How likely is it that Sony actually wants cross-platform play with Microsoft?

No one wants to look like the bad guy

There’s been no small amount of buzz coming out of the Game Developers Conference thanks to an announcement from Microsoft that it plans to natively support cross-platform play between Xbox One, PC, and “other online multiplayer networks”. There was, of course, no explicit mention of Sony’s Playstation or the Playstation Network but if you were going to put the situation in a film, Sony would have been standing across the room as Microsoft looked at them pointedly whilst making their announcement, then the camera would have panned and quickly zoomed in on Sony as they mouthed “motherfucker” at Microsoft’s wide grin.

This isn’t a film though, it’s business, and unfortunately business doesn’t have the same satisfying and telling immediate response. Instead, Sony gave a measured and unclear response to Gamestop about the proposal: “PlayStation has been supporting cross-platform play between PC on several software titles starting with Final Fantasy 11 on PS2 and PC back in 2002 […] We would be happy to have the conversation with any publishers or developers who are interested in cross-platform play.”

Considering Microsoft’s unclear but pointed announcement and Sony’s subsequent non-committal response it seems safe to assume that the companies weren’t in serious talks about cross-platform play, preparing to hold hands on a GDC stage and declare the console wars over. It actually seems more like Microsoft has effectively pulled the business equivalent of “it’s okay with me, but ask your mother first”, knowing fine well mum is not going to be happy about it.

Because the thing is, although being able to play with other console users is something most gamers would love, particularly in a game like Rocket League which Microsoft said would be first to support the feature, what do Sony themselves actually have to gain from a business perspective here?

When it comes to sales, Sony are winning the console race for this generation. Sony announced in January that their sales for the Playstation 4 console had passed 36 million units, and although Microsoft tend to keep their sales figures much more close to the vest, a recent estimate from VGChartz puts Xbox One sales at just over 20 million from sometime in February. These aren’t exact numbers, but they’re not exactly close enough for me to feel it’s a risk to say that the Playsation 4 is outselling the Xbox One in terms of console units.

If Sony has more consoles out there, they could really only continue to gain from a lack of cross-platform play. Our friendship groups have a massive influence on which console we buy so if all of your friends have a Playstation 4 and you’d like to play with them online, which console are you likely to opt for? Let me tell you, I went Xbox 360 whilst every other gamer I knew, including my own brother, went for the Playstation 3 and it was a lonely few years in terms of online play for me. The lack of cross-platform play maintains this console divide pressure that Sony can only stand to benefit from, why would they want to be rid of it?

It’s clear that neither company is averse to cross-platform play as a concept considering they both support play between PCs – in fact, Sony’s response to Microsoft reads very much as “check yourself, lads, we were doing it first” – but allowing gamers to play between their console and a PC (which many gamers will have on top of a console) is very different from allowing them to play console to console when it comes to having an effect on sales.

I don’t think Sony’s response to Microsoft was overly encouraging. As a gamer, I’d love to see this happen – I have a few Xbox-owning friends I’d jump at the chance to play online with – and honestly, it’d be really nice to see the puerile “console wars” die a death. They have their own South Park episode for the love of god. But I can’t see Sony allowing themselves to be pressured into agreeing to this if it’s not going to offer them any obvious benefit, even if it is a disappointment to consumers. Perhaps I’m just a horrendous cynic (I am), but I imagine Sony are aware that you’ve already bought their console and I doubt protest-buying the Xbox One will get you any closer to playing with your Playstation-owning friends.

That said, considering the positive reactions to the Playstation VR pricepoint, Sony can be certain they’ve secure a big chunk of the future gaming market for their console so maybe in a moment of “screw it, why not?” they’ll agree, envisioning, perhaps, it won’t be problem when all their users are locked into their PSVR headsets. I really hope they do come to an agreement, it’s console gamers that lose out the most if they don’t, and PC gamers who have to choose which friends they like most.

Main Image via Flickr © Mark Farrell