Gaming

Is The Dream Of True Cross-Platform Multiplayer A Fantasy?

ScreenCritics Shaun explores why the promise of true cross-platform multiplayer may never be attainable in the current gaming market.

A few months back the gaming world was shocked when Rocket League developers Psyonix opened the discussion on allowing PlayStation 4 and Xbox One gamers to finally play in the same games. What many thought couldn’t happen seemed to be on the cusp of occurring – with both Microsoft and Psyonix seemingly on board with cross-console multiplayer. Yet in the intervening months there’s been very little movement on the topic. Rocket League recently deployed a huge update, one that’s positioned the game for such an arrangement. Yet the button hasn’t been switched, console gamers remain divided. We’ve been left wondering – will it ever actually happen or was it all too good to be true?

Before the long period of radio silence – it looked as though the issues would come from Sony’s side of the conversation. Microsoft loosened it’s policy a few months ago and seemingly left the door unhinged – ready for Sony to blow it off. Yet even back when the story first hit the press, Sony’s response to the whole thing seemed luke-warm at best. The company telling the press it;

“..Would be happy to have the conversation with any publishers or developers who are interested in cross-platform play.”

It was a few steps down from the excitement emanating from other parts of the industry – leading to the suggestion Sony was more cautious than its competitors about the prospect of opening itself up to cross-console multiplayer.

In truth there’s a lot of potential headaches just waiting to jump out should the idea move forward. While the idea is lovely and the communal aspects are apparent – gaming is still very much the reserve of businessmen and profits. There’s very little obvious return to be made by console manufacturers from allowing this but a lot of logistical work required to make it work. Put simply – the returns don’t diminish the effort required – which is probably why Sony haven’t jumped on the idea.

One of the biggest variables that hangs over the whole idea – how would it even work? Right now the dream seems to be muddled with the cold reality – Sony and Microsoft will never share their networks fully. This means that even if cross-platform gaming were an option on the table, the odds are you’d have an incredibly hard time finding your friends if they’re sat on other consoles. Gamers wouldn’t be able to ping friends messages, invite friends into your lobbies or even check if they’re online unless Microsoft and Sony opened up their PSN and Xbox Live networks.

It would fall to developers to make a system where the game could go and find your friend to bring them into the lobby. We’ve already got third-party networks that could handle this – the likes of EA Accounts and Capcom’s Fight Network provide a template for the idea. But do gamers really need to be signing up for every network in every game they purchase? That breaks the seamless experience that consoles have created up to now and means yet more reliance on the haphazard third-party servers to make it all work. I don’t know about you, but my interactions with EA’s servers haven’t left me enthralled over the years.

Plus it all comes back to the issue of communication. For example, how limited would the ability to voice chat across consoles be? Without a unified network (Something that will never happen) gamers won’t be able to invite to parties, private chats or any of the luxuries that users on the consoles are so used too. It’s why in most cases cross-platform games would be relegated to random match ups – which really raises the question of would it be worth doing at all?  If all the intention of these movements is just to lump gamers into one big pool rather than segmenting them into console brands; is it worth getting excited about if two friends can’t connect and play as seamlessly as they can on one console?

For me personally the lack of discussion over the finer details and the general lack of momentum in the conversation suggests it’ll be a while yet before this feature even comes close to hitting the market. Psyonix say their updates ready and waiting to launch – it just needs the sign-off from Microsoft and Sony. Given that neither they nor Sony or Microsoft has been eager to talk about the logistics of this – we can’t imagine it’s coming anytime soon. Which is a real shame for those who got excited about the idea back in May. Some gamers were talking about a new age of seemless multiplayer gaming that would allow gamers to jump onto their console and play with all their friends. all these months later, it seems the dream of cross-console is still very much just that – a dream.

What do you think? Is cross-console multiplayer a feature you want to see in gaming?

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