I am all for cross-platform play. Let me get that out here at the start. Remind yourself while reading this. I am not against cross-platform play. I would love to see the next generation fully support it... but video games are a business...
Click on nearly any article on the main page here at Destructoid and you’ll see a conversation and a debate about the concept of cross-platform play. Very shortly after that you’ll see negative comments about Sony and how they need to “do what’s right for gamers!”
I get it. There has been a competitive drive and division between gamers and their loyalty to a console. Nintendo vs Sega. PlayStation vs Sega. PlayStation vs Xbox. Competitive multiplayer games have increasingly become the most popular experiences on consoles, but the divide is still there. Who's better? How can the best players prove they are the BEST when they only have a single player pool to compete against? Tournaments favor a single console for parity, but what if that isn't your personal console of choice, and specifically, your controller of choice. Wouldn't it be great to just play against everyone on every console? We live in a digital age, so how can we not be able to do that today? I'll ramble on here and share my thoughts and opinions, and point out the obvious business and technical limitations we face today and why this future of cross-platform play cannot start today.
If we were existing in a world where all multiplayer titles supported cross-platform play, what would that mean? Entertainment for gamers. Larger player bases. Never waiting for a match. Games lasting far longer than they did previously due to player pool size. Looking at all those reasons, WHO benefits from that? Console makers behind in the sales race benefit by improving their player pool count for those playing on the less popular platforms. The one leading the sales race loses out on a sales point for people looking to buy a game.
Companies releasing games on PlayStation, Switch or Xbox pay a licensing fee to those companies, so a popular multi platform game makes more money for the popular console of choice. If you were to open that player pool up with cross-platform support, suddenly a larger player base is enjoying that title, sure, but the business behind it is not happy. The platform ahead in the sales race now isn’t luring more players (meaning more sold copies) to their platform and sees no benefit. This is the position Sony is in right now.
Sony has no obligation to gamers to “flip the switch”. It doesn’t make financial sense at this point. They aren’t evil for doing this. They are a corporation. They have one goal. Make money. In the future, there could be a way to get this done and allow the console makers to not miss out financially, thus encouraging support for the concept. Unfortunately, that isn't today. They need to find a reason and find a way for it to work financially for console makers to continue to be successful. Microsoft is on board today because that have a fraction of the player pool for their games, and this would immediately benefit them being far behind in sales for their supporters. Nintendo barely has an online system in place so if someone else wants to carry the load and instantly give them an online community for gamers? Why not! Sony on the other hand... They have the install base to currently satisfy all these currently popular games without any wait times. People buying these games to play on their platform generate sales for their first party games, as these players have to be PS4 owners. What could be done to convince the sales leader to play along with the others in this situation?
One option would be to put the ball in the game developers court and have them pay a license fee to ALL platforms their game will interact with for each version sold. To get developers to agree to this, that license fee could be lowered to take into account that all copies sold will offer a small return no matter the platform. Obviously not EVERY game would be cross-platform because some companies would like to avoid an increase license fee pay out. The popular games could still support it and third parties are happy. It would still be the console manufactures job to create engaging and original exclusives to lure gamers to buy their platform to play on. Is this option realistic? Potentially, but there are still other problems.
Exclusive titles don’t have the option for cross-platform play, so console makers will want to do everything they can to sell systems, and have one less ability to market themselves as the “place to play”. This is something that Sony and Microsoft would have to be ok with to still support third party games and cross-platform play. They would either invest MORE in console exclusives and first party games, or if this trend becomes far too large to contain, potentially the death of exclusive games because even then, there might be no way to compete. Sure, this is a worst case scenario, but thats what I am looking at here. Different options and different scenarios.
The other major complaint I see often is cross-platform play would allow games to be more social. This isn’t totally true today. There is a major hurdle that all console makers will have to work on together to truly make these games more social. Communication.
Party chat and communicating with friends is currently tied to the specific platform and isn’t an open channel. There are different protocols in place and different technologies, and voice chat and multiplayer wouldn’t just magically work. The online infrastructure would have to be altered and opened and all parties would have to align and agree on new protocols. I’m sure not a lot of people are thing about this, but it’s a pretty big point and a pretty big obstacle. Could it be done? Sure, but it’d require a lot of collaboration and who’s online resources will host and how will the expenses be paid?
Sony offered security as an excuse as to why there isn’t currently a push for support and it isn’t TOTAL BS. There are toxic players and there are times when people need to be reported, blocked, banned, etc. Currently, every player has an account and ID tied to their specific platforms online infrastructure. There are current ways to report these issues, but if you’re cross-platform playing with others you don’t have an account for those other systems. How do you block, ban, report a player on another system? Who’s network received that data? How do you integrate an outside player into the current system? It’s not just a switch they can flip, it’s a redesign of protocols and services that would take time and money.
Are all these things doable? Of course they are, we’ve accidentally seen it already happen with some games. Developers have said how easy it would be to matchmaker players across different platforms. The problem is that isn’t the end of it. As much as people want to gloss over the clear business and technology obstacles and say “do what’s right, Sony! We live in a digital age!” it isn’t truly all on them and it isn’t truly something that can be just turned on or off.
I do hope the conversation starts those internal reviews at Sony and Microsoft on how they could get the point of supporting cross-platform play. I’d love to have PlayStation cosmetic items in a competitive game to identify that Team Sony is winning and having actual console wars over fun competitive games. I think it’ll happen, but I’d love for others to thing realistically about how it won’t be happening today.