Why Native PS3 Gameplay on Newer PlayStation Consoles is Difficult

Plenty of gaming fans are aware of and may have shared the meme of “the PS3 has no games,” but that was always an exaggeration of the state of the console during its lifespan. The PS3 was both plenty successful, and played host to some of the most iconic games from the seventh console generation, ranging from Uncharted to Journey. Among multiple other examples, the PS3 was host to several iconic first and third-party games, many of which have seen re-releases and remasters over the years. For those that haven’t been re-released, PlayStation offered PS Now to play PS3 games via streaming, and now Playstation Plus is accomplishing the same on PS4/PS5.

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PlayStation’s streaming service, PS Now, has been folded into the main online service PlayStation players subscribe to, shifting into a tiered subscription model. PS Plus is separated into three tiers: The unchanged Essential, the Extra tier (bringing with it several “blockbuster hits” from first and third-party games), and the Premium tier, which includes PS3 game streaming as part of the other streamable games from PS Now. Beyond a few exceptions like re-released titles such as Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection gold The Last of Us Remasteredthose are the only ways to play PS3 games on PS4/PS5, and that’s because of the inherent difficulty of porting PS3 games.


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PS3: Innovative Technology, Lackluster Support

Development for the PS3 was notoriously troublesome for first and third-party titles, as remarked from developers ranging from Madden‘s executive producer Seann Graddy, to Obsidian Entertainment CEO Feargus Urquhart. The source of developers’ criticisms stemmed from the unique and complex Cell processor architecture that the PS3’s hardware and software was based on, though plenty of external factors had hindered and discouraged developers. Many studios and development staff were less familiar with working on Cell processing in games, a far more niche hardware component compared to the ATI graphics and IBM’s Xenon processor in the Xbox 360.


Moving on to the eighth generation of home consoles, Sony and Microsoft ended up falling in line with one another by partnering with AMD. Both the PS4 and Xbox One were developed on an x86-64 architecture, a far more ubiquitous processor architecture that’s been in use in Windows PCs for decades. Nowadays, the development on PS4/PS5 and Xbox One/Xbox Series X/S is generally much more cohesive and universal, making cross-platform development (and crossplay) more feasible. As a result, that’s also made PS3 backwards compatibility much more difficult. The Cell processor architecture means games require more backend work to be compatible with newer consoles.


Some games have made the transition to modern consoles thanks to developer support and interest. The Last of Us Remastered and Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection wouldn’t have come to PS4 and up without Naughty Dog’s investment in remastering these games for PS4. Plenty of other third-party PS3 titles have also made their way to PS4 on a case-by-case basis. That being said, because PS3 games were designed for a very specific hardware and software framework, backwards compatibility for PS3 games is just not straightforward enough to be simple.

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Several PS3 Games Remain Unable to Play on PS4/PS5

For now, PS Plus is the only option for fans to play PS3 games on a modern system, outside of methods like emulation. However, given how difficult the nature of developing games for the PS3 was, reverse-engineering games from the PS3 to run on PC or Linux is even more difficult. It is rumored that Sony may be providing an official avenue of emulation, though it’s unclear if and when this functionality could come to the PS5 in the future. This is certainly unfortunate, especially given the fact that PS3 games are only streamable via the Premium tier of PlayStation Plus, which is the most expensive subscription tier offered by Sony ($17.99/month, $119.99/year).

That being said, PS3 emulation on PC has come a long way; as recent as 2021, the development team behind PS3 emulator RPCS3 had announced that every game from the PS3 library was confirmed to boot and run (albeit not well) on the emulator. Sony supporting its own initiative for PS3 emulation on PS5 is not entirely unfeasible, especially considering the hardware would be more than capable of handling emulation. Not to mention PlayStation would be able to prioritize development on PS3 emulation and release the technology much faster than fan-made efforts. Considering PS4 and some PS2 games are playable on PS5 via emulation, PS3 could be next.


Of course, that comes at a price for the technology. Emulation as it’s traditionally distributed only involves the cost of the game itself, not the emulator. That’s likely the reason why games such as that classic Star Wars game bundle that came out in 2015, which essentially confirmed that PS2 emulation was working on PS4, released at a premium price. Same deal for games like the Jak and Daxter Bundlealso working natively on PS5 via emulation, but are still available for $39.99 MSRP.

PS2 emulation on PS4 did seemingly release with little fanfare from Sony or PlayStation itself, but PS3 emulation on PS4/PS5 would be hard to subtly announce. Plenty of hardcore PlayStation fans have been asking for ways to play games like Metal Gear Solid 4 gold Infamous on Sony’s modern consoles natively, putting aside game streaming via PlayStation Now. Playing PS3 games natively on PS4/PS5 is certainly possible, and can lead to definitive versions of games, but that’s largely thanks to supportive developers. For those looking for a definitive version of PS3 games on modern consoles, game streaming on PS Plus is not a sufficient alternative.


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