Why PS3 Games Will Be Cloud Streaming-Only

The new PlayStation Plus offers a Premium tier with games from multiple PS consoles, but PS3 games are only available through streaming. Here’s why.

Sony finally announced its long-anticipated answer to Microsoft‘s Game Pass subscription service. The revamped PlayStation Plus offers different perks on a tiered system, with serious upgrades over the current “free games tied to a $9.99 monthly subscription” status quo in the higher tiers. The $17.99 a month PlayStation Premium tier is the obvious challenger to Game Pass’ all-you-can-eat buffet of Xbox and PC titles.

While it won’t match Microsoft’s strategy of offering first-party titles at launch, it is a robust collection of games spanning multiple PlayStation generations. The selection of 700 games is an impressive bounty from a company that’s lagged behind its competitors in exploiting its back catalog. It’s not all roses, however. Unfortunately, one PlayStation generation is left inaccessible to many gamers.

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While even PlayStation Vita diehards have accepted the Vita is the black sheep of the PlayStation family by now, players looking to relive the best the PlayStation 3 had to offer will be at the mercy of their internet connection speed. On the new PS Plus, PS3 games are only available via cloud streaming, meaning that they will be functionally unplayable for gamers without high-speed internet. It’s not ideal, but it’s the best option for offering PS3 games given the contentious relationship developers had with the console.

The PS3 was notoriously difficult to develop games on due to its complex architecture, and game developers were highly critical of this. Valve President Gabe Newell’s comments that it was a “total disaster on so many levels” and “a waste of time” to develop for are among the most scathing indictments from a prominent games industry figure. While Newell eventually walked that back, forming a partnership with Sony for the PS3 release of Portal 2, those comments were still indicative of the general attitude toward the PS3 when compared to its chief HD console competitor, the Xbox 360.

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Developers were primarily frustrated with the fact that what they learned about developing for the PS3 couldn’t be translated to other platforms. Producer Shaun Himmerick, who worked on the Vin Diesel vehicle Wheelman for Midway, told the This Xbox Life podcast that the PS3’s memory constraints and difficulty with rendering made PS3 development “a huge pain in the ass.” When it came to developing multiplatform games, Himmerick said “just lead on the PS3 because if it works on the PS3, it’ll work on 360.”

Even Sony Computer Entertainment’s CEO during the PS3’s most difficult years, Kaz Hirai, openly acknowledged the difficulty of developing on the hardware, saying it was intentional. Hirai is best remembered by many gamers for his disastrous E3 2006 press conference, when those were still a thing, introducing the PS3. His exclamation of “Ridge Racer!” and the PS3’s “599 U.S. dollars” launch price tag became memes.

Hirai tried to spin the PS3’s difficulty as a positive. His argument boiled down to the PS3’s onerous nature being proof that it had “more to offer” than its competitors. While it’s true that developers like Naughty Dog did show what the PS3 was capable of with games like Uncharted and The Last of Us, that was little consolation for developers that weren’t with first-party Sony studios.

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Emulating the PS3 has been just as difficult as developing for it. It’s one reason why the PlayStation 5 only featured backward compatibility with the PS4. Rather than offering buggy emulation like Nintendo Switch Online’s Nintendo 64 ports, Sony has erred on the side of safety by making its PS3 games streaming exclusive. It’s an unfortunate reality for fans who hoped to relive PS3 classics like Metal Gear Solid 4 and deeper cuts like God of War clone Heavenly Sword. If players’ internet isn’t up to snuff, PS3 games will be a useless feature in the Premium tier.

Unfortunately, it would take a time machine to make PS3 emulation feasible at this point. It’s frustrating but fitting that the PS3’s difficult hardware is its main legacy after all these years. While disappointing, it’s hard to fault Sony for choosing to make PS3 games playable for a minority of players with quality internet instead of giving everyone broken PS3 emulation. PS3 diehards will have to hope for remasters and remakes of some games of its era to enjoy them on modern hardware. They can at least take solace that they have it better than Vita fans.

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