As a gamer from the early days of Nintendo, I have always enjoyed playing video games with friends. The experience improved over the years with additional controllers, split-screen cooperative campaigns, and eventually online multiplayer options. However, with the emergence of online multiplayer on consoles came a great divide: which of the two consoles you owned. As people started purchasing either Sony PlayStation 3 or Microsoft Xbox 360, a rift was created that meant playing the same game as your friend did not necessarily mean you could play together online. Platform multiplayer exclusivity has long been a dividing factor in allowing people to connect and share the games they love, standing not only as a physical wall between players on different servers, but also as a symbolic wall that has provoked division among brand loyalists.
I don’t remember my parents being that excited about me playing video games
I can’t tell you how many times throughout the years I would strike up a conversation with a new acquaintance, classmate, co-worker, and find out that we play the exact same game, and how many times we would go from the excitement of having another person to add to our squads, to the disappointment of finding out that we play on different systems. Even though we both played the exact same game, at the exact same time of day, there was an invisible wall that prevented us from ever interacting with one another.
I always hoped that one day I would see this wall come tumbling down, and now, with a little help from a worldwide phenomenon, I just may see that day.
State of Separation
There are essentially four main ways to play mainstream video games nowadays: PC, Sony PlayStation, Microsoft Xbox, or Nintendo Switch. These four methods of game delivery essentially offer the same basic experience of single player titles (not taking into account the customization of PCs or portability of the Switch). However, if you are playing online multiplayer, things get a little more complicated.
For players on a Microsoft Xbox One S or One X console, you have been able to play many popular titles online with players on PCs (given the cross collaboration of Microsoft’s Windows and Xbox departments). Sony PlayStation 4 or PlayStation 4 Pro players, on the other hand, have been relatively secluded with the exception of a few online titles that are able to be played with PC users. Never have the two rival consoles been able to connect users on the same server, until a single game changed the gaming landscape.
Then Came Fortnite
In summer of 2017, Epic Games released the beta version of its cooperative third person shooter survival game Fortnite. Later that year, the company put out a free-to-play battle royale version of its main game, and the rest is history. Fortnite Battle Royale, which drops 100 players into a single map for a last-person-standing battle, exploded in popularity, setting many records along the way and helping to push gaming and its professional players into the mainstream. The game has made millions in micro-transactions (purchases of in-game content like costumes for characters), and Epic Games recently reported the number of registered Fortnite players world-wide to be over 200 million.
Currently, nearly three percent of the ENTIRE WORLD plays Fortnite
On its initial release, Fortnite was made available on PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One. While PlayStation and Xbox users were able to play against or team up with players on PCs, they were not able to play each other. In fact, if you even created an Epic Games account on either console, you would not be able to use that same account on PC to play with/against users of the competing console. The biggest game in the world, reaching millions of people worldwide, was now segmented essentially into two worlds: PlayStation and Xbox.
Then Came Fortnite on Switch
Following its rise in popularity, Fortnite expanded to mobile, first appearing on iOS devices in early 2018. While Apple iPhone players were able to play with both PlayStation and Xbox players, it did not fully bridge the gap between the two worlds. Then in summer, Nintendo announced Fortnite would be coming to its Switch console, and even more monumental, it announced it will be fully cross-compatible with Xbox and PC. The two companies were quick to promote the cross-platform capabilities of their games, promoting the idea that players of titles like Minecraft and Fortnite could “Explore/Survive Together.”
Sony was now under more pressure than it had ever been to break down its wall and allow for cross-platform play between consoles. In response to not allowing cross-platform play, the company had always cited concerns around maintaining the quality of its gamers’ experience (the company could also not claim difficulties in feasibility as a bug from 2017 accidently put PlayStation and Xbox Fortnite players on the same servers). However, insiders have said that it has always come down to one thing: money. Sony reportedly did not want customers buying Microsoft Xbox consoles, then going home and taking up bandwidth on Sony PlayStation servers. The company stood by its stance of remaining siloed for years, until the pressure from gamers (mainly Fortnite players) and the pressure from competitors Microsoft and Nintendo was too much to ignore.
The First Sledgehammer to the Wall
In September, Sony announced it will start an open beta program for Fortnite that allows cross-platform gameplay between PlayStation 4, Android, iOS, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows, and Mac operating systems, while also allowing for account progression and purchases to carry between systems. With the announcement, President and Global CEO of Sony, John Kodera, said this:
“For 24 years, we have strived to deliver the best gaming experience to our fans by providing a uniquely PlayStation perspective. Today, the communities around some games have evolved to the point where cross-platform experiences add significant value to players. In recognition of this, we have completed a thorough analysis of the business mechanics required to ensure that the PlayStation experience for our users remains intact today, and in the future, as we look to open up the platform.”
It seems that Sony heard the collective call of gamers everywhere, showing that they have a voice, and that voice can shape the future of the industry we all share. Sony’s first step in cross-platform play is just that, a first step, but it symbolizes a move to a more connected world that allows gamers from all walks of life to experience that world together. The move to connect Fortnite players will hopefully lead to a move to connect all players, so I say: Mr. Kodera, tear down that wall.
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