of this: XBL is no longer available for original Xbox titles and EA has turned off the servers for games as little as two years old. When this happens and everyone is given a limited period of time, which I hope the manufacturers have enough foresight to give us months, if not a year, it will be a literal fire sale online. At this point the online store will be hell as tens of millions of customers bum rush the servers to download any piece of content they’ve ever purchased to preserve for future use. Hell, this is the one thing Nintendo has been on the ball with in the online digital front – preparing its customers to lose their digital data.
This is the dark side of digital content, the topic no developer, publisher, or manufacturer wants to tackle because precedence for this case simply doesn’t exist. Eventually everything will turn off and you wonder what will happen when it does. I know Steam has promised that if Valve ever went under, they would find solutions to how you can continue to access that digital content, but there’s honestly no way to be absolutely certain you can do this. Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo (along with others) have not made such lofty promises and I assure you have no intention of making them because consoles change, iterate, and don’t have the compatibility options of Steam. Additionally some content or games have online access requirements (like all PSN+ titles), DRM (some console games require you to be online even though they are single player), and other factors that we won’t discover until the switch is flipped off. I’m fully prepared that a percentage, up to 33 percent in my mind, of titles won’t function once my PS3 can’t access PSN anymore. Perhaps we will get lucky and the developers and network operators will release patches that turns off this function, maybe even removing the PSN+ parameters when PS3s can no longer access them, but we won’t know until it happens.
I will admit that I’m the doomsday preparer and should be regarded with no more solidarity than that guy in your neighborhood that has expired bottled water and beans for the upcoming apocalypse, but it’s still something to consider. I also know that unlike that guy, digital storage space is cheap and as long as I’m downloading one to two games at a time as I purchase them rather than 1,200 pieces of content a few months before the network is turned off, that I’ve got piece of mind at a small price. It’s just something else I don’t have to worry about and if it were to be announced today I wouldn’t bat an eye. I present this information to you because some people I talk to online just never imagined a world where they wouldn’t be able to boot up a console and have access to their digital content for the rest of history. There are also those that think there’s no way licensing will block (or at least restrict at a price) used and rental gaming, but as businesses rise and fall so do their networks. Perhaps neither is true, but I ask you then why Sony felt it was necessary to tell the world that PS3 PSN content won’t be compatible with PS4, why Sony has developed technology that ties discs to consoles, or why Microsoft hasn’t yet come forward and told us that the rumors of an always online console are not true? It’s because they may not plan to do that now, but they have to the power to do it anytime they want. Well as someone who has spent literally thousands of dollars on XBLA, PSN, and Virtual Console (how long do you think the original Wii Virtual Console is going to remain online?), I’m not going to let my well-spent dollars make me yet again another victim of getting screwed as an early adopter.
So as it stands I look like the worry wart, spending almost two straight days with my console on as it transfers 200 GB of data to an external hard drive only to copy it right back after a hard drive swap that took maybe five minutes. But now that all is said and done I am able to download all the content I had been holding back on and my entire library of around 400 GB (and another 500 GB of free space for any additional purchases or future releases until I get on the PS4 bandwagon) will be safe and secure for future use. That is, until the hard drive fails me.
The views expressed here are that of the author, Fred Rojas, only and don’t necessarily represent that of the B-Team or any of its other cohosts. In fact, most of the time the other guys think I’m bat shit crazy.