Earlier today, Nintendo unleashed a new Minecraft commercial. It shows a split screen of two players working together in the same game of Minecraft, only they have different controllers in their hands: an Xbox One controller and two Joy Cons from the Switch joined together. The commercial is a celebration of cross-play, and how the functionality has finally come to the Nintendo Switch's port of Minecraft. It's like a diss track aimed squarely at Sony, but no one's explicitly calling Sony a deadbeat dad for having a secret kid or whatever.
But it's still laying the pressure on Sony, who have controversially stayed away from the majority of cross-play endeavors. Sony "winning" the great console race doesn't absolve it from drawing the ire from fans. One of the most notable PS4 games that features cross-play is the MMORPG Final Fantasy XIV, which is only available on PC and PlayStation 4. Last year in an interview with Eurogamer, PlayStation global sales and marketing head Jim Ryan noted that, "We're always open to conversations with any developer or publisher who wants to talk about it. Unfortunately it's a commercial discussion between ourselves and other stakeholders."
Earlier this week, former Daybreak Game Company president John Smedley tweeted (though he has since removed the tweet) that during his time at Sony the reason was simple: money. "When I was at Sony, the stated reason internally for this was money," Smedley tweeted. "They didn't like someone buying something on an Xbox and it being used on a Playstation. [S]imple as that. Dumb reason, but there it is." That, obviously, ties a little bit into the stakeholders conversation spurred by Ryan.
Ryan's interview in 2017 was in response to the then-recent news of both Minecraft and Rocket League offering cross-play between consoles (on the latter, only PS4 and PC or Xbox One and PC are possible for cross-play), with the exception of Sony. Ryan went on to point to the young demographic of Minecraft in particular, and that Sony has to be careful of "external influences." And yet Nintendo, perhaps the most kid-friendly and kid-centric console platform out there, has just made cross-play on Minecraft available. So what gives?
Minecraft and Fortnite Battle Royale are two of the biggest games in the world right now, and by offering cross-play across most platforms aside from PS4, hold the most sway in making Sony cave into cross-play, despite what stakeholders might say. Recently, Sony came under fire after new players discovered that they couldn't link their Epic Games account to the Switch version if it had been linked to a PS4 previously. Cross-play was already a hot button issue around last year's E3 2018, and with the latest news, the cross-play pot is now boiling over.
Sony doesn't really have anything to lose either. The excuses that have been offered over time—protecting the kids from unsavory adult players on other platforms, people not buying games on PS4—are "eh, okay"-worthy at best, skirting responsibility at worst. Even in an interview with Giant Bomb last year, Xbox boss Phil Spencer rejected the suggestion entirely. "The fact that somebody would kind of make an assertion that somehow we're not keeping Minecraft players safe," Spencer told the site during its E3 2017 live show. "I found—not only from a Microsoft perspective, but from a game industry perspective—like, I don't know why that has to become the dialogue. Like, that doesn’t seem healthy for anyone."
More and more games are leaning on an online service to sustain its longevity. Sometimes it's MMOs or shooters, other times it's arcade car-soccer games like Rocket League. With games as services being a big trend in the industry right now, cross-play is a must to keep games alive, and retain people together rather than segregating them on their platforms of choice. Of course, there are complications in this, especially in the realm of shooters where PC players will undoubtedly have a leg up with a mouse and keyboard. But in the case of games like Minecraft, Rocket League, and even Fortnite Battle Royale, cross-play across all consoles—not grouped between two or so platforms—should be the norm.
With all the hell going on in America right now, it's honestly a struggle to care about video game related things like cross-play. But for other folks, in this trying time games are a cathartic outlet. Whether people want to squad up in Fortnite Battle Royale or survive the unknown of Minecraft together alongside friends, the fact is, people should have that option by default. If they're parents on the Big Boy console of the PS4 while their kid lounges about the living room with a handheld Switch, or two friends separated by states and consoles coming together for an evening of building shit in video games, cross-play should always be an option.
But if Sony can get credit for anything, it's being consistent in being anti-cross-play between other consoles. Sony has two moves it can make now: cave and bring cross-play across more games on its platform, or drop the equivalent of a Degrassi: The Next Generation reunion and implement its own backwards compatibility system or something to make people forget about the drama and be happy again. But if anyone can convince Sony to assuage its misguided worries, it's two competing gaming consoles joining forces to brag about its own cross-play in a faux-diss track. Now it's time to wait to see if its melody is enough to catch Sony's ear.