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Sony's Cross-Play Policy is What Happens When One Company Wins the Console War

STARTING SCREEN | Sony doesn't have to play fair, but it might suffer the consequences in the long-term.

Article by Nadia Oxford, Mike Williams, .

E3 is all about the hustle and the bustle, plus there's usually a little dash of controversy to spice things up. The too-doo accompanying this year's E3 was once-removed from the show itself: When Nintendo revealed Fortnite is playable on the Switch, fans quickly discovered any account associated with the PlayStation 4 version of the game is automatically locked out of Switch play.

Sony's exclusionary actions went over like price hike on V-bucks. Players with Fortnite accounts on the PlayStation 4 can't transfer their levels or skins over to the Nintendo Switch version of the popular MMO shooter, which is a shame because Fortnite generally works well as a handheld experience. Sony never warned players that Fortnite accounts used on the PlayStation 4 won't work on the Switch, so fans are understandably miffed (there's no problem moving between the Nintendo Switch and Xbox One version of the game).

Sony's not playing nice, true—but given the PlayStation 4's install base, it doesn't have to play nice, and it knows it.

SONY: "This is a metaphor for us building a better online experience. Hah! Just kidding."

That's probably why Sony's not forthcoming with any answers or compromises that might ease the hurt, either. In fact, it's issued a non-statement that's so condescending, it reads like a form apology written in the style of those fill-in-the-adjective/noun/verb/adverb games you probably played with your friends as a kid.

"We're always open to hearing what the PlayStation community is interested in to enhance their gaming experience," the statement (issued to BBC late last week) begins. "With... 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.

"We have nothing further to add beyond this at this point," the statement concludes. In other words: Go suck an egg, Fortnite fans.

Sony's refusal to open the PlayStation 4 playground for all the children in the neighborhood isn't new. The issue swings back around whenever the Switch gets a popular online multiplayer game like Rocket League or Minecraft. Last year, PlayStation global sales and marketing head Jim Ryan told Eurogamer Sony operates a walled garden because it has to be "mindful" of young player bases for family games.

There's a PR storm comin'.

"We have a contract with the people who go online with us, that we look after them and they are within the PlayStation curated universe," Ryan said. "Exposing what in many cases are children to external influences we have no ability to manage or look after, it's something we have to think about very carefully."

When Eurogamer pointed out Nintendo—a rigidly family-friendly company—allows cross-play on the Nintendo Switch, Ryan's response was basically "Eh."

Everybody has to take their own decisions," he said. "We'll do that."

If Sony didn't budge for Minecraft cross-play, there's no reason it'll see the light with Fortnite. It's all quite stupid, but it's typical behavior for whomever happens to be "winning" the console wars at a given moment. Once Sony, Microsoft, or Nintendo claims the top spot for a generation, they clutch their cards close to their chest and glower at the competition. Yes, the install base for PSN Online is huge, and Sony would very much like to keep in that way. Letting the people who bought your console play willy-nilly on the Switch and the Xbox One isn't great for those numbers. It's telling Sony seems willing to sustain the PR damage it incurs by refusing to budge on the cross-play issue; keeping its player base reined in tight seems to be more important.

Sony's Battle Bus is real exclusive. Cool kids only!!

Maybe Sony's just hoping it won't be the only company to do something stupid with its online platform before the year's done. Nintendo Switch Online is a big question mark, and we didn't learn anything about it at E3 2018. Plus, it utilizes a clumsy app nobody likes. And it's all well and good for Microsoft to flash consumers its biggest smile while giving us great deals on new games and the best backwards compatibility in the industry, but we're arguably only receiving these perks because Microsoft's arrogance hobbled the Xbox One out of the starting gate.

Consumers have no problem toppling an industry king if it gets too smug and confident. It's happened again and again. Sony's already gone through the wringer once with the poor reception of the PlayStation 3. It'd do well to remember the lean times, because they're never more than a single console generation away.

