Fortnite Cross-Play: How PlayStation’s Success Betrayed Them
An old Chinese proverb says that “even a hare will bite when cornered”. At E3 2017, Microsoft had a massive conference where they announced a critical, yet controversial, policy that their games would have going forward: Cross-compatibility with Windows OS. Not only that, but all multiplayer would be linked to the Xbox Live servers on both console and PC.
The Xbox and Windows cross-play experience has been phenomenal thanks to the seamless connectivity the Xbox Live platform provides. This was all part of a totally new initiative by Microsoft, one born out of the outcry and rejection of the original Xbox One debut concept. You choose the Platform, Microsoft will provide the content. No fences, no restrictions. If they make it, you can play it, and play with whoever you want, wherever you want. Barring one exception: Sony.
When Rocket League announced that it would have cross-play features, people were ecstatic, however the process was revealed to be convoluted and problematic. Regardless, it was considered a starting point, and when Xbox announced Rocket League was coming to the program, many expected the same courtesy to be offered to a new batch of fresh rocket car aficionados. It was not given, and to rub salt into the wounds of ill-fated cross-consoled friendships everywhere, Jeremy Dunham, Psyonix’s Vice President, has gone on record stating, “Technically, I could make a phone call to Psyonix right now and [PS4 cross-play] would be up and running before you left the room. The problem is just the political barrier that prevents it from happening.”.
Whether Sony wants it to or not, the walled garden that separates online ecosystems is slowly falling. Elder Scrolls Online, Final Fantasy XIV, and many more games have had successful cross-play for years, yet PlayStation still refuses to see Xbox as an equal. Originally serving as the nail in the coffin for the original launch concept of the Xbox One, the infamous E3 video instructing PS4 owners on how to share their games. clearly demonstrates the way in which Sony views Microsoft. Even while saying that their concern for why they refuse for cross-play for Minecraft, one of the most endearing and successful games of all time, is because they are concerned for “security reasons” on Microsoft’s end.
When the PlayStation 4 was announced and revealed at E3 2013, an unspoken promise was made: Sony would be the ecosystem of indie developers. It’s walled garden would support its base with both AAA marquee titles, and indie darlings to fill the gaps. The premise was taken at face value, and despite not having a single year of more than a single successful AAA title, PlayStation 4 was the most successful console and took a lead in the market that has not been matched in the current generation.
However, that success has brought forth E3 conferences that have shown less and less from just about everything that isn’t a first party title. Gone are the multiple executives who tell us why PlayStation is the best platform, leaving us with Shawn Layden as our only guide. It echoes a single note, almost archaic in its sound: We are the best place to play, here’s why you shouldn’t play anywhere else.
At E3 2018, Nintendo revealed that Epic Games’ free-to-play blockbuster Fortnite: Battle Royale would be released to the Nintendo Switch right after the conference ended. Two million Fortnite fans responded to this news by downloading the game in the first day. However, any player who had spent even a moment interacting with their Epic Games account on a PlayStation 4 was greeted by a screen that stated, “This Fortnite account is associated with a platform which does not allow it to operate on the Nintendo Switch. Neither the Fortnite website nor Epic Customer Service are able to change this. To play Fortnite on Nintendo Switch, please create a new account.” For any Fortnite fan who’s main account was linked to a PlayStation 4, this news was devastating; as the game allows for the purchase of numerous passes, customization packs, and cosmetics – none of which were available on the Switch for those that had previously purchased them.
Fortnite, with more than 120 million downloads, boasts one of the most powerful online presences ever. It’s cartoon-ish exterior, lack of blood and gore, make it ideal for children, and said children have latched on. A hit on every platform from mobile to PC to console, this miscalculation on Sony’s part as mainstream media coverage has dominated the news, and even caused a slight chip in Sony’s stock prices. Even Sony stalwarts, the likes of Greg Miller, spoke out against this decision.
In response, Sony issued a statement:
“We’re always open to hearing what the PlayStation community is interested in to enhance their gaming experience. Fortnite is already a huge hit with PS4 fans, offering a true free-to-play experience so gamers can jump in and play online. With 79 million PS4’s sold around the world and more than 80 million monthly active users on PlayStation Network, we’ve built a huge community of gamers who can play together on Fortnite and all online titles. We also offer Fortnite cross-play support with PC, Mac, iOS, and Android devices, expanding the opportunity for Fortnite fans on PS4 to play with even more gamers on other platforms.”
Ignoring the issue, in its hubris, Sony touts their own figures and successes. Ignoring the klaxon siren’s call for a change in course, they continue on. It’s been said by some that the reason the Titanic actually sank wasn’t because it sailed into an iceberg. Actually, the ship was built to break through them, however, in the last moment, the pilot changed course. Whether or not that is true, Sony seems determined to follow a similar course. At E3 2018, Sony debuted only a single game that would be on multiple platforms. Meanwhile, Microsoft continues to follow the mantra set out by its drastically needed course correction: anywhere you want to play the games, we’ll provide the content. At E3 2018, they revealed the acquisition or creation of five publishers, including close Microsoft ally Undead Labs, and visual storyteller Ninja Theory. Promising cross-play across any and all platforms accessible to them.
No one knows that the future holds, yet even so, many have walked away from the walled garden, bidding adieu to the worlds they created, influenced, and built upon for a new opportunity to play games with their friends across multiple platforms. It’s a brave new world.