I've been a Playstation 3 owner since 2008 and shortly after I bought my shiny new toy a friend of mine suffered a hardware failure on his own PS3. This served as a cautionary tale and I began to faithfully make backups every week.
The PS3 backup utility is buried in the system menu on the PS3 Xross Media Bar and it is about as bare-bones as a backup utility can get. It simply copies everything from the PS3's internal hard drive to an external hard drive of your choosing. Or at least that's what I thought.
A couple weeks ago, after four long years of hard work and arduous service, my PS3 finally gave out. It is a form of death informally known as the Yellow Light of Death, much akin to the Xbox 360's similar Red Ring of Death.
For most users this would have been a moment of extreme panic and lament. For myself, however, it was simply an annoyance. I had a very recent backup so when I contacted Sony and set up my "repair" I knew that aside from the $100 fee the only inconvenience would be waiting for my new unit to arrive and then waiting for my backup data to be restored.
I'd never done a full restore of a backup before and I knew anecdotally that certain items wouldn't restore properly (content purchased from the Playstaiton Store, like games would have to be redownloaded), which made sense. But here are a few things that I didn't expect:
1. Swapping hard drives will require firmware on a thumb drive
To compound my problems, not only was I restoring a new PS3, but I also needed to swap back in my 500GB hard drive. The drive was in good shape with no bad sectors but I kept getting an error message when I turned on the PS3. I had forgotten that if you want to swap hard drives, a USB device loaded with up-to-date firmware is necessary. There are plenty of guides for this process, but the one thing they all seemed to omit is if you're having problems getting the ball rolling (aka an annoyingly vague error message) you'll need to initiate recovery mode by holding the power button down when you turn on the PS3 until you hear a second beep to see a list of new options.2. Media purchased from the 'Video' side of the Playstation Store is gone forever.
I'm still not 100% sure about this one, as I have yet to contact Sony customer support, but from what I have read around the Internet any movies and TV shows purchased from the Playstation Store are gone forever. Apparently buried deep in the Terms of Service it says somewhere that you only get to download these items once. Once you've downloaded them they are locked to that box and if you switch boxes you're out of luck. It's pretty bogus. I didn't own too much stuff, but I had an entire season of Futurama and some other random episodes of shows that apparently I can't get back without re-purchasing.3. Locked saves are gone too.
It's not too common for developers to use locked saves for their games, but a few of my games used them and those saves did not get backed up. How can you tell if any of your game saves are locked? You can't... at least not easily. The only way I've ever been able to determine it is to highlight a save and hit triangle. If the 'Copy' option is grayed out you've probably got a locked save. Like I said, not too many games use locked saves these days, but all the work I put into unlocking songs and extras in DJ Hero 1 & 2 went down the drain.4. Your game data is gone.
I knew I'd have to redownload all the games I'd purchased, but what I didn't expect was that none of my game data would make the trip over to the new hard drive. Your game data is separate from your game saves. Game data is all of the "other" stuff that gets saved to your PS3's hard drive. Game installs from disc-based games and downloadable games have to be re-installed. I'd forgotten what a joy it was to load Gran Turismo 5 with it's 40-minute mandatory install.5. You've redownloaded your games, but don't forget to patch them.
Something else that came as a surprise was that even though I had to download fresh copies of my games, the games weren't patched! Redownloading patches for my disc-based games makes sense after loosing all of my game data, but when I download a fresh copy of a full game I expect it to come fully patched. It took a while to download Burnout paradise, but it took even longer to download all the patches that have come out since its' 2008 release.6. Your metadata is gone.
This was one of the bigger bummers for me. While I was disappointed to have lost the video content I purchased from the Playstation Store, it wasn't a huge deal to me because I had far more video that I had ripped and copied to the Playstation myself. This was all backed up and restored intact except for one small annoyance that turned out to be a big hassle to fix. I had organized all my videos, games and music into folders. These folders are created and applied on the PS3 and evidently that information is not encoded into the PS3's copy of the file because after the restore my folders were all gone. This may not sound like a big deal, but when you've got 200GB of content heaped into a pile with no way to make sense of it, the only thing you can do is sift through it file by file and place each item into a new folder one at a time. The songs I had on the drive had all been shaken loose of their playlists, TV shows jumbled and all the file names reverted to what they were when I originally copied them over to the PS3.7. Your trophies are OK
On the plus side, even if your game saves were locked and they didn't get transferred over, your trophies should remain intact. So long as you made a point to go through with that mind-numbing 'sync trophy data with server' every once in a while.8. Re-registering your device may result in happy bonuses.
It's not all gloom and doom. If you're restoring to a new PS3 or replacement unit re-registering your unit with some services like VUDU or Amazon Instant video may garner you a complimentary credit with the service. VUDU gave me a $5.99 credit (enough for a free HDX rental) and Amazon gave me $5.