When I was in college, I wrote an opinion piece with the headline, “Editorial.” According to my thesis, as the title eloquently failed to report, Sony isolated their player base by ignoring cross-platform play. The opinion was right, of course, with Minecraft and Rocket League players enjoying cross-platform games on PC, Xbox, and Switch while PlayStation stayed on its island, arms folded.
Sony eventually conceded and allowed cross-play support, but not to the extent people had hoped. Moreover, Sony’s business strategies regarding this feature appear treacherous and greedy. Most platforms and publishers understand the common good of cross-play functionality utilizing it with no conditions attached from the outside looking in. Sony is taking advantage of a positive advancement for monetary gain. Jim Ryan, the CEO of PlayStation, recently commented on the highly desired feature in ways that were difficult to digest given Sony’s recent history.
In an interview conducted by Axios, Ryan said, “We support and encourage cross-play.” He mentioned games like Rocket League, Call of Duty, Fortnite, and Minecraft while promising more games to come. At first glance, this comment is exciting, echoing the term: better late than never, but we can’t help but think it came too late. When it comes to executive comments, it’s difficult to take anything at face value. Consider the “we believe in generations” or the Phil Spencer quote reprimanding exclusivity.
“We support and encourage cross-play,” sounds like a PR beat that’s designed to calm the masses. It’s difficult to determine PlayStation’s true intentions from one minimal interview quote. We won’t celebrate until PlayStation multiplayer games are universally cross-play compatible without a monetary contingency attached.
Ryan’s robotic comment came after four years of negative cross-play headlines, tainting any future implementation. Even if Sony allows more cross-play, I will participate with a defeated heart, perpetually wondering why it took so long and considering the potential sacrifices publishers/developers had to make. To expound on my hesitation, we need to look no further than a week ago. We will see that Sony is still running into controversial cross-play implementation that’s not all too different from 2017.
Borderlands 3 is a looter shooter that’s better played with friends. In my honest opinion, it’s rather repetitive thanks to the unchanging gameplay loop. The joy, in large part, comes when a group of friends can get together, laugh at jokes and compare their diverse sets of weapons. There is no doubt that Borderlands 3 is perfect for cross-play, and henceforth, Gearbox promised its inclusion.
The promise finally came to fruition with a June 24 blog post. The post listed Xbox One, the Xbox Series consoles, Mac, Stadia, and PC as cross-play ready. I saw the excitement firsthand as my roommate, a big Borderlands fan, asked his friends to play with him. Fortunately, none of them had a PlayStation. The list of supported devices excluded PlayStation, which, sadly isn’t a big surprise.
Gearbox CEO, Randy Pitchford, expanded on this development on Twitter saying: “We have been required by the publisher to remove cross-play support for PlayStation consoles.” The decision’s cause is unclear, but, at the same time, it’s obvious that the PlayStation ecosystem makes cross-play difficult. Again, PlayStation gamers sit back and watch as all their friends enjoy Borderlands 3 without barriers. I guess we’re still awaiting greatness.
The Ryan quote reached the airwaves on June 18, almost like PlayStation needed to force good press in anticipation of this disappointing news. It’s almost funny that Ryan says PlayStation supports cross-play and in a matter of days the headline is: PlayStation doesn’t support cross-play. The reasoning for Sony’s rocky relationship with cross-play may have surfaced from an unlikely place – the Apple Vs. Epic court case.
The shenanigans of Apple V Epic require a story of its own, but, for now, we’re just interested in the court documents. Once upon a time, before Epic forced Sony’s hand, Fortnite did not have full cross-play support. The court document revealed emails Epic sent to Sony pleading for crossplay support. After a long list of proposals, the email ends with this: “Epic’s not changing its mind on the issue, so let’s just agree on it now.”
Of course, Sony, being the heartless corporation they are replied by saying “cross-platform play is not a slam dunk” and continued by saying “not a single [company] can explain how cross-platform play improves the PlayStation business.” This sentiment completely undervalues PlayStation’s consumer base and blocks them from shared gaming experiences. As we know, Epic did get what they want, but the company had to jump through a few hoops.
The documents revealed PlayStation’s “Cross-Platform Revenue Share.” The 2019 document permits Sony to exercise royalties for cross-platform play as explained by VG247. This stipulation becomes mandatory when PlayStation owns the game’s largest number of players, but spending isn’t majorly on PlayStation. This revelation may play into the Borderlands 3 controversy and explain why so many other publishers find it difficult to bring cross-play to PlayStation.
It’s worth noting that Epic CEO Tim Sweeny said Sony is the only company to enforce such stipulations, further demonstrating the general difficulty of dealing with Sony. From a writing perspective, out of all the big-name publishers, Sony has proven the most difficult to receive review codes. Of course, this is all the result of greedy business practices to which all big-name companies adhere. Sony, though, seems to be the biggest defender. Why else would PlayStation be the only platform Borderlands 3 cross-play won’t comply with?
Especially since developers have said cross-play is a simple technical achievement. Jeremy Durnham, of Rocket League fame, puts it best when he said: “There are no technical limitations [for making Rocket League cross-play]. Right now it’s just a political barrier we need to help figure out how to crack.”
I started my Sony venture with the PlayStation 2 and, since then, I’ve envisioned a time where Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo worked together to eliminate these unnecessary barriers to online play. I always thought it was beyond possibility, making my thoughts a hopeful imagination. Now, to my surprise, and the surprise of many players cross-play is a reality. Microsoft, Nintendo, and PC platforms are all on board with Sony being the only holdout – the only screw in my, and many other gamers’, long-awaited dream.
It’s important to note that the amount of PlayStation-supported cross-play games has increased since 2017, but developers and publishers have jumped through several unnecessary hurdles to make it possible. We also know why publishers opt out of working with Sony when it comes to this feature. Ryan said PlayStation supports cross-play, but that’s far from the truth.
The statement should have been: “We support cross-play, but only in specific instances when we economically prosper, therefore, limiting player freedom and dividing friendships.” Ultimately any cross-play positive comment from Sony is too late in light of what we know. Until the specific business strategies are changed, we’ll hold our breath for a true, unbarred cross-play experience.