Sony’s reluctance to enable cross platform multiplayer is beginning to cost them.
When you buy a new games console, there has always been a few considerations to weigh up. The cost, the exclusive games, the hardware capabilities and, historically, what your friends are playing on. In console generations gone by, this last point has always held some significant sway. If all of your friends are playing Halo together on the OG Xbox, you’re more inclined to pick up an Xbox rather than be the only one from a friendship group with a different console. In the 2 previous decades, Xbox players played with other Xbox players, PlayStation players played with PlayStation players, PC players played with PC players etc with very few exceptions to that rule. Full cross platform multiplayer was nothing but a pipe-dream.
In the past few years however, cross-play has become more and more of a reality. Those rare exceptions are becoming less rare. Ark: Survival Evolved now allows Windows 10 players to play alongside Xbox One Players. Rocket League allows players to play together from Switch, Xbox, and PC. Minecraft has built a bridge between Xbox One, Switch, PC, Mobile and Tablet players so they can all create together. Fortnite can be played on almost anything with almost anyone.
Unfortunately, there’s one roadblock to the fully realised dream of cross platform play becoming a reality – Sony, the PS4 and the 70 million gamers that the Japanese tech company are determined to fence off from the rest of the world.
Unlike previous console generations, technical compatibility is no longer the issue. Speaking to Polygon, Jeremy Dunham, VP of publishing at Psyonix said;
“In reality it’s a web page with a checkbox on it. All we have to do is check that box and it would be up and running in less than an hour all over the world. That’s all we need to do.”.
In Fortnite: Save the World, the ability for Xbox One and PS4 players to play together was accidentally switched on back in 2017 before Epic hastily turned the functionality back off again. It really is that simple for some games to achieve.
So if it’s that simple, why aren’t Sony allowing cross platform play with their rival platforms?
Some fans believe it’s a case of sour grapes. Back in 2011, when the Xbox 360 was in the ascendancy and Sony were pushing for cross platform multiplayer, the American tech giants rejected the opportunity to open the gates for their players by saying;
“Because we can’t guarantee this level of quality, or control the player experience on other consoles or gaming networks, we currently do not open our network to games that allow this cross-over capability”.
This echoes a similar statement from a Sony spokesperson who said they were hesitant about “exposing what in many cases are children to external influences we have no ability to manage or look after” when asked about the possibility of Minecraft cross-play with Xbox and Switch last year. It is, of course, a valid point back in 2011 and today. If a PS4 player comes across something that is highly inappropriate in a game that was made by an Xbox One player (or vice versa) whose responsibility is it to remove? Where do the reports get delivered too? It’s a bit of a minefield but it’s one that Microsoft seem quite happy to wade into these days.
Others believe that Sony are unwilling to settle for a deal which Microsoft are dictating the terms of. In regards to Fortnite cross-play, a Microsoft spokesperson said; “We’ve worked closely with Nintendo to allow cross-network play between Xbox One and Switch and our offer to do the same with PlayStation players still holds,” which is carefully worded as though Microsoft would be the ones to activate the cross-play functionality. Then, of course, there’s the issue with cross-play Minecraft players having to sign up to an Xbox Live account regardless of whether they’re playing on Switch, mobile or Xbox One – something that I can’t imagine Sony would be too happy about given that Microsoft now report on active Xbox Live users rather than consoles sold and it would effectively be handing PS4 player data over to Microsoft.
Then, of course, you have the argument that Sony really don’t need cross-play. As market leaders in console sales, the only people to benefit from cross-play would be *everyone else*. With 70 million consoles sold, that’s most than both of its competitors combined and there’s still an element of “I play on the consoles my friends play on” around today.
Unfortunately for Sony, times have moved on and as cross-platform multiplayer continues its rise to, hopefully, become the new standard, the effects of their stubbornness to accept it is starting to show.
As a console with the advertising strap line of “for the players”, denying their install base the same accessibility to cross-play as the Xbox One and Switch is becoming a bit of a PR nightmare – especially when publishers and their competitors are very publicly calling them out as the one thing preventing it.
— Fortnite (@FortniteGame) March 11, 2018
It’s also starting to show in the platforms that new multiplayer games are being announced for. Take Aftercharge, for example. The latest title from Chainsaw Games is being described as “the next Rocket League” by some of those who got to play it at PAX East and it’s not launching on the PS4 because of the lack of cross-play capability. Speaking to Twinfinite, communications officer Laurent Mercure said;
“It’s really, really simple. It’s a game that’s more at home on the PC since it’s a shooter and the shooter crowd is big on PC. We’ve always been very good friends with Microsoft, we launched our previous game Knight Squad on Xbox One and on Games with Gold. So we have always had a great relationship with them and it was a natural fit for our first console platform.
And then we have a good relationship with Nintendo and they do allow cross-platform. Cross-platform was extremely important for us because we know the risk of launching a multiplayer-only game as an indie studio with indie marketing.
We want to have one huge player pool”.
Reading between the lines, it’s obvious that Chainsaw games knew that Aftercharge wouldn’t be the game to change Sony’s mind on Cross-Play and is instead skipping the console all together – at launch at least. This is the latest in an ever-growing list of games that are forgoing a release on the market leading console for the perceived greener grass elsewhere.
According to Tim Sweeney, the head of Fortnite developer Epic Games, full cross platform multiplayer is an “inevitability” but at the moment it’s the politics between Sony and Microsoft that are holding back something that was little more than a pipe-dream just a few years ago.
It certainly seems that Microsoft have extended an olive branch in the direction of the PS4 and if Sony leave it hanging in the air for too long, they’re likely to get left behind as the rest of the industry embraces it.