For the LittleBigPlanet community, one thing is clear — none of the mainline games in the series work right now, and haven’t for quite some time. Very little beyond that fact is very clear at all. The series’ small but devoted group of remaining players has been left in the dark about why major sections of LittleBigPlanets 1, 2, and 3 are unplayable, who’s responsible, and when it will all be fixed. It’s a situation that speaks to the wider issue of online game preservation, and when a community is seemingly deemed no longer valuable enough to the companies that operate their games.
The LittleBigPlanet servers went down in early March. Their single player campaigns remain playable, and users can create their own levels, but they can no longer upload or download levels —the lifeblood of LittleBigPlanet, particularly this many years after release. Nor can they play with friends or access the game’s store. All three of the console LittleBigPlanet games are linked, with LittleBigPlanet 3 players theoretically able to download levels made for the first game; the unfortunate side-effect of this open approach being that when servers go down for one game, they go down for all three.
The servers remain inaccessible as I write, and messages around server repairs have been few and far between. On March 12, the Twitter accounts for LittleBigPlanet, LittleBigPlanet 3 developer Sumo Digital, and Sony studio SIE XDev all mentioned that the servers were being taken down because of ‘technical difficulties’. On March 31, the LittleBigPlanet Twitter account followed up to say that the team was working to “get the servers back online ASAP”, with XDev director of product development Pete Smith adding that “It might not be today, but it’s close.” Fan site LBP Union even reported that the game was briefly playable in full that day, albeit with some slowdown – but the servers were down again before too long.
The last we heard from the team came on April 16, with a post reading, “We are still working on the LBP server issues. It’s taking us longer than we hoped but we are making progress and will update everyone as soon as we have more info. Thanks for being so patient :)”.
In talking with multiple members of the series’ community, I’ve heard a number of guesses and theories about how and why this happened in the first place. Many have pointed fingers at a single, aggrieved member of the community, spoken about stolen server keys, and claimed that thousands of junk levels were uploaded at one time as a DDOS attack to cripple servers. Others refuse to believe those theories, believing more prosaic reasons are to blame, based more on a lack of support for the games as they get older.
Nothing can be proven either way, because no party involved in LittleBigPlanet’s upkeep has meaningfully commented on the issue, other than to acknowledge that there is one. IGN understands that series creator MediaMolecule is no longer involved in any element of LittleBigPlanet’s ongoing operations, leaving its newer developers and publisher in a position to answer questions – although none of them ever truly have. LittleBigPlanet’s community manager has failed to respond to multiple requests for comment from IGN, Sumo Digital has been similarly silent, and Sony Interactive Entertainment responded to multiple questions about the issue with a simple statement, lacking in detail:
“We are aware of server issues with LittleBigPlanet and are working to get the issue fixed and the servers back online. We will keep you updated on progress and appreciate the continued patience as we work to resolve the matter.”
That stony silence around what exactly has happened has left members of the community wondering (and worrying about) not when, but if they’ll ever get to play the creative platformers again.
I asked LBP player JakeLamba what it is that brought him back to the game so long after its release, and their reply feels like a very common sentiment. “A few months ago I started looking into PS3 stuff again, just for fun, and when I saw LittleBigPlanet on the PS3 games store a flood of forgotten memories came rushing back. I just got reminded of all the amazing times I had in the game and how instrumental it was in promoting creativity in me as a child. Though it’s not just nostalgia that keeps bringing me back. I honestly think the game series is being slept on. The games have so much charm in them.”
Another community member, Redshift-TTV agrees: “As a kid playing LBP1 on my PS3 for the first time it was magical. It felt like the game was on a whole different level compared to others. The game had the perfect childhood, arts and crafts project feel to it. Really feeding into our growing imaginations at the time.”
