Looking at the current state of the gaming industry, what with the disparities between console gamers and PC gamers, there are quite a few who are chasing a world where borders between gamers across all platforms are broken down. There are many naysayers to such an ideal, those who think that bridging platforms is a bad idea and will hurt the video game community. While they may not be entirely wrong, the majority of the community right now seems to want open gaming experience, one where they can play with friends who have another console or even mobiles.
Post E3, there was a lot of hullabaloo over cross-platform gaming. Especially around how just about every console BUT the PlayStation 4 had cross-platform play (crossplay in short) support. Nintendo and Xbox made sure to poke Sony about it in their ad campaigns as well. So we’re going to take a look at everything crossplay. Let’s get started.
What is cross-platform play?
Cross-platform play enables players to be able to play the same game with each other over different platforms or devices at the same time. So, if you happen to own a game that supports crossplay on your PC, you would be able to play that game with an Xbox One player who owns the game. This works similarly with the PlayStation4 and the PS Vita.
You must have noticed a pattern here of sorts. The platforms we’ve mentioned so far all support multiplayer crossplay, but usually between platforms within their own ecosystem. Case and point, some Monster Hunter games supported cross-platform, but only between Nintendo’s platforms. So it would only work if you have a 3DS, Wii U or a Switch. Even on PC, a game that runs on Windows, Mac OS and Linux is technically considered crossplatform.
Most AAA games over the past few years have released across major platforms. Console architecture approaches that of PC and is getting closer with every generation, and it all points towards the links between platforms getting stronger.
Add to that the fact that so many people play the same games, and it only makes sense that you should be able to play online with your friends on other platforms. What was the saying, “the more, the merrier”?
While enabling cross-platform play in the past may have been difficult, right now, scripting languages, software libraries, and game engines have reached a level of sophistication where cross-platform play can be effectively utilised. So what’s stopping universal crossplay? But before that.
How does it work?
Cross-platform play between different operating systems is enabled by using standard communication protocols. If the game is appropriately ported to another system, while still following the same standard, cross-platform play is possible. For this reason, the PC platform is considered to be very open. Just look at Valve. Steam was built for Windows, but in 2010 expanded to OS X, and in 2013 to Linux. All Steam services are available on all platforms with full cross-play support between them.
It was a bit different for consoles however. Earlier in the day, while internet connections were still slower and consoles themselves didn’t really come with built-in connection capabilities, you had to get additional hardware in order to connect to the internet. The Sony PlayStation 2 required this, and in 2002 introduced online play for Final Fantasy 11 for both the PS2 and PC.
As internet-ready consoles such as the PlayStation 3 and Xbox became the norm, consoles began to bring in their own online services to aid with securely managing player credentials, store purchases and other social features. As such, they also needed to make it as appealing as possible to draw in more players. This would lead to a rift between the consoles, and also, restriction of content in order to draw in more players, i.e., exclusives.
Understandably, this made games that supported cross-platform play between the consoles very rare. The technical challenge during this gen of consoles was the network communication between platforms. Like we mentioned above, they need to be using a standard communication protocol in order to enable cross-play. However, this limitation is one that can easily be worked around. With some developers stating that they could enable crossplay within a day if they were allowed to do so. Case and point, Fortnite briefly had crossplay enabled between PC, PS4, mobile, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch. For a very brief moment, there were no borders. Before Epic Games corrected the configuration, stating it was a mistake.
Me > You
This shouldn’t come as a surprise at all. There are a significant number of players who stubbornly cling to their own platform *cough*Mithun*cough* and refuse to give anything else a chance at all. This rift in gaming culture could in a way hamper crossplay. There are gamers who would refuse to share a game lobby with an “inferior” platform.
When you think of crossplay, one also needs to consider the hardware that comes into play with each platform. There are very obvious differences when comparing gameplay between a mouse and keyboard vs a console controller. One needs to consider have different control settings for each.
Next is the case of one console having an unfair advantage over the other. For example, when it comes to shooter games, mouse and keyboard users will definitely have an advantage over players using a controller analog stick. This leads to an unfair gaming environment, and nobody wants that.
