Sony has arguably won this generation, however long it carries on for. The PlayStation 4’s lead over the Xbox One is insurmountable. Sales figures for the Nintendo Switch are impressive but a long way away from Sony’s console, and there is an argument to be made that they’re not really competitors. With such an impressive install base and sizeable profits for the PlayStation division, it seems like Sony could do no wrong. However, I think Sony has really dropped the ball when it comes to services. Let me explain.
In the last generation, when the PlayStation 3 was struggling to keep up with the Xbox 360, Sony made big efforts to provide the best service that they could. The biggest thing they did was to introduce free games as part of PlayStation Plus. It almost seems weird now to think of a time when we didn’t get free games as part of our online subscriptions. Sony was the first to do it though, starting almost three years before Microsoft followed suit. There also included PlayStation 4 titles in the program during the first month after the launch of the console, while Xbox One owners had to wait over 6 months to get the same. Sony was really looking after their fans and making the PlayStation ecosystem the place to be.
Whether it was complacency by Sony, or a desperate move by Microsoft, things have changed over the last few years. The first way that Xbox struck back was with backwards compatibility. When Microsoft announced at E3 2015 that Xbox 360 games would be playable on Xbox One, Sony scoffed at them saying that nobody wants to play old games. Just last month, Microsoft released a statement saying that gamers had spent over a billion (with a “b”) hours playing backwards compatible titles on their system. This hardly seems a particularly niche market with those sorts of statistics. As someone who can only just handle the bare basics of C++, I couldn’t begin to tell you how easy or hard it would be to allow a PlayStation 4 to play PS3 games. What I think it’s safe to say though is that there are gamers who would welcome the ability to do it.
Backwards compatibility isn’t the only service that PlayStation 4 is missing; there are also limits to whom you can play online with. Minecraft fans on mobile devices, PC, Nintendo Switch, and Xbox One are all able to play together. It is a similar case with Rocket League and several other titles. The problem here is not a technology issue but a corporate decision. Many developers have said that they would be happy for their games to be playable online across all platforms, and some have even gone as far to say that all they need is the OK from Sony to “flip the switch” and it would work.
In an interview with Eurogamer, PlayStation’s head of global sales and marketing, Jim Ryan, said the reason was 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.” This is an interesting comment for two reasons. The first is that there is already some cross-play between PS4 and PC on games like Street Fighter V. It’s a very small selection of games, but it shows it’s possible and shows that the “curated universe” can extend beyond PlayStation Network. The second reason is that Nintendo, who are notoriously careful about the protection of their gamers, are on board with cross-play. All of this points to Sony just not wanting to play with others.
With PlayStation 4 owners missing out on some of the services that other gamers now take for granted, you would think that Sony may want to keep a low profile on these kinds of things. That was not really possible this week, though, with the release of Fortnite for Nintendo Switch. For anyone who has been so swept up with other E3 news to hear about this, let me explain why this is relevant. The problem is that Sony is blocking anyone who has linked their Epic Games (the game’s developer) account to their PlayStation Network account from playing on any other platform. If you want to play Fortnite on Nintendo Switch, you have to set up a new account with Epic Games since any account linked to PlayStation Network is blocked. This isn’t about allowing cross-play; this is purely about using a third-party account (Epic Games are just a developer and don’t have a hat in the console hardware ring.) across platforms. There is no reason for this to happen other than Sony being pathetic and throwing their toys out of the pram.
This Fortnite issue may only be a minor thing, but it’s yet another “thing” and shows a pattern of a company who insist that they know better than their customers and want to control their behaviour. Sony thought they knew better when it comes to backwards compatibility, saying it’s not something that gamers want, yet a billion hours of playtime on Xbox One suggests differently. They are resisting cross-play claiming that it’s due to the safety of the people using their network. Apparently, that’s only if it’s allowing cross-play with other consoles, since with PC it’s OK. Of course, PC is quite an open platform, so if you really wanted to protect your network’s users, that’s the one you would really need to protect them from.
Sony is in the leading position this console cycle, and it is well deserved. The PlayStation 4 was the superior console out of the gate, and in the last couple of years, they have battered Xbox in terms of exclusives. Being the industry leader, though, doesn’t forgive poor services and selfish behaviour. We are probably only a few years away from a new console generation, and who knows what the future could bring? Sony may have won this generation, but that does not assure them of victory in the next. Providing better services and value to customers is a great way of keeping customers loyal to your brand. Come on Sony–sort yourselves out!