PlayStation Plus Premium has been announced, but there's a conspicuous absence of PS3 downloads in the PS Plus Premium library. In fact, neither PS4 nor PS5 have backward compatibility with PS3 games, either. The PS3 is rapidly becoming a relic of another era, with the only way to play PS3 games being on a PS3 outside of PC emulation which does have serious drawbacks. So, in this article, we'll explain why PS5/PlayStation Plus Premium will never support PS3 games natively.
The Architecture of PS3
Central processing units, or CPUs, have cores. Cores are the actual processing units of a CPU, while 'CPU' itself is an umbrella term that describes all the processing units on a chip together. Each core in a CPU can handle a task or multiple tasks, depending on its threading.
Cores could support multiple threads such that they could work on tasks simultaneously. This kind of multicore multithreaded processing is how CPUs have worked for a long time. Over the last few decades, core counts and threads have increased while CPUs have also gotten much more efficient.
The Xbox 360 had a fairly traditional CPU setup: It had three cores and six threads, and it was designed by IBM. The PS3, on the other hand, has a processor that works fundamentally differently, not relying upon multicore rendering, which was designed by Sony in collaboration with Toshiba and IBM.
The PS3's Cell processor was designed as both the PS3's CPU and as a tool for supercomputing. The Cell, you see, only had a single core in the traditional sense, but it had a bunch of co-processing elements that when taken advantage of could handle tasks much more complicated than the 360's CPU could.
However, developing for the PS3's Cell processor was complicated, and it often necessitated developers having to rebuild their entire game from scratch to get it to work on Sony's custom silicon. This meant that while the more powerful processor, games could still perform worse on PS3 and often would, especially nearer to the beginning of the console's lifespan.
The Cell processor is also why PS3 backward compatibility isn't something we're ever really likely to see in any form.
PS5 Could Run PS3 Games But Won't
The problem with PS3 backward compatibility on PS3 is the Cell processor, even though the PS5 is many times more powerful than the PS3. The problem is that because of the unique design of the Cell processor, coding an emulator to run on PS5 that allows the console to play PS3 games is an enormous engineering undertaking.
It would require lots of bespoke support for individual games, which number in the thousands for the PS3, and it would require active development too as gamers played games and ran into issues with the emulation owing to quirks of the Cell processor.
Then, Sony would have to engineer tech to play these games in higher resolutions at higher framerates, because a decade and a half later, playing games at 720p/30FPS with far lower graphical fidelity and responsiveness doesn't feel great. This too would require a meaningful amount of manpower, money, and time.
Sure, Sony could slap a Cell processor in every PS5 such that it could have a much easier time natively playing PS3 games, but that would cost money. And rather than increase the price of PS5, which is already high, it makes more sense for Sony to focus on modern gaming, because after all, that's why someone would buy a PS5.
A lot of PS3 classics have, also, gotten ports, remakes, or remasters, which often lessens the blow of not being able to play PS3 games, like the first three Uncharted games. But still, many gamers lament the absence of PS3 support. However, there is another option outside of an actual PS3 if you want to play PS3 games.
PS3 emulation isn't likely to come to PS5 because of how much work it would take to create such an emulator, but such an emulator actually exists on PC. Beginning way back in 2011, RPCS3, a PlayStation 3 emulator, was born. Today in 2022, 11 years on, the project is astonishingly far along.
Over 66% of PS3 games are considered 'playable' on RPCS3, and then another 28% of games work but can't be completed or have serious issues, while only 5% and change of PS3 games don't make it past the menus or worse. Currently, no games fail to initialize in the emulator or crash it outright.
The emulator has lots of modern trappings like being able to unlock framerates and increase resolution along with a host of features familiar to the emulation world. However, the 66% of games that do work on RPCS3 don't work flawlessly. In many cases, performance isn't great.
Plus, you generally need a powerful PC if you want to get the best performance out of RPCS3, which means many more people will experience worse performance than what is actually even possible with the emulator. Though some games do work really well, and this is the only way to see these PS3 games running at higher resolutions and framerates.
RPCS3 is in many ways an engineering marvel, but after 11 years, only two-thirds of the console's library works, and those two-thirds are far from perfect, and for a team of dedicated, talented individuals, this goes to show how much of a massive undertaking PS3 emulation actually is to accomplish. It doesn't make a lot of sense for Sony to invest that much time and money into developing a feature that wouldn't even be used by that many gamers.
However, as PS5 gets hacked and people eventually figure out how to run other operating systems and programs on it, doubtlessly some enterprising individual will try and get RPCS3 running it on to show the PS5 playing a native PS3 game, which is unfortunately likely the only way we'll ever see such a thing outside of PS Plus Premium's PS3 cloud streaming.