Screen Critics Shaun looks at the messy situation Sony’s got itself into over cross-play – asking what caused things to get this far?
Most of the talk in recent times regarding cross-play has centered over Sony’s complete refusal to offer the service. It seems everyone but the biggest fish in the pond is game for the feature. Their reluctance has painted a picture of Sony that’s come off less than flattering, but that shouldn’t be the case. This is really more a case of Sony being damned if they do, damned if they don’t.
Almost certainly, if Microsoft was leading this generation of consoles in terms of sales — they wouldn’t broach the subject either. This is the company that spent most of the Xbox 360 era controlling its Xbox Live service with a vice like grip. They didn’t talk about cross-play then when it was probably just as feasible as it is now. Developers spoke openly about frustrations over Microsoft’s policies, enough that several major publishers avoided bringing major games to their system. The likes of Square Enix’s Final Fantasy XIV haven’t touched down on Xbox Live yet – while Criterion Games spoke about the difficulties they encountered in trying to get Burnout Paradise as a cross-play game (To ultimate failure).
So why now? There’s an argument that Microsoft has been shifting its policy in recent years. The Xbox brand isn’t as key to its gaming strategy as it once was. If it was, they certainly wouldn’t be diluting the importance of Xbox One by releasing all of its key games on to PC. These days Microsoft is more interested in pushing its Xbox Live service as wide as possible – arguably the biggest jewel in the company’s gaming crown. Xbox Live is vital to everything Microsoft is doing, and it’s clear that they want that on every device possible.
These days Microsoft is more interested in pushing its Xbox Live service as wide as possible – arguably the biggest jewel in the company’s gaming crown. Xbox Live is vital to everything Microsoft is doing, and it’s clear that they want that on every device possible. It’s why they’ve tied the cross-play experience of Minecraft to the service. It’s why all those major PC releases require Xbox Live in order to play. Heck, soon Nintendo Switch users will be logging into Minecraft to join in the fun. That strategy is slowly bearing fruit for the company, and it’s only going to want more of it
Which is probably why the company is so open to cross-play now. After years of saying no to gamers, Microsoft has a business reason to push cross-play. Sadly it’s a business decision that runs counter to Sony’s own desires, that’s what creates the standoff we’re currently seeing.
But looking back, Sony kind of set its own problems here. The biggest developer backing Microsoft is Psyonix – the developers of Rocket League. Rocket League’s success can be put down to Sony putting it as a freebie on PSN back in 2015. It was Sony that allowed Rocket League to play nicely with the PC version – showcasing that cross-play wasn’t an issue if they controlled the terms of the discussion. Effectively Sony created the beast that is now causing PlayStation its biggest headache.
This situation showcases why Sony has no reason to want Xbox Live on its PlayStation console. The company has spent this entire generation working to convince gamers that its PlayStation Network is worth a damn, so of course, they’re not going to throw the gates open so easily for their biggest rival. Likewise, Microsoft wouldn’t want Sony’s PSN on Xbox. The problem for Sony though is that Microsoft has already laid claim to that territory. By getting Nintendo on board, they’ve effectively beaten Sony to the punch – setting the groundwork for cross-play before Sony even got a say.
Naturally, Sony isn’t going to be super eager to jump aboard this whole thing. The problem is that while some games like Rocket League would work without directly forcing a sign-in, Microsoft’s own major games will. One of the biggest games on the block, Minecraft, will force users to sign in to Xbox Live. Sony doesn’t have this kind of leverage over Microsoft as it doesn’t have any major titles in the works for Microsoft’s console. If Sony picks and chooses which games can and can’t work – the company would come up for some harsh criticism. It probably thinks it’s saving itself a massive headache by simply saying no to the entire thing.
At the end of the day, Microsoft is playing a no-lose situation. If Sony continues to hold out, they look worse for it in the eyes of gamers. It robs Sony of their aura — makes PlayStation 4 feel less gamer friendly than Sony’s marketing has previously indicated. If Sony comes on board, it means that Microsoft will have achieved the impossible – it will have direct access to millions of PlayStation users. Sure they won’t be using Microsoft hardware, but they don’t care about that. Every kid, every gamer who signs into Minecraft using Xbox Live is a success for Microsoft. Without cross-platform games of their own, it’s an advantage Sony can’t reciprocate. It’s a Microsoft win in either case.
It’s cynical to look at it from that perspective – but that’s all this is. It’s Microsoft being clever and putting its biggest rival in a lose-lose situation. It might not sell Xbox consoles by the boatload, but it gives Microsoft potential to expand their reach. Because Microsoft made such a big deal of it back at E3 (Effectively throwing the doors open to the idea) they’ve already won the hearts of gamers. In the battle for minds, Sony is the enemy holding a much-desired feature back — even though I’m sure many gamers didn’t care about this until Microsoft got them to care.
Microsoft is the ultimately the winner in the situation, and that’s got to be frustrating to Sony.