The Uncharted 3 Spinning Ring of Doom and the Upside to Digital Downloads

We've seen a lot of commentary about the quirks associated with Blizzard's decision to take Diablo III online only.  Downtime prevents players from accessing the single player game.  Digital download purchase of the game are now being subjected to restrictions intended to prevent fraud involving stolen credit card numbers - though apparently the limitations were more severe than Blizzard intended and will be relaxed.  And, of course, there's the ever-convenient side-effect that an online-only game cannot be resold.  All of these things are true, but let's not over-romanticize the offline physical media era.

A cautionary tale
I purchased a physical copy of Uncharted 3 for my 2.5 year old PS3-slim and was shocked and disappointed to find that it would not load.  All the other disc-based games in my library play fine, so I assumed I was looking at a defective disc.  I was technically beyond the exchange policy at the retailer at this point, but my wife fears no customer service agent and she was able to convince them to swap out the disc for a new copy.

I brought the new copy home and was shocked to find the same symptoms.  The PS3 clock icon spins ineffectually long past when the game should have loaded, but the game never kicks in.  A trip to Google revealed that the PS3 forums call this phenomena the "spinning ring of doom"- convinced that it is an issue with either the coding or the manufacture of the physical game discs.  They may or may not be correct, but it appears that I am not amongst them.

I called PS3 technical support - not seriously expecting a solution to the problem - and at least came away with the real culprit.  My system will load all the other game discs I have handy.  It will load all the downloaded games on the device's hard drive.  Then the rep told me to load up a Blu-Ray movie and sure enough, the same problem emerged. My 2.5 year old system apparently has a broken disc drive. 

(Aside: The rep then attempted to give me the strong-arm hard sell for Sony's repair service, which cost over $100 - I don't remember if that included shipping or precisely how long I was going to be without my system as a result.  I pointed out that I can get a new system on sale for around $250 with a game and a controller that collectively MSRP for around $100, and the guy tried to put the scare tactics on me that my game and movie downloads would not work on a new console.  I pointed out that the PSN service specifically markets game downloads as tied to your account, and - caught - he said that they should but that he's heard that sometimes they don't.) 

Vestigial Points of Failure
Don't get me wrong, I'm not thrilled with how this experience played out, and the results do not leave me eager to spend more money on the PS3 platform.  I'm now out of pocket for a game that I can't return because it's been opened and can't play because my system won't load it.

However, the part that failed is not some fancy computing hardware or exotic cooling solution or even the machine's hard drive.  The point of failure is the optical drive - a vestigial appendage whose sole contribution to the endeavor of letting me play games is to load physical media from a physical store which is taking a substantial cut of the sale price for the privilege.

Can I hypothetically trade in my working disc for something else that may or may not run on my hobbled system?  Perhaps.  Somehow that's not a lot of comfort right now.