This leads to consoles having to implement features like aim-assist to help those playing with a controller, especially in a cross-platform setting. You can already see how this might raise issues on the other side, going as far as even calling it cheating.
Finally, you have to keep in mind that consoles cannot keep up with high-end PCs. We’re not trying any PCMasterRace stunt here – it’s a simple fact. This means that in a crossplay setting where a console player is facing someone on a high end PC, the player on PC might have an advantage.
Although, as consoles become more powerful and controllers becomes more precise and accurate, we have no doubts in our mind that crossplay is the way to go for future generations of consoles, regardless of whether Sony wants to play ball or not.
The only limiting factor now seems to be the terms of services and acceptable use policy that developers and players have to abide by when using online services. Once again, it’s the business related issues that are causing the damper here.
It’s restrictive to the point that some publishers don’t even bother going for crossplay, even if they had the intention to do so to begin with. Counter-Strike: Global Offensive for example, Valve wanted to enable crossplay on the game for the Xbox 360 and the PlayStation, however, they also wanted to patch the game on a frequent basis, which became very difficult with Sony’s restrictive certification process. Similarly, they had trouble making steamworks work for the Xbox 360 as well, and ultimately gave up on crossplay for consoles entirely.
Local Co-op 2.0
Even though there are many limitations right now, there’s no shortage of people who just want to play games and have fun with their friends who have a different console. A lot of us miss split-screen games from back in the day. The glory days of local co-op. That was before high speed internet became a thing. It’s still not a thing in parts of our country. While we saw next level online play, the social interaction we got from having friends over and having turns playing split-screen were over.
Crossplay can actually revive that social interaction. Imagine being able to play Fortnite with one friend on a PC, while another is the Xbox One, and the third on Switch and fourth on a mobile, all in the same room. There’s no way that doesn’t sound tempting.
What’s the deal with Sony?
We’ve seen that Microsoft is pro-crossplay. They’ve been doing a lot in that aspect, ever since they introduced their “Play Anywhere” concept, Thanks to Play Anywhere, there’s no such thing as an Xbox exclusive anymore, it’s Windows exclusive. Surprisingly, even Nintendo took the crossplay leap, which was unexpected for a company that is normally extremely “closed” about stuff like this. However, Sony is not too keen on crossplay. And we kind of get why. In their current position, they do not believe that they will benefit from crossplay. If anything, doing so would be a bad move in their eyes, at least in financial terms.
Let us explain. Consider this, the PlayStation 4 is the biggest console of its generation, with a massive sales lead over its competitors. It’s actually no contest right now. Maybe the Nintendo Switch might eventually catch up, but it’ll be a while before their numbers are even close. However, this massive lead and huge passionate fan-base that’s enjoys their exclusive content actually gives it the liberty to continue ignoring crossplay. There’s no shortage of players on their games. If anything, opening the doors to crossplay would hurt the PlayStation 4’s current dominance.
Understandably, the current community stance is that this is anti-consumer. Which is a complete 180 from the pro-consumer stance Sony was known for back in 2013, when they were all about the crossplay, albeit, within their own ecosystem, and maybe PC every now and then. However, the thought, or hope at least, is that Sony will eventually give in and go pro-crossplay.
The popularity of games like Fortnite, has put the focus on crossplay, giving it attention it didn’t have as recently as a year ago. This also brought to the forefront a lot of issues, like how you needed a new Fortnite account if you were moving from or to the PS4, and your progress and battle pass didn’t carry over. Similarly, with Minecraft, Sony obviously don’t want you playing a version of Minecraft that required you to log into an Xbox Live account.
According to a recent survey by GameTrack taken in 2017, the majority of gamers apparently don’t really care if the console they’re purchasing supports crossplay or not. It’s not the first thing on their mind, for which reason, Sony is definitely safe right now. Even though it may have drawn some ire from the gaming community. However, over time, cross-platform integration will definitely be the way to go, at least in our opinion. We may eventually see a gaming world, where all platforms can play with each other with no qualms. Pfft, yeah right!
Manish "Trigger-Happy" Rajesh
If he's not gaming, he's... no wait he's always gaming.