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Your Move: Is A Disaster Lurking In Your Video Game System?

Your PlayStation 4 is a ticking time bomb.

OK, don’t worry, it’s not actually going to explode. But there is a little coin cell battery inside it, called the CMOS battery, that powers a tiny clock inside the system. That clock is critical to some of the PS4’s security systems, and after 10 or 15 years, when it dies, no games—physical or digital—will work on the console at all.

Now, the repair is relatively simple, and once the battery is replaced and the system connects back to Sony’s servers to reverify the console, everything will work perfectly again. But, that only works if Sony still maintains the systems to reverify the consoles. If, in the future, they shut down those servers, PS4 systems could be locked out for good.

This isn’t outside the realm of possibility, either. Last month, Sony announced they were shutting down the online store for the PlayStation 3, the PSP, and the PS Vita. This week they walked that back and are only shutting off the PSP’s store, but it is a clear indication that these online services only stay up for as long as they are profitable. And these days, it’s all about the current platform, PlayStation 5.

The older PS3 has this issue as well, but it only arises with downloaded games—discs still work fine with a dead CMOS battery. And, worrying about the far future, it’s an issue on the PS5, as well. There are petitions for Sony to release a patch to solve this issue on all their platforms, but so far Sony hasn’t responded.

Download-only releases have already had game preservationists on alert, but the assumption was that at least physical disks should always be playable. Now, even that is being challenged.

Samuel McConnell is a games enthusiast who has been playing games in one form or another since 1991. He was born in northern Maine but quickly transplanted to Wichita.