Cross-platform play. Quite the hot topic these days. A lot of gamers want to blame Sony for not allowing them to play with their friends and being greedy. Just look at Epic Games. They are ready to go with Fortnite. It's impending mobile release saw them announce that PS4, PC, Mac and mobile will all be able to play together. When pressed, they had to further clarify that Xbox One players could also play with PC, Mac and mobile players. Just not PS4 players. A lot of gamers have terrific short-term memory and were quick to bring up Rocket League as another recent, popular title that was capable of cross-platform play, but Sony and big business got in the way.
Last year, Jim Ryan (Head of global sales and marketing at Sony) said:
We have a contract with the people who go online with us, that we look after them and they are within the PlayStation curated universe. [...] Exposing what in many cases are children to external influences we have no ability to manage or look after, it’s something we have to think about very carefully.
The response to this from most gamers could be summed up with an eye roll and large sigh. I get it. I read it too, and it is the expected company response. Realistically, cross-platform gaming is something we could all (as consumers) have fun with. On the flip side of that, if you are trying to sell consoles (and games on said console where you get licensing money from every title sold) you could understand the hesitation.
I am not trying to play devil's advocate here, but as good as your short-term memory is, it's the long-term I am worried about here. Your comments are so reactionary, you see something and you are so quick to call it as it is. That's not a problem, per-say, but lets do a quick recap of where we are and what position they are all in.
With current PS4 system sales around 80+ million sold and Xbox keeping official numbers close to their chest after Sony started taking that large lead (realistic estimates place it around 30 million units sold), Sony would benefit from keep things closed as far as consoles go and get the financial benefit. If some of those millions of players with only an Xbox One really wanted to play a game like Rocket League or Fortnite with their PS4 friends, Sony would benefit from them purchasing their system and title in question.
If things were opened, it'd give Microsoft a small benefit of being able to tell players "Who cares if our user base is less than half of the competition. You'll never have to worry about the player pool becoming shallow with mid-level popularity or older games ever again because it's a community pool now! We couldn't fill it ourselves, but now they are bringing people over by the bus load!". Having the largest player base is a selling point. It's a reason to convince that person interested in buying a new console to choose one over the other. Why would Sony just forfeit that? Would Microsoft do that if roles were reversed?
Microsoft has been really "cool" and open about this whole deal, too. They are taking the stance that they are doing "what's right" for gamers and acting as our friend. They want to be known that they aren't the ones keeping us all apart. Phil Spencer has shared interviews to different places and tweets about the topic. He's said in the past:
"I think people look at [cross-play] and say is it better for gamers. If it’s better for gamers, I have a hard time thinking why we shouldn’t go do this, especially when you’re trying to make the gaming business a bigger business; grow it, get more games, create more opportunity."
You'd think with comments like that and the number of times Phil has spoken for cross-platform play, if Microsoft was the one in Sony's sales position, they'd make the right choice for us. The right choice for the gamers. They'd be the better company and usher in the cooperative era of gaming and use their position to grow the business of gaming as a whole and ignore their own particular position.
You'd be wrong.
If we travel WAY back in time, long before many of you were born, all the way back to 2012, we'd see a whole other world. One where third party developer Trion was working on a MMO/FPS hybrid attached to a SciFi (oh, it was already SyFy, this really wasn't that long ago, was it?) channel show to be released on PS3, PC and Xbox 360. Internally, the developer had a version of the game running on Xbox 360 hardware pitted against players on PS3 hardware. Yes, technically this was even possible back then. The reason it never launched with this cross-platform feature wasn't because of technology, it was because of a specific company. When pressed, this company said this (and stop me if you've heard this one before):
"We have a high level of expectation for our game developers to ensure that all Live experiences remain top notch. 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."
That quote was from Microsoft. In 2012. Trion's Alex Rodberg was asked about the potential of this feature shipping with the final release of the game and he said:
"Microsoft won't let Sony players play against them."
Why wouldn't they want players to play against them? Were they currently leading the console sales space at the time? Did they have the larger online player base and used that as a selling point for their hardware? Were they essentially in the same position Sony is in today and they still made the same choice?
The answer to all my rhetorical questions is "yes". This cross-platform conversation isn't one where either one of these companies is looking out for us and the other is terrible and evil. It's business, and it's competition, and there is no (current) benefit from allowing each other access to the same multiplayer pool, as cool as it sounds. We also need to stop reacting to todays headlines and forget what happened yesterday. This is the age of the internet, you can literally Google anything.
That's all for now. I'll see you online (as long as our respective console of choice is the same, if not, I'll see you in the hopefully not-too-distant future).