Players return to, or have simply kept playing, LittleBigPlanet games because of the memories attached to them, and their relatively unique format – only the Mario Maker series really matches LittleBigPlanet for both profile and approach. One user even says they now play it with their own child, after playing it themselves back in 2008. “It’s a great creative outlet for my kid who loves to create levels to express feelings, thoughts, or ideas,” says 0niongirl. “I feel so sad that a game that I love and now my child loves is slowly fading away.”
Just as we’ve seen with console generations, there are generations of gamers too, and LittleBigPlanet’s remaining base of active players remain tied to the series because it feels like part of a bygone age. LittleBigPlanet’s generation was part of the vanguard of massively online console gaming, and an early success in “shareable” content for PlayStation – and it’s that mixture of age, server reliance, and player input that makes the current situation so difficult to take for fans.
If increasing digitalization is a concern for those interested in game preservation, games that rely on online-driven, user-generated content should be treated like something of an endangered species. Games like LittleBigPlanet are, essentially, built with an invisible countdown clock, ticking to the moment that the scales tip from “community support is worthwhile” to “community support is fiscally inefficient”. As a community dwindles over time, it will inevitably reach a point at which those paying to keep the lights on simply don’t see the value in the few remaining players, no matter their passion.
Some of the LittleBigPlanet community are grimly realistic about the game’s eventual fate: “LittleBigPlanet is an incredibly old game,” says JakeLamba, “where even the latest installment came out 7 years ago, so to expect them to regularly maintain and keep up servers is in my opinion unrealistic.”
But from what we can see, LittleBigPlanet is suffering those effects somewhat early. The games don’t seem to be down because Sony or Sumo have decided it’s time to close them once and for all, although total silence on the support side doesn’t help assuage that worry. Instead, they’re stuck in a kind of limbo, simply waiting for the servers to tick back on again. There’s a powerlessness to it – you own the game, which should be working, and yet you’re totally unable to use it as designed, with no one telling you why.
This isn’t isolated to LittleBigPlanet. TheGamer recently reported that Titanfall on PC has been functionally unplayable for years due to hackers, who post racist abuse and forcibly disconnect those coming to play for legitimate reasons. Developer Respawn and publisher EA seemingly didn’t respond to queries from its small remaining community, presumably for the same reasons that the game’s servers will, one day, inevitably be closed – it’s simply not a profitable use of a support’s time.
Where server attacks and outages in more recent games are fixed as a matter of course, in legacy games like Titanfall and LittleBigPlanet, the silence can be hard to break. It’s no surprise that, once the Titanfall community’s story hit a wider audience, Respawn promised fixes. In LittleBigPlanet’s case, the community organized, created a #SaveLBP hashtag, and contacted the media once it realized what had happened.
“I think this movement saved LBP from being ignored either indefinitely or for a longer period than what we waited for already,” Redshift-TTV tells me. JakeLamba agrees: “I definitely think the servers being worked on is due to fan outcry and media coverage. Without it there would’ve been a very good chance they were just going to shut it down and put an end to the LBP games.”
But even all that effort has led only to an acknowledgement of the problem. In both Titanfall and LittleBigPlanet’s case, no fix has been finalised, and no timeline given for it. There are signs as I write that LittleBigPlanet may be beginning to come back online, with some users reporting that they’ve been able to connect (although I’ve been unable to myself) – but even if and when the servers do return, the silence around this issue doesn’t inspire hope for the inevitable moment when LittleBigPlanet is deemed less necessary to fix.
It speaks to the inherent problem of being a devoted fan of an older, online-focused game. No matter how passionate you might be, your hobby is in someone else’s control, not least when that someone else has historically shut down fan efforts to keep it alive in a new form. This will likely only be the beginning of this problem. Less than two decades ago, we entered into an age of increasingly online games; around a decade after that, we entered an era in which many of those games would become digital-only; now we’re entering a period in which many, or most, of those older games no longer hold value to those who hold the keys to make them work, with those same people reluctant to hand the keys over to those who would value keeping those games alive themselves.
Right now, a group of LittleBigPlanet players are part of an unwilling first wave of that movement – and they just want to know why they can’t play their chosen games. No one is telling them.