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 library of games. But you’d never know, considering how many hoops you have to jump through before you can access it. After letting my PS3 gather dust for the past few years, I decided it was time to give the console another twist. After an hour of struggling with – and barely overcoming – the archaic interface and arcane restrictions, I almost wish I hadn’t.
There are still plenty of great games to buy on PS3. And if you can’t find them at a used game store or on eBay, buying them digitally is technically still an option. But if you go this route, you should be prepared for a lot of frustration along the way.
A stay of execution
Long-time Tom’s Guide readers might recall that there was a lot going on in the PS3’s online store last year. Sony threatened to shut everything down, as the company wanted to focus more on selling PS4 and PS5 games. After a month of fan backlash, Sony has agreed to continue PlayStation Store operations on PS3 and PS Vita, although the PSP’s online store is (mostly) doomed.
The only problem is that these outdated console stores required compromises to stay afloat. Unlike the PS4 and PS5, buying games on the PS3 has a number of annoying restrictions:
- You must purchase games through the console itself, not a web browser
- You need to pre-load the funds you need into your account
- You can only download a game from its Play Store listing, not through a web browser or app.
These may not seem like huge cons. In fact, if the PlayStation Store worked perfectly on the PS3, they wouldn’t. But each step in the process compounds on itself to create a vortex of unpleasantness, dragging a five-minute process into an hour-long odyssey.
Setting up my story is simple. I don’t have anything urgent to play at the moment, and I’ve been slowly but surely going through the excellent Yakuza series. While most of these games are available on modern consoles, the dodgy spin-off, Yakuza: Dead Souls, is relegated to PS3. It is not meant to be a great game, but I’m invested enough in the franchise to see what it has to offer. While physical copies of the game cost upwards of $80 on eBay, the $20 digital copy seemed much more tempting.
No credit card needed
In retrospect, I should have anticipated this would be a difficult process when I booted up my PS3 and found the PlayStation Store refusing to load. I discovered this was caused by my system clock being set to the wrong time, as the PS3 does not automatically adjust for Daylight Savings Time. It was also the easiest part of the process to fix, requiring only one trip through an obscure series of menus.
Then I had to find the game in the PS Store. Unlike the PS4, PS5, and web stores, the PS3 uses an antiquated system that requires you to select one letter at a time, rather than just typing the name of a game on a keyboard. It’s about as tedious as it sounds.
After adding the game to my cart, I attempted to verify. When you first log in to the PS3 store, you’ll be reminded that credit cards and PayPal don’t work and you’ll need to add funds via smartphone or PC. As I was warned ahead of time, I couldn’t be too upset about this, but it’s still an added complication in an already complicated process.
I hopped on my smartphone and logged into the PlayStation Store. Adding funds isn’t the easiest process to get started, as the link the PS3 store gives you doesn’t actually take you to the “Add Funds” page – it’s just a two-step tutorial on the way to do it. The actual option to add funds is buried in your account profile under Manage Payments.
Adding funds is also not a simple process. You can’t just figure out the price of the game you want to buy and type in the exact cost. Instead, you must add funds in increments of $5, $10, $25, $50, or $60. If your game costs, say, $21, like mine, you’ll have to live with four unnecessary bucks cluttering up your PSN account until you buy some more stuff. It’s a cheap old trick to lock yourself into a digital ecosystem.
The inexplicable error messages I received when trying to add funds were even less straightforward. My credit card had an error; my PayPal had an error. I checked that the Sony servers were working fine, but everything was fine. I decided that maybe my PC would be a better option. But after logging in and trying to add funds via credit card and PayPal again, I received the exact same message: “An error has occurred. Please try again.”
At this point my only recourse was to go online and see if anyone else had the same problem. I had two options: I could buy a PSN gift card and hope for the best, or I could try adding funds on a PS4 or PS5. Wanting to cut out the middleman, I booted up my PS5 and jumped into the PlayStation Store.
Except, as I found out, you can’t add funds in the PlayStation Store – you have to dive deep into your account menu from the PS5 home screen. It’s an unintuitive process from start to finish, but at least it (somewhat inexplicably) worked. Finally, I had $25 in my PSN wallet.
It was the end of my payment difficulties, but some obstacles still stood between Yakuza: Dead Souls and me. After finally purchasing the game, I selected the download option, only to be informed that I didn’t have enough space – 20GB, to be precise.
This part was perhaps understandable. I’ve had the PS3 for over a decade and never really emptied my games library. I took a few minutes to uninstall all of my digital games, securing 21GB of free space in total. I returned to the PS Store, where I learned that my 21 GB of free space was not enough to install a 20 GB game.
This required another trip to the internet help forums. It turns out that every PlayStation game requires twice as much space to install (or update) as it actually needs to run, due to redundancies in the installation process. In reality, 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 to the PS3’s Game Data Utility menu, which contained large installation files for all the PS3 games I had played. I had to delete all that data – but it was absolutely vital that I didn’t touch the Saved Data Utility menu, located right next to Game Data Utility, as that would have deleted all my save files instead. Some of the install data got corrupted while I was trying to remove it, which required a full console restart.
Finally, over an hour after attempting to purchase the game for the first time, I was able to begin the process of downloading Yakuza: Dead Souls onto my PS3. Due to the console’s outdated Wi-Fi connection, the process would take about four hours. I turned off my system and went to bed.
When Sony first announced the closure of the PS3 store, I argued that such practices were counterproductive to game preservation. Without rehashing my entire argument, older games are already hard to play, and removing them from digital stores makes it even harder. While it’s admirable that we can still buy and download PS3 games, the process is so complicated that I can’t imagine many people would want to do it.
To be fair, Sony only has a limited amount of resources, and it makes more sense to channel those resources into systems that people actually use every day. Even in its current, outdated form, the PS3 store takes time, effort, and money to maintain. It would take even more time, money and effort to make the experience significantly better.
And yet people are still buying and playing old games, if the outcry over PS3/Vita/PSP store closures is to be believed. If manufacturers can’t commit resources to improving this process, they should at least try to make sure it doesn’t get worse.