The Agony and Ecstasy of a Hard Disk Drive Failure

I received my PlayStation as a present for Christmas 1997, along with Twisted Metal 2, Final Fantasy VII, and a memory card. Shortly thereafter I saved my first game to that memory card. Over the last fifteen years I have strictly organized, cataloged, and maintained my game save collection. That came to an end Tuesday night when my PS3 hard disk drive failed, causing a large chunk of my entire collection of game saves, from the PS, PS2, and PS3, to be corrupted and unrecoverable. Why didn’t I back up my saves or place them on the cloud? Well I had backed up my saves, but not in the last two and a half years, and as for the cloud, I am not a PS Plus member so that little extra is denied me. However, having gone through this experience I see the mistakes I made and, oddly, the new lease on gaming life it has given me.

As with most people I had the hubris to think, “Disk drive failures happen to other people,” “I take good care of my console, I have no need to worry,” or simply “I don’t have the time to back up everything right now.” Well let me tell you something, you and your console aren’t special. It can fail you. You can keep your console in a cool, dry room and only play it for 30 minutes at a time, and it can still fail you. Now I am seriously considering getting on a “backup every two weeks” schedule so that if this were to happen again my pain would be minimal. But my own stupidity is not what I regret the most; it’s the loss of memories. This may seem overwrought or melodramatic but when I look at my game saves or pop in an old PS2 game and see that previous progress I am reminded of people and moments from my past. I know that I had tons of kills in Timesplitters thanks to my best friend, Josue, and I playing it until the wee hours of the morning almost every weekend senior year of high school. Or that I led Kratos to slay Ares the spring I graduated college after I had completed all my class requirements. To this gamer these saves were the equivalent of a family photo album, something you don’t take out and look at very often, but you need to know it’s there and safe.

All that said having the last two and half years of saves disappear into the ether lifts a great weight from my shoulders. When I think about my backlog or all those games I started and never finished I feel weighed down. This baggage has been alleviated now that these saves are gone. I no longer need to feel as if I must complete that RPG I started before I tackle a game I’ve been eying on my shelf. Now I’m free to play any of the games in my collection, PS, PS2, PS3, or whatever I want. Sure some of you may say, “You could always do that.” Well not really, the way I play games is generally I will have one or two going at the same time, typically a lengthier one, like an RPG or a large sandbox game, and a shorter, more finite game, an action game or FPS. So if I get tired of slogging through the RPG I can hop over to the action game and kick some ass, or conversely, if I hit a boss battle in the action game that I can’t beat I switch over to the RPG to feel like I’m making progress. While I’m sure this doesn’t apply to everyone, this is how I roll. So the loss of these saves gives me carte blanche to spelunk through my collection and I finally get to try out those games that there just wasn’t time for before.

I realize I am sending a mixed message, but the loss of massive amounts of data is truly a mixed blessing. Yes, I can no longer jump back into War of the Monsters and have everything unlocked, but on the other hand I get to look at my collection with new eyes, eyes unburdened by the notion of “I’ll come back to that later.” I get to start over, and while it’s scary, I will replay those wonderful game experiences from previous console generations, and move on to new ones. Letting go of the past is hard, but sometimes it’s the only way to move toward the future.

Written by Justin Spielmann

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  • Anonymous

    P.S. – A semi happy ending. My actual console hardware appears to be fine and the new 500 gig disk drive I put in my PS3 is currently downloading the last two and a half years of PSN purchases. Though I’m waiting to download everything and back it up before I start playing any disc based games, especially the one that I was playing when the hard drive failed. A bit superstitious I know but at this point I’m fairly gun shy.

    • Anonymous

      Hey Justin, is your trophies still intact? Go to and enter your online ID and see if your trophies are still there.

      • Anonymous

        Trophies are still intact. I didn’t sync terribly regularly, but don’t think I missed out on any progress.

  • This truly sucks, I feel the same way about my game saves and the way I play games. We have a similar mentality on how we play 2-3 games at a time. Lost all of my saves from this gen earlier this year when my hd died as well..  It’s kinda like a bad car accident or something. I’m always saying “It can’t happen to me”.  Any console/hd can die at anytime.

  • That`s exactly the reason why I’m a subscriber of PS+. It’s very comfortable to know that all my game saves are backed up every day. But I also do an back up every 6 month to my external HDD to be on the save side. 

