from the tick-tock dept
We’ve had a couple of discussions now about video game preservation with the impetus being Sony’s shutdown of support for the PlayStation Store for PSP, PS3, and Vita owners. The general idea there was questioning what happens to games for those systems in the very long term if suddenly nobody can get to them anymore and the developers and publishers are not always retaining the source code and assets for these games on their end. That sort of thing is probably primarily of interest to us folks who look at these games as a form of art and culture, very much worth preserving.
But Sony may well have a much bigger issue on its hands. As a result of a strange internal time-check issue that exists on PS3 and PS4 consoles, there is the very real possibility that those consoles will be unable to play any purchased game soon if the end user replaces the battery on the device. It’s, well, it’s a bit like Y2K, but for real.
The root of the coming issue has to do with the CMOS battery inside every PS3 and PS4, which the systems use to keep track of the current time (even when they’re unplugged). If that battery dies or is removed for any reason, it raises an internal flag in the system’s firmware indicating the clock may be out of sync with reality.
After that flag is raised, the system in question has to check in with PSN the next time it needs to confirm the correct time. On the PS3, this online check happens when you play a game downloaded from the PlayStation Store. On the PS4, this also happens when you try to play retail games installed from a disc. This check has to be performed at least once even if the CMOS battery is replaced with a fresh one so the system can reconfirm clock consistency.
But if support for PSN goes away on these systems, so does the system’s ability to check in to reconfirm the correct time. And if that happens, well, then suddenly any PS4 game will no longer be playable, nor will any PS3 game bought as a digital download. Sony, in other words, can essentially render these consoles mostly or totally useless for playing games just by shutting down PSN support for these consoles.
Now, why did Sony create this problem for itself in the first place? Well, the answer is different for each console. On the PS3, it was used to enforce “time limits” on digital downloads. For the PS4, it appears to have been used more to keep gamers from messing with how trophies are shown, specifically for when they were earned. Either way, neither of those is so important at this point that Sony should risk bricking bought consoles as a result.
Interestingly, the fix for this should be a simple firmware update… except that Sony hasn’t said a word about whether one is coming.
Sony could render the problem moot relatively easily with a firmware update that limits the system functions tied to this timing check. Thus far, though, Sony hasn’t publicly indicated it has any such plans and hasn’t responded to multiple requests for comment from Ars Technica. Until it does, complicated workarounds that make use of jailbroken firmware are the only option for ensuring that aging PlayStation hardware will remain fully usable well into the future.
I can’t imagine a single reason why Sony would want this looming customer crises on its hands… unless it’s part of a plan to push the public to buy more, new-generation consoles and get their games back from there. If that is indeed the plan, the PR fallout is going to be insane.