== Nixon Computer ==

What's Going On With PlayStation Avatars?

video games playstation

The point of this post is mostly to complain about how hard it is to buy an avatar for display on a PlayStation Network account these days. Okay? If you want to skip my verbose and detailed explanation of me executing such a purchase, you can skip to the part below the image where I do some other opining.

The other day, I wanted to purchase an image of Strike Man from Mega Man 10 to use as my PSN avatar. I don’t remember exactly what gave me this itch. I think I was maybe browsing this site looking for something else and happened upon it incidentally. Then I was like “Well, I love Mega Man, and it is almost baseball season! I should have this.” As a bonus, I like to be a special boy with the kind of avatar that makes my friends be like “who’s that guy?” and this fits the bill.

Anyway, so then I set about checking to see if PS3 avatars – or indeed avatars of any kind – could be bought on PlayStation 5. The answer is no on both counts! Anyone whose only access to the PlayStation store is by way of a PlayStation 5 may only use a slate of default avatars or any others that they are entitled to by way of purchases made on a PS3 or PS4. Why is this? It’s anybody’s guess. Maybe paid avatars aren’t profitable, but that seems almost inconceivable when you consider the level of effort required to make and sell them. Maybe Sony prefers that people use their slate of free avatars that mostly feature characters from their first-party IP.

Regardless, I was determined to have this image represent me on their network. I dutifully fired up my PlayStation 3, and that’s when the real fun began.

First, I was presented with an immediate reminder that I needed to update my PS3’s firmware before I would be allowed to use any network features. This almost certainly was an update that did nothing but patch some late-life jailbreaking holes so that no one would dare pirate something on PlayStation 3. After all, the store is still online since we all complained about it shutting down enough.

And boy is it technically still online. When you open the PS3 store, you are presented with a real ghost town of a shopping experience. And look, I get it, the PS3’s successor is over a decade old. I know nothing is coming out for PS3, so the fact that the front page of the storefront is basically just a “Best of PS3” list does make some sense.

But on a more personal level, I was also immediately struck by the fact that the store seemingly does not support 4:3 displays. See, my PS3 is hooked up to a CRT TV in my bedroom, since I mainly use it to watch DVDs of old sitcoms before bed (as one does). So the store was overscanned as hell on my display, but it was still functional.

The first thing I was presented with was a message indicating that purchases can only be made with PlayStation wallet funds, and those can only be added to one’s account by way of a PS4, PS5, or the PlayStation website. Annoying, but I’d been through a similar process during the 3DS and Wii U eShop closures. I groaned and went through the appropriate process on the latter to add the minimum $5 to my account to purchase this $0.50 avatar.

Then, like a fool, I attempted to use the search function to find the avatar I sought. Naturally, avatars do not come up in search results on the PS3 store. What was I thinking?

So then I poked around to figure out where the hell they could be found for general browsing. Turns out that’s under Games -> Add-Ons -> Avatars–or at least that’s what I think it’s under based on my partially cropped view of the store. I wouldn’t really consider them game add-ons, but whatever!

Anyway, from there, I was dumped into a list of over 4000 avatars to sift through to find the one I wanted. You can ostensibly filter by genre, but it seemed only a small subset of things actually had that tagged, so that was useless. Sorting didn’t help either, since alphabetical was the only order that made any real sense to rifle through this much garbage. So I sorted Z-A, mentally calculating (wrongly, it turns out) that M was slightly closer to Z in the alphabet than A.

Then began the task of scrolling through a bunch of slow-rendering store listings, pausing occasionally to allow them to load so I’d know what letter I had reached. Eventually I reached the Ms. The thing about approaching “Mega” in reverse alphabetical order, though, is that first you must pass “Metal.” So I encountered a bunch of Metal Gear options first. A bundle of MGS2 avatars was for sale for $2.99, and since I had already loaded $5 into my account, I figured I’d pick it up. Why not? Maybe one day I’d want to sport an avatar from this other favorite series of mine.

So I clicked my way through the purchase menus until I was given the prompt to exit the store or keep shopping. Naturally, I chose to keep shopping. You can imagine my excitement when this choice dumped me back in the Zs of the previous screen.

Undeterred, I scrolled once again through roughly 2000 avatars until I got to “Mega Man 10: Strike Man Avatar”. I followed the prompts and, at last, I was equipped with the image I wanted to use for my PlayStation profile.

Was it worth all the effort (and pennies)? I think so. Look at this profile header. This is a guy with taste.


As I said before, I can only guess as to why Sony jettisoned this bit of customization from their ecosystem. Could it partially be because the avatar section is positively flooded with insane garbage? Possibly. If you don’t believe me, check out the site I linked above and search for avatars. There’s tons of weird, inane text-based avatars for anyone that wants to self-describe as a certain type of gamer or a proud gun owner or a patriot or whatever. Really weird!

But they’re not alone. Xbox also no longer sells gamerpics — as they branded them on 360 — although one engineer at Xbox went to admirably great lengths to ensure that those purchased on 360 would remain usable on Xbox in perpetuity. But if you only have access to an Xbox One or Series X|S, you’re left with the option to basically pose your Xbox Avatar for a picture to set as your digital representation.

Nintendo is alone in allowing its users to purchase avatars for use on their online services. Naturally, though, they did it in a weird way. You can only buy them with Platinum Points earned through their rewards program (fortunately, these come at a pretty steady pace if you use their services), and they are constantly rotating out which ones are available for purchase, usually based on a new release they’re promoting. Fortunately, I got my Captain Falcon F-Zero X avatar while it was for sale, and I’ll likely never change it.

But all three of these major platforms are united in getting rid of console themes. The 360, PS3, PS4, and 3DS all featured the option to customize your home menu look and feel for just a few bucks (or some games would include them for free). Usually this meant that the background image and various UI elements would change to closely align to the game the theme was based on. Maybe clicking around the menu would use the sound effects from the relevant game as well, and maybe the battle theme would play or something. For the 20th anniversary of the PS1, Sony released a PS4 theme that played the startup sound from the original console. Cool right? Well that sort of fun is unfortunately a thing of the past. We are now stuck with the PS5’s boring UI and dismal idle music and the Switch’s comically spartan presentation. At least Xbox lets you use any arbitrary screenshot as your wallpaper?

Maybe I’m a fool for wanting things like themes and avatars back, but I always thought they were a nice customization compromise offered to those of us that choose to play games on consoles. They made the walled-garden nature of the things seem a bit less apparent. Of course, I could play on PC and upload any arbitrary image as my Steam avatar and use whatever desktop wallpaper I want. But I’m not doing that. Just seems weird that Sony no longer seems to want the $0.50 I’m willing to pay to digitally represent myself as a favorite video game character. It seems like an obvious lose/lose, but the industry-wide disappearance of these things must mean I’m wrong since the benevolent invisible hand would surely never lead these businesses astray.