Cross-platform play, more commonly known as cross-play, is a term used within the gaming world in reference to online games that allow players from different gaming platforms to play with each other online.
Cross-play is growing more prevalent in the videogame industry, and its’ influence among gamers and developers is a positive for both.
Platforms have tended to keep its users within respective systems: PlayStation plays with PlayStation, Xbox with Xbox, and etc. Separate online services means playing with friends online only if you both have the same consoles.
One explanation why it hasn’t taken off yet is technological limitations. When console online capabilities first became mainstream with the success of Xbox Live in 2002 and Sony’s PlayStation Network in 2006, the competing services worked differently.
Multiplayer is now an essential component to many games, and those games are on more platforms. “Fortnite” is available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, personal computers and mobile devices.
The technology has been ready. The Sega Dreamcast laid the groundwork for cross-platform play as early as 2001 when Sega released the Dreamcast’s new maps for “Quake lll: Arena” to computer players. It gave PC gamers access to the maps as well as cross-play with Dreamcast players, according to GameSpot.
“Final Fantasy XI” became the first fully cross-platform capable game in 2004, when it cross-played with PlayStation 2 and PC, then later in 2006 with Xbox 360 as well, according to the Final Fantasy website.
“Rocket League,” a very successful multiplayer game that crashed servers the day it was launched, according to the Guardian, could be cross-platform ready “in less than a business day.” But only if Psyonix gets permission from all parties said Jeremy Dunham, Psyonix vice president in an interview with IGN.
“Fortnite” also has cross-play as a key feature, so when Sony blocked accounts on the popular multiplayer game “Fortnite” from being accessed on other consoles (locking accounts to the PlayStation 4) the backlash was immediate, according to the BBC.
Sony’s motivation was clearly about sales. Players who had earned or purchased content on other consoles would not be able to access it on PlayStation – they would have to repurchase content on Sony’s store where Sony could make a profit, according to Ars Technica, a publication dedicated to technology.
Sony, the last holdout, recently caved to public pressure and has announced cross-platform multiplayer for the insanely popular game, “Fortnite,” according to Kotaku, a gamer’s news and opinion platform.
When Fortnite, one of the biggest games of the year, with around 125 million players, has cross-play as a key feature, it’s a sure sign competitors will follow suit.
Ultimately, developers also benefit from moving to cross-play because their games end up having a much larger playerbase to work with.
No segmentation means the development process will be more streamlined, which will deliver a consistent experience across systems, another plus for gamers.
With it, gamers won’t have to pick systems based on what their friends already own, and systems can be chosen more on personal preference, such as system exclusives and other auxiliary services it may provide.
These benefits outweigh any perceived losses executives may have on the concept, and the increased freedom felt on both sides of the game will simply lead to better games overall.