One of the biggest dreams for gamers, generation after generation, has been the idea of cross- platform play. Each and every gamer can think back to at least one conversation in the schoolyard centered around how awesome it would be if consoles could connect and play together, regardless of brand. That is, of course, after the endless talks about that one kid’s uncle who worked at Nintendo.
In the modern gaming-sphere, this dream has been feeling more and more likely. As it appeared, we were taking every step closer, culminated with the announcements out of this year’s E3. Microsoft led the charge into the future of online gaming by stating that Minecraft would become cross-platform accessible. This was further backed up as Nintendo affirmed the same for Rocket League. The Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, and PC all working in online multiplayer harmony. But, there is something missing from that list of gaming heavyweights: the PS4.
This has left the question as to why Sony is refusing to join their gaming brethren spiraling about conversations for months now. And Sony has had no shortage of corporately appropriate responses. Their main reason posed to the public has centered around the idea of protecting children. In an interview with Eurogamer back in June, Jim Ryan, PlayStation global sales and marketing head, made a few comments on the matter.
WHY NOT LET THE PLAYERS PLAY?
In short, he explained that the games being suggested for cross play held rather young player bases. Ryan argued that there is a set of stipulations and restrictions placed on players as they join the PSN through their terms of service. This was something that he just could not trust to outside service providers. This is clearly refutable, provided that one of the companies in agreement with cross play is Nintendo. And who is more family friendly and respective of younger players than Nintendo?
From this point, Ryan went on to explain that nothing is ever a finalized deal when it comes to whether or not to join in a service, but nothing is in the works at that time. Months after these initial E3 talks, the idea of cross play for Ark: Survival Evolved was brought up. Co-founder of Widcard, the studio behind Ark, Jeremy Stieglitz twitted about tethered linking, regardless of the player’s console, if the host was running an Xbox One X. When questioned further about the Xbox to PlayStation connectivity, he simply stated that “…currently Sony won’t allow it : (.” So, nothing seems to be changing as far as Sony’s roadblock.
But, why is Sony really holding up the future of inter-console connectivity? Well, the smart money would suggest that protecting users is not the actual reason. Like everything in the world, especially in the realm of business, it boils down to numbers.
Now, as far as naming the best first party and exclusive lineups, that is extremely subjective to the player. Whether it is Horizon: Zero Dawn and Bloodborne, Halo and Gears of War, or the ever-powerful Zelda and Mario, ever system has exclusives to be proud of. Basically, the comparability makes this a moot point. From there, as the Switch grows and fills the market further, the problem with third party games finding specific homes is becoming less and less of a concern. Effectively, you can get what you want from third parties just about wherever you want. Next, the performance, specifications, and functionality of the console itself comes into play. Once again, this power struggle is constantly shifting and swaying from one to the other. Again, not much of a factor these days.
IT’S ALL A NUMBERS GAME
If the dominance of a first party and exclusive line up cannot definitively sway in favor of one console or another, distinguishing based on third party support is fruitless, and sheer power and specs are constantly shifting, how would one market a single console over another? With the prevalence of online gaming in the modern gaming ecosystem, this comes down to the player install base. On this specific topic, PS4 is beating all other consoles by a long shot. Currently, the PS4 is sitting around 60 million units sold; roughly double the units of Xbox One and ten times that of the Switch. PS4 holds the power of player numbers leaps and bound beyond their competitors.
Basically, if you want to play games online, which most games implement these days, the best place to go is PS4. You have access to more players, a higher chance of match making, and a greater chance that your friends are already there. Playing the numbers, if you are late to the current generation of gaming, PS4 is the one to join for heightened connectivity.
If Sony agrees to allow games to be played across different consoles, they lose the only major factor in console superiority in the modern times. The promise of online play linking between the Switch, Xbox One, and PS4 would virtually even the playing field all around. Arguably, but comparable first party and exclusive games, presence of third party support, power and functionality, and player base would become nearly universally stabilized, taking away the last real, palpable leg up that Sony holds over the competition. As long as this is the case, the idea of an all-inclusive cross-platform online environment seems extremely unlikely. It’s all just a numbers game.