Coming out of E3 2017, Sony hasn’t had the best weeks when it comes to PR. Why? Well, it’s all because of a little concept called cross-platform play. It’s something that has been bubbling under the radar for a while now, and something that Sony has been a bit flaky about having a solid public stance on. While some Sony games, such as Street Fighter V and Final Fantasy XIV (more on that Final Fantasy stuff in a bit) had cross-platform play with PC, the big three consoles haven’t played nice together yet this generation. That’s about to change – Minecraft and Rocket League are seeing Nintendo and Microsoft bridging that gap – but Sony is staying behind. Regardless of the reason, Sony’s unwillingness to give it a shot despite its other competitors doing so, is going to hurt everyone, including Sony.
I get it; cross-platform play isn’t as simple as flipping a giant switch at Sony HQ. There’s no Nintendo or Xbox button hidden in the PlayStation Network’s administrative settings. And since the announcements of Rocket League and Minecraft interacting, we’ve gained a little insight into how this kind of thing has to work. For example, with Minecraft (which happens to be owned by Microsoft), players on Nintendo Switch will need to sign into an Xbox Live account once the universal Minecraft update launches across every platform. This will be the same for mobile devices, VR platforms, PC and of course Xbox One, but the PlayStation versions will remain separate.
In an interview with PlayStation’s head of global sales and marketing, Jim Ryan (the same Jim Ryan who made some bizarre comments about backwards compatibility recently, also causing drama) said that while there isn’t some sort of corporate philosophy against cross-platform play, the primary block with going ahead is player safety. Ryan said that, “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.”
This makes sense, in a vacuum. The different online platforms have their own unique infrastructures and policies, and if one console has to open itself to another, essentially placing its users in an outside-regulated environment, perhaps there are questions to be answered about who is liable for what. But that argument kinda falls apart when Nintendo, the stalwart fortress of kid-friendly features and security, is an active participant in this modern initiative. It’s borderline insulting, especially from the perspective of someone like Xbox head Phil Spencer – is there an implication that Xbox Life isn’t safe? Or that PlayStation does a better job preventing bad behavior over online voice chat (spoilers: neither does a great job)? Of course, Spencer fired back with, “The fact that somebody would kind of make an assertion that somehow we’re not keeping Minecraft players safe, I found — not only from a Microsoft perspective, but from a game industry perspective — like, I don’t know why that has to become the dialogue. Like, that doesn’t seem healthy for anyone.”
Remember Final Fantasy XIV? It’s an MMO with a huge audience, despite being only on PS4 and PC. Final Fantasy XI was on Xbox 360 once upon a time, and players are totally hungry for Xbox One and Switch versions. Naoki Yoshida, producer and director, said that meetings have been held and everyone involved wants it, but the team won’t bother if they can’t confirm cross-platform structure. So what’s the holdup? Well, the game started on PlayStation 4… it’s probably Sony! So not only are fans shut out of something they want, it’s also costing developers money and potentially relationships.
Sony has to figure this whole thing out, and at the very least, clear up its messaging. Making wacky, half-accusatory statements about safety is just going to tick people off, and it’s an even worse look when your two competitors are already on board and working together, no doubt making decisions that will benefit everyone involved in the long run.
What if, for example, games like Rocket League or Minecraft support the siloed versions less than the main, cross-play versions? Minecraft is practically re-launching as a new version of the game for its cross-platform structure, and things like DLC purchases will also be shared. That has to mean more people will buy more versions of Minecraft, which is money left on the table for Sony. The company, with its muddled messaging, has also effectively set itself up as a scapegoat for big, multiplayer games not being able to unify more strongly across platforms, something everyone else wants. Something’s gotta give!