June 29, 2022

So, (Last) Thoughts on Crossplay.


With lots more discussion on Crossplay happening this week, and Sony dithering on the whole subject after some pretty negative PR, I thought that rather than discuss Sony or Microsoft or Nintendo on this front, that we need to effectively cut this whole “Platform” thing out of the equation and strip this debate down a little, especially since it seems to have reignited a “Console Fanboy War” that hasn’t really existed much the last few years. Good job Sony! Thanks for making the gaming community toxic again!

I have a very simple question: whose game is it really?

Fortnite, you see, runs on Epic Accounts. On Epic’s own servers. You’d think, and presume, that as a result Epic Games had the final say; but Sony doesn’t want the Switch or XBox interfering on its own playerbase (under the guise of “protecting minors”, which when you consider what they’re putting out as games this coming year is ludicrous in and of itself!). So everything is run on Epic’s own backend… but Sony has the control. Which is fair enough now – as I’ve iterated before – but it’s not exactly laying the foundations for a new console generation where, starting from zero again, developers and publishers are in a greater position to show Sony a giant bird.

Ostrich - Creative Commons via Joachim Huber.
… well played…

In essence, I’d have no issue if Sony was paying for its own Fortnite servers. If Sony wants to enclose itself off – it should be expected to pay the extra for that, and Sony’s customers should expect to pay a premium for that privilege. I mean, it’s not ideal; particularly if you’re starting from zero console sales again but if it improves the PlayStation Network (it needs the help) and some of the money goes back to Epic Games in the process, then yeah. If you want to pay for your own field, then you should be allowed to and then you can be as closed-off as you want. It’s your land and your money. Nintendo developed Mario Kart 8, and pays for that multiplayer – you’re not going to see it on XBox. That’s fair. Like you won’t see Killer Instinct on Switch any time soon… I think?

But if you’re leaving it entirely up to a third party developer and/or publisher, then you should expect them to want Crossplay going forward. It’s good for the companies; it grows their audience, helps matchmaking and generally creates a large and varied pool of player talent.

Sony can have greater stipulations on security as a result of that and I’d laugh because of the PSN Hacks over the years because that’s a reasonable desire. Having standards is not a terrible thing (Steam could learn a thing or two about “standards”, it’s true) and expecting – nay, demanding – stringent data security measures, particularly when you are a company who isn’t familiar or allowed by law to know your competing oppositions own security standards, is a perfectly healthy position to take in an age where hackers are prevalent in a multitude of forms. Being given that kind of assurance, and holding the developers to account in the event of a data breach, should be a more commonly-held position. I think Nintendo rolled over a bit too eagerly on this, but then I don’t know what assurances were given to Nintendo or what its coming Online Service has in terms of security measures.

Mario Odyssey - Censored
… oh. Room for improvement then.

But ultimately, a developer/publisher should be okay with the proposition of telling a company (regardless of its size and/or market position) to go do one.

Games like Fortnite have the presence and the install base elsewhere to be able to twist Sony’s own nipple clamps a bit. Fine Sony, you don’t want to play with others? Then you have to wait for content. See this big shiny new content patch, with new weapons and maps? Yeah. You can wait a few weeks for that. I can guarantee you that the PS4 fans of the game will scream blue murder, and yes they’ll initially blame Epic Games as holding them to ransom (… because they are?), but eventually that anger will taper from outward to inward, and pressure will be put on Sony themselves to acquiesce to Crossplay demands.

If Epic really wanted Sony to play ball on this – Epic is in an outrageously strong position for this. I mean… Unreal Engine, anyone? You know… that thing people use TO MAKE GAMES FOR GAMES CONSOLES THESE DAYS?! Ahem. Sorry.

Because whatever retaliation Sony has… is undermined by the PlayStation’s reliance on Unreal Engine 4. Sony can fight back; but Epic can do way more damage in kind. Like charging even more for PS4 licenses, meaning that it prices Sony out of the field entirely. You know. Pleasant corporate bitching and all that. Yes, I am this cynical by nature, thank you for noticing. The whole debate can be fixed quickly if Epic wanted this to be fixed, and yes it would involve temporary dickishness. Which is still better than Logan Paul’s semi-permanent version but I digress on that position.

Thing is, I’m of a simple view here. If you leave it up to a third-party entirely, then you have to expect that nowadays Crossplay is going to be the standard. And you have to trust in the developer/publisher that they will do everything in their power to ensure a safe and secure playing experience. If you don’t trust them to ensure that… why are you giving them a license in the first place? Don’t you have standards?

… touché…

If you want exclusive servers and exclusive content… pay for it. There’s nothing that says this is a terrible idea; the developers/publishers should be happy to oblige on the whole. But I suspect most platforms won’t, because the millions of dollars you could spend on that sort of thing would be quite desirable in… you know… making first-party content that sells a platform in the first place, maybe?

The industry is changing – has changed, even. Third parties have grown to understand that in terms of multiplayer, it’s best for their own bottom line when there are no platform boundaries. It is not up to a third-party developer or publisher to “sell” a console platform. They should absolutely focus on making the best damn game they can, and making a decent living off said game. If the third party is expected to effectively pay for everything, then they should ultimately have the final say in its online multiplayer as well.

Sony is right to fear the encroaching Internet. I’ve made a few jokes about it in this piece. And I think a healthy distrust for “the wider Internet” might do some companies some good. Unfortunately, the likes of Fortnite and Rocket League and Minecraft even have large communities who have been very happy with the crossplay thus far, and that’s setting the tone for the future of the industry.

Something will happen to dent this in the future, I’m sure of it. But make hay whilst the sun is shining… Sony shouldn’t be afraid of this at all right now. It has, it reports 80+ million PSN users! There must be a massive audience there for Fortnite who’ll be devoted entirely to the PS4 version they love and trust, right?

… hmm. Maybe Sony doesn’t trust its audience as much as I thought it did…

This was meant to be before the last crossplay post, but things… you know… changed.
Just thought I’d mention that.


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