  • Ramen_4_Life

    I don’t want to say that’s traumatic, because there are plenty of worse things that qualify for that word’s use.  But it would be a MAJOR shock if a HDD failure happened to me.  I always see my game saves as official proof that I beat a game, or a reminder that I’m only half-done on something and that I need to “get on that”.

    Consider me scared straight.  Back-ups every two weeks, every Saturday morning.

    Starting now.

  • That’s a tough break, my friend. I feel your pain, it happened to me on my first PS3, and I can’t even access my main account anymore and download all my old stuff ;__;

  • Anonymous

    I know the pain, early this year was my hdd failure. Can i suggest that ps+ might be worth it?

    • Anonymous

      How long did you have your console and is it a fat or slim?

  • PS+ isn’t always the great savior, for me anyway.  My first problem being that I have way more than 150Mb of game saves on my hard drive.  It then becomes a rolling of the dice as to which games get backed up and which ones don’t.

    I found that I put up as many as I could, favoring the more recent titles, but really haven’t used it in quite a while.  That’s because my second problem is having multiple PS3’s.  With PS+ Cloud Saves, it will only do the automatic push on one system, that system is sitting in my basement.  I’ve found that recently, I’m playing more in the living room upstairs so the Cloud Save feature is lost to me up there unless I do it manually, which brings me to my third problem, lack of space.

    I have about 15Mb of space free for Cloud Saves and when each Be A Pro file on NHL 12 is almost 7Mb, not to mention every other game I’m playing that came along after I filled the Cloud up, I just end up not using it at all.

    I really need to get back to doing a regular backup to an external drive or I’m gonna pay for it.  I hated losing as much as I did when my 60Gb died, but I had an external backup that was about a year old so it wasn’t a total loss.  I don’t want to go through that again.  I just wish Sony would up the storage space for Cloud Saves.  Server space is cheap these days but it’s probably more of an infrastructure issue with millions of files being checked and possibly updated each night from around the world.

    • Anonymous

      Josh, you could copy the NHL saves to a flash drive (If it does not have copy protection), and then go to a cloud storage provider such as SkyDrive, and then just upload those to a folder, and ta da. I do that with my PSP saves.

      • Too much work, or I would have been doing something like this in the first place.  The PS+ Cloud Save feature was supposed to make it easier.

        • Anonymous

          Well the PS+ cloud save feature has only 150MB of space you can use, and that is not alot. I mentioned SkyDrive because you can have up to 25GB for storage for anything you want. To me, that is easy.

  • Anonymous

    Hey Justin, did you ever think about taking the crashed HDD apart and taking a working one apart and just swapping the discs? I never done it, but I think that it would be worth a try. I think that it might actually work. Proceed at your own risk though.

    • Anonymous

      Really don’t want to risk it. Not really the “take-it-apart-and-mess-with-the-techno-guts” kind of guy. Which of course is what led me to prefer consoles. However, with consoles becoming more advanced they get more PC-like with each iteration. Ah for the days of memory cards.

      • Anonymous

        Memory cards can fail too, but much less than a HDD would. :-p

  • Matthew Burton

    Having PS+ does not mean it is automatically easy for everything to be synced to the cloud. My understanding of it from using it is the following –
    1 – You can go through your saved data folder on the ps3 and upload (not sync) individual save files (not folders).
    2 – You can go through psn games in your ps3 game list, and select sync to cloud. This will sync the entire folder of save files for the game * NOTE – it does not do this syncing process unless you also play the game at least once after setting the option!
    3 – Same for PS3 disc games as for PSN ones, but it is more of a pain as you have to put the disc in for every game you want to set it up for. * NOTE – again it isn’t just enough to select sync to cloud from the disc view in the XMB, you have to actually load the game up once too.

    Sony really need to improve the ways to set up the syncs. It is a service they’ve advertised quite a lot, but I bet most ps+ users are only syncing up a few recent games they’ve played since it became available, which isn’t how it comes across from the advertising.

  • Matthew Burton

    Also I totally understand how you feel Justin. I’ve had similar feelings in the past about if I lost my entire mp3 / video collection. I would probably end up branching out and discovering new stuff in a quest to get back all the material I consider essential.