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4th October 2017

The Low-down on Console Crossplay

Is Sony standing in the way of progress?

Hostility between gamers is nothing new – in fact, the only thing gamers enjoy more than their chosen console is saying mean-spirited things to people who were stupid enough to buy a different one. This is particularly true of Xbox and PlayStation fans, who fight a console-war as old as – well, the Xbox and PlayStation.

Imagine a world, then, where all console gamers could play together in online games: a utopia in which cross-platform camaraderie could prosper – where it isn’t the controller in your hand that matters, but the friendship in your heart.

Whilst a future in which players of differing consoles will be nice to each other may still be centuries away, a future in which they can play together certainly isn’t – Microsoft and Nintendo have already begun to wholeheartedly embrace the idea.

E3 2017 was abuzz with crossplay announcements, with developer Psyonix proudly declaring that they would be enabling cross-platform play on their eSports sensation Rocket League, allowing Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, and PC players to share in the turbo-powered football fun.

Also announced at E3 was global phenomenon Minecraft’s “Better Together” update, which is an implementation of crossplay and not – strangely enough – anything to do with Scottish independence. The update turns Minecraft into a true cross-platform game – allowing users on Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Windows PC, iOS, and Android to play with each other.

You may notice that Sony’s PS4 was completely absent from this inter-console friendship bonanza, and it isn’t because the other kids on the (cross)playground didn’t invite them; Jeremy Dunham of Pysonix stated that they would do “whatever [they] would need to do” to make cross-platform play on Rocket League work with PS4, whilst Minecraft spokesperson Aubrey Norris tweeted that Mojang would “love to have Playstation players along with the unified Minecraft”.

Nor is it a matter of technical issues – countless developers have spoken on the ease of incorporating cross-platform online play in their titles; Jesse Rapzach, developer of Ark: Survival Evolved said that allowing Xbox One and PS4 “would not take more than a few days”. Enabling cross-play is so very simple, in fact, that earlier this month developer Epic Games managed to enable Xbox One and PS4 crossplay on Fortnite reportedly by accident. For a brief few hours, PS4 players reported seeing players with Xbox One Gamertags – which a representative claimed was down to a “configuration issue”.

So why is Sony not willing to join in the crossplay fun? Well, their official stance cites a lack of control over players outside of the Playstation sphere. In an interview with Eurogamer, Sony’s head of global sales and marketing said: “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.”

This explanation doesn’t quite fly – if Sony really did want crossplay, they would be more than capable of internally resolving issues of child-protection using methods such as profanity filters which have been commonplace in family-friendly platforms for years.

Perhaps the real reason Sony has thus far refused to play nice with their console rivals is much more obvious; they don’t have to. Whilst the Nintendo Switch has indeed had a successful launch, it faces a Herculean task in ever catching the PS4, which has already sold over twice the amount of units as the Xbox One. It may be that Sony is reluctant to believe things would be “Better Together” when they’re already doing “Pretty Good Alone”.

There is also the speculation that following the monumental hack of their online services in 2011, Sony is still understandably hesitant to take any action that may even slightly compromise their security. This would, of course, be the less cynical reasoning and more forgivable truth behind what is undoubtedly an anti-consumer stance by Sony.

It’s possible that Sony’s dominance of the console market is enough to allow them to get away with occasionally being the villains when it suits them. This is certainly not the first time Sony has been criticised for anti-consumer policies, and, despite their careful branding of being “For the Players”, they have attracted criticism for raising the price of their online subscription, heavily limiting game mods and continually refusing to allow name-changes for its users.

It remains to be seen whether Sony will continue to rely on its favourable position in the industry to refuse to yield on matters they don’t want to, or whether pressure from players will eventually force Sony to play nice with its console rivals.

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