By: Chris Hodges, editor-in-chief
The seventh console generation has been the slowest to come to a close than probably any other generation, with Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and Wii games continuing to hog a significant amount of retail space despite their successors being three and four years old already. In addition, that period that typically follows the dawn of a new hardware cycle, where sales of last gen consoles get a bump because of price drops and enticing bundles–and people just not being able to afford 3-4 hundred dollars for a console and finally getting to play catch up with last gen–has been an especially protracted one for the 360 and PS3 in particular (less so for the Wii).
One of the upshots to this has been that both Games with Gold and PlayStation Plus have continued to support last gen consoles with new free games each month alongside the XB1 and PS4 freebies. Microsoft has pledged that all 360 games added to the Games with Gold lineup going forward will be playable on Xbox One, which is sure to help guarantee that 360 games will continue to be a part of the monthly cycle for some time. It’s a win-win, as Xbox One owners who either got rid of their 360s or never had one will get double the free games each month, and 360-only holdouts will still have reason to stay members of the program. With there currently being no way to play PS3 games on a PS4–and no apparent plans to change that–the future of PS3 games on PS+ is a bit more uncertain. The PS4 has been crushing it so far, with 40 million units shipped as of March 2016. From a financial standpoint, Sony clearly doesn’t need to continue supporting the PS3 for very much longer as the PS4 is doing just fine on its own.
It isn’t exactly an overly paranoid notion to worry that PS3 games won’t be part of the monthly PS+ free games lineup for very much longer. With no way to play PS3 games on a PS4, and the PS4 becoming Sony’s primary source of game-related income, why would they bother continuing to offer and promote new free games that people can literally only play on a “dead system?” Especially when doing away with PS3 games could potentially mean doubling the amount of free PS4 games each month. Think about it: If you’re Sony, and you’re trying to compete with Games with Gold, what better way than to say, “Hey, look at Xbox, they only offer two free XB1 games each month, while we offer four free PS4 games. What’s the better value?” (Yes, I know those numbers vary a bit from month to month, but you get the gist.)
On top of that, there are only so many PS3 games that Sony can put up as PS+ freebies. I’m certainly not saying they’re in any danger of running out of PS3 games to add anytime soon, but they’ve hit most of the biggies at this point. And sooner or later, it stops becoming exciting to be offered a free game from three years ago, especially when most games from three years ago can be grabbed in a five for $20 bin at Gamestop at this point. For the gamers who are primarily PS3 players, why would you keep paying for a PS+ subscription in the hopes that that game from 2012 that you wanted but never got around to might be added as a freebie when you can just go and buy the disc and own it outright for the cost of a slice of pizza? It’s going to be less and less economically smart to keep paying for PS+ just to be able to keep playing $5 PS3 games.
While a lot of the people who are still sticking with the PS3 are doing so for financial reasons, I would guess that the majority of those people are retro gamers who are starting to collect for the system and view it as a “retro console.” Those people aren’t necessarily interested in the PS3 games that came out in the last few years. In fact, a lot of those people are specifically interested in the fact that the PS3 lets them play their PS1 (and in some cases, PS2) discs with ease on their HD TVs and without needing to keep their old consoles hooked up and old (wired) controllers taking up living room space. Those people are also interested in the library of PS1 and PS2 Classics that they can purchase via PSN and the large number of those games they can have downloaded on their console at any given time.
So here’s my suggestion to Sony: Embrace the fact that the PS3 is now a “retro” console, and have the “PS3 games” that are added to PS+ each month be PS1 and PS2 classics. Market PS+ subscriptions to PS3 owners specifically as a subscription service to play legacy PlayStation games. It would be a great way to make up for the many old broken promises that all PlayStation consoles would be backwards compatible with all previous PlayStation consoles by promoting the PS3 as the ultimate legacy PlayStation system, and how “by paying just x dollars a month/year you can have unlimited access to decades of great PlayStation classics!” The fact that PS1 and PS2 Classics still continue to be added to the PS3 even when they aren’t playable on the PS4 only proves that Sony must feel there is a vibrant retro market on the system, so why not capitalize on that? I know for me, I’d happily pay for PS+ indefinitely even if all it was for was to play dozens of classic PS1 and PS2 games. Hell, with just how much physical copies of the Megaman Legends trilogy (including Tron Bonne) go for, you’d literally get your money’s with buying three years worth of PS+ just to play those three games. Especially because there are a number of retro gamers out there who really just want to play the old games and not have to pay an arm and a leg just for the warm fuzzy feeling of being able to have the physical copies in their hands.
I would keep a PS3 hooked up to my TV for the next ten years or more if I was paying a monthly fee to play a bunch of PS1 and PS2 games on it (as well as keep a PSP handy for the PS1 games), and I know I can’t be the only one. That’s hundreds and hundreds of dollars per retro-minded gamer–and there’s definitely millions of us–just for making a bunch of $5-$10 digital games from up to 20 years ago available for “free” to subscribers. Sounds like easy money, Sony. I promise it’ll get you more subscribers than just continuing to cycle through PS3 games from two or three years ago.