Sony has been playing coy on cross-play for months now, with vague references to technical issues and compatibility concerns, when the company’s reasoning is obvious: It doesn’t want people playing Fortnite on other systems because those systems aren’t manufactured by Sony, and Sony therefore doesn’t make any money if you spend money in-game. The company has finally come around to admitting this, albeit indirectly. At IFA last week, Sony’s CEO Kenichiro Yoshida stated:
On cross-platform, our way of thinking is always that PlayStation is the best place to play. Fortnite, I believe, partnered with PlayStation 4 is the best experience for users, that’s our belief. But actually, we already opened some games as cross-platform with PC and some others, so we decide based on what is the best user experience. That is our way of thinking for cross-platform.
Sony doesn’t actually “believe” Fortnite is best on the PS4. First of all, Sony isn’t a person and it doesn’t believe anything. Second, Sony’s executives — those who are competent, at least — don’t believe it either. Digital Foundry’s review of Fortnite’s 60fps patch back in March found that while the Xbox One was the weakest console of the bunch, the Xbox One X turned in the highest overall level of performance and the best resolution scaling. That’s what we’d expect, given that the Xbox One X is the most powerful console you can buy of this generation — but the Digital Foundry tests also strip the explanation of keeping the user experience pure away from even the Xbox One. Epic optimized their game to play well on a range of console hardware and it does.
If the best interests of the user are so paramount to Sony, why does using an Epic Fortnite account on the PS4 permanently block the account from being used on the Nintendo Switch? How is that restriction — which hit Switch owners with no warning — in any way justifiable?
It isn’t, of course. I’m just tired of pretending that the hypocrisy on these issues is something other than what it is. The only thing Sony is defending is its own pocket, and the only thing that’s going to change that is if customers vote with their wallets and opt to buy games on platforms where such restrictions aren’t in play.
The Collision Between Games-as-a-Service and Sony’s Walled Garden
I loathe the trend behind “games as a service” and the idea that we should jettison single-player campaigns in favor of eternally updated, always-online multiplayer titles. I also play World of Warcraft, because I am a complex, contradictory assemblage of screams beautiful human being. But you don’t have to be an eternal devotee of late-2000s RPG gaming to recognize a tension between the way the game industry is moving and Sony’s insistence on the “best interest” of its fans.
Major game developers are moving towards titles that they can keep running for years. There are fewer true console exclusives with every passing generation. Devices like the Switch have emphasized the idea of taking a title on-the-go and playing with friends, while console gamers are aware that Sony is the problem holding up this particular feature. You could even argue that the rise of services like Twitch and content sharing indirectly contributes to fostering an atmosphere in which cross-play is expected because it encourages viewers to expect that content will be shared. In other words, it’s not just large-scale trends, like faster internet speeds that have encouraged cross-platform play — it’s the evolving expectations and desires of the player base.
For now, Sony is safe in its position. The Xbox One will not catch the PS4. The Switch may catch the PS4, but that’s unlikely to happen before the PlayStation 5 launches in 2020. But as Microsoft could testify, console launches have a nasty habit of resetting user brand preferences and a company that performs well in one generation can find itself floundering the next. Come 2020, Sony could find itself distinctly out of step with what consumers want — especially if Microsoft and Nintendo keep hammering the company on the issue until then.