I can't accurately predict the future, but I know this much: Nintendo's probably just fine with Sony diverting some of the heat fanned its way for failing to show much beyond Super Smash Bros Ultimate during its Nintendo Direct presentation. Nintendo President Reggie Fils-Aime even contributed a quote to the BBC article about the Fortnite lock-out.

"What competitors do is their decision to make," he said. "We believe being both developer-forward and fan-forward is in the best interest of the game."

Gracious, he has no idea what's gotten into those crazy Sony kids.

Looking Ahead to the Rest of the Week

The Electronic Entertainment Expo is over and done, but there's a bit more coverage from us coming for the rest of this week. Look forward to more previews, interviews, and stories yet to be published!

But there are new games coming this week, some you might know, but some you might not!

  • Musynx [June 21]: Looking for a rhythm game for your Nintendo Switch? This launch looks to bring the mobile release to all-new platforms, including Switch, PlayStation Vita, and PlayStation 4. 90 songs, with more free additions planned after launch!
  • Mario Tennis Aces [June 22]: The next big Switch title is here. Mario Tennis Aces brings back many of your Mario Sports favorites like Waluigi, Luigi, and Peach, while adding newcomers like Chain Chomp, Diddy Kong, and Birdo. Play tennis against the CPU or your friends, or take a shot at Aces' new Adventure Mode campaign.
  • New Gundam Breaker [June 22]: This is a bit of a surprise. New Gundam Breaker will be out in North America this Friday. The title puts a number of your favorite Gundams together, letting you mix-and-match parts to build the best Gunpla warrior you can.

This Week's News and Notes

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Comments 16

  • Avatar for nimzy #1 nimzy A month ago
    This whole Fortnite business has been enormously entertaining from a spectator standpoint. In one moment, an entire generation of kids just got drafted into the console wars. It's beautiful in a supervillain-ish sort of way.
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  • Avatar for NiceGuyNeon #2 NiceGuyNeon A month ago
    Meh. They'll learn. MS is still learning. Nintendo learned. Sony will learn, and I'm sure in the process Nintendo will screw up again, MS will do some positive stuff and Sony will be stuck learning. Then MS will shut down all the studios they bought, etc and the cycle will repeat lol
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  • Avatar for Maxbeedo #3 Maxbeedo A month ago
    I honestly believe this ordeal has far more to do with network security than feeling smug for being "#1", due to their past issues with the PSN breaches. Whenever a large company like that gets hacked, they pass a lot of policies to swing things too far towards protecting their network. When the last company I worked for got hacked, they forced us to install an overly restrictive enterprise anti-virus/agent system that made every computer unusable for several days (taking everything down far longer than the hacking did). It may take Sony a while to reign the restrictions in simply because they feel like they have so much to lose by another breach, even if it makes them look paranoid and anti-consumer.
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  • Avatar for SuperShinobi #4 SuperShinobi A month ago
    I don't see it as a big issue, just as a bit of an annoyance. The only MP game I regularly play is TLoU MP, where XP progress and item unlocks don't carry over from the PS3 to the PS4 and vice versa. So I just sighed, started over from zero again and kept on playing.

    I think platform holders buying timed exclusivity or full exclusivity of multiplatform games is a much worse way of restricting access and a bigger issue. If Fortnite hadn't become so popular, people would be asking why Playstation gamers can't play PUBG.Edited 2 times. Last edited last month by SuperShinobi
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  • Avatar for SatelliteOfLove #5 SatelliteOfLove A month ago
    Time is a flat circle.
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  • Avatar for WiIIyTheAntelope #6 WiIIyTheAntelope A month ago
    It's always going to be the same way. Whoever is on top holds the cards, and they aren't going to willingly start showing their hand.

    MS are loving the good press they're getting right now for being the supposed consumer friendly company. But the reality of it is that's been their only course of action to take after getting beaten like a government mule. Lest we forget that last gen MS hated the idea of allowing Xbox players to play with any other ecosystem, and your $60 per year Xbox gold subscription netted you essentially nothing but the ability to play online. No free games or other freebies..hell you couldn't even watch Netflix or youtube on your 360 without paying the toll. And that just wasn't going to fly this time around, because they're the runner up.

