Game consoles have never really played nicely together. In the past, the reasons for this were largely hardware-related, with consoles built on different hardware architectures. This most recent generation of consoles saw a huge change in this limitation by using nearly identical processors, paving the way for a world in which crossplay gaming was actually possible. Great news, right?
So, why isn’t it happening? We’ve had several games come out in the last year with cross-play support for Xbox and PC as well as PlayStation and PC, but for some reason, PlayStation and Xbox cross compatibility doesn’t happen. If I can play Fortnite on my phone with people on consoles and PC, why can’t the consoles play nice with one another?
“You should ask Sony”
With Rocket League, Minecraft, Fortnite, and several others arriving everywhere over the last year, the lack of cross-play between PlayStation and the other consoles have become obvious. Nintendo and Microsoft seemed to have figured it out, with cross-play for Rocket League working very well in my tests, so what’s the deal?
If you ask Microsoft, it’s Sony’s fault.
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. For any other questions regarding Fortnite cross-network play between Xbox and PlayStation, please reach out to Epic or Sony directly.
The company with ads over the last couple of years about how it is all about giving players what they want has been unusually silent on the subject, denying to answer most inquiries when submitted. The closest thing we’ve gotten to a real answer from Sony was this recent interview on Eurogamer:
We’ve got to be mindful of our responsibility to our install base. Minecraft – the demographic playing that, you know as well as I do, it’s all ages, but it’s also very young. 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 cannot manage or look after, it’s something we have to think about very carefully.
There are a few things wrong with this statement. First, Sony allows cross-play with the PC with no issues as long as a third party is doing the connections. Second, there is no game company which works harder to keep kids safe on the internet than Nintendo. For Sony to claim a desire to keep kids safer than Nintendo is saint-like, but hardly accurate.
All roads lead to PlayStation Network
The biggest reason Sony doesn’t allow games to cross-play with other systems is the inability to extend its online features across those platforms. Sony needs its users to need PlayStation Network and its monthly fee, plain and simple. If the most popular games you can play with your friends don’t require PSN to function, that service will become less desirable. But there’s also a safety component. When connected through PSN, Sony controls the whole experience. You can report abuse, ensure only your friends can communicate with you, and your conversations can be easily had between phone and desktop and console.
When looking at PC cross-play games, like Star Trek: Bridge Crew on PlayStation VR, you get a good idea for how Sony treats these experiences. Bridge Crew uses the Ubisoft social layer to connect PC and PS4, totally separate from PlayStation Network. You can use PSN to connect to other PlayStation users, and when you do so social experience in creating matches for that game are actually much smoother. Sony is able to guarantee a level of convenience and stability where Ubisoft frequently delivers frustration.
Sony is never going to get PlayStation Network compatibility on the Xbox or Nintendo Switch, which means it is likely only ever to allow cross-play between those consoles when a third-party system can be used to replace PSN and Xbox Live and Nintendo Online as the communications layers. That’s a tremendous amount of work for any game company, especially when Sony wants it made clear the PlayStation Network is not at fault if and when something goes wrong. As you might imagine, this isn’t likely to happen anytime soon.
No solution in sight
While I would say it is a little misleading to suggest Sony is blocking cross-play to get people to buy PlayStation 4 consoles, it’s clear the company is being less than forthcoming about its desire to have either absolute or zero control over the online situation in a particular game. The desire to keep your users safe is a good impulse, but to assume that user safety is at odds with the desire to offer a larger audience for people to play against one another is going to continue to be a bad thing for Sony this year.
The number of games with cross-platform compatibility is not doing to decrease this year, and if Sony expects to maintain the healthy lead it has earned this generation this is going to need to be addressed in some meaningful fashion. Otherwise, users are going to go where there are more options.