    And if next gen Sony pulls some boneheaded move the way MS did with the Xbone reveal..and it flips and the Xbox Too destroys the PS5, Sony will become the consumer friendly company and MS will go back to their old ways.

    It's an endless loop.
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  • Avatar for nilcam #7 nilcam A month ago
    I agree it's an eternal cycle. I've never cared for the Xbox library so that's not affected me much. Sony, in my experience, makes the least reliable hardware so my tendancy is to avoid them. Nintendo is usually rather solid for me. Some segments of the cycle affect me much more than others. I prefer Nintendo when they're trying to catch up.

    E3 was pretty boring overall but, damn, did Daemon X Machina blow me away! The trailer was cool but the segment on Treehouse Live was amazing.Edited 4 times. Last edited last month by nilcam
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  • Avatar for Fourfoldroot #8 Fourfoldroot A month ago
    They are playing perfectly fair (they earned their install base and deserve to recoup money on all of the great games they are producing and as a result of building a costlier machine.
    What they aren't doing is playing nice.
    From a selfish perspective I hope the current situation continues; Sony simply can't compete with MS financially as a company so need every advantage they can get if there is to be competition in the market. Competition is better for more consumers than cross play. It also means Sony will have the money to continue to build great games and invest in things like VR.
    I'm aware this is selfish because I don't play online games, but it doesn't stop it being true.
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  • Avatar for riderkicker #9 riderkicker A month ago
    Nintendo Switch Online is the future of Virtual Console, and even though Nintendo has our purchase history on file, we still have to buy yet another file.
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  • Avatar for riderkicker #10 riderkicker A month ago
    @Fourfoldroot Doesn't the Xbox One S cost $200, and come with a 4K Blu Ray player?
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  • Avatar for Fourfoldroot #11 Fourfoldroot A month ago
    @riderkicker
    Earned, as in past tense, as in the launch machines not revisions. But yes, its likely that the S may now be more expensive to produce. Not that this type of chump change would mean much to MS of course.
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  • Avatar for kevincaldwell #12 kevincaldwell A month ago
    Sony are literally shooting themselves in the foot with this! They don't even have to enable cross play, they just need to allow Fortnite accounts to work across all devices. They must realise that by blocking that, they are pushing all the PS4 owners who are on the fence, to other platforms... I can't wait to see how anti-consumer the PS5 will be! I just hope they don't mess things up entirely, as we need the competition, and Microsoft will be coming out with all guns blazing.
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  • Avatar for docexe #13 docexe A month ago
    @Fourfoldroot I think that some are collating two things here that while related are not really the same. The thing that has people up in arms about the Fortnite situation is not the lack of crossplay but the lack of account portability.

    I mean, Sony owns the PSN infrastructure so if they don't want to allow their users to play with people on other consoles, that's fair, it's their prerogative to do so.

    However, it do seems unreasonable that if an Epic account (that is, a third party account) was used just a single time on PS4 it becomes completely locked to PSN without possibility to use it on any other console even if it wasn't even created on a PS4 to begin with.

    That being said and for the sake of fairness, it's entirely possible that Sony is not being petty or overzealous in this respect. The account locking could be a technical issue or, like@Maxbeedo pointed out, a network security issue. But if that is the case, Sony should then attempt to solve it and if it can't be solved they should be transparent about it. Otherwise they are just creating malaise and resentment among their player base, not to mention giving Microsoft a potential competitive advantage, even if only in terms of PR.
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  • Avatar for apoc_reg #14 apoc_reg A month ago
    It’s no excuse, in fact it’s a sure fire way to start to lose the next console war!!
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  • Avatar for LBD_Nytetrayn #15 LBD_Nytetrayn A month ago
    Not allowing crossplay is one thing, but holding people's accounts hostage is every measure of wrong.
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  • Avatar for Fourfoldroot #16 Fourfoldroot A month ago
    @LBD_Nytetrayn
    Epic need to sort this out. Sony not allowing crossplay is one thing, but no other game has this issue. Epic clearly have no way of particianing properly and have had to resort to the nuclear option.
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