Early stages of Crossplay
The concept of cross-platform games initially started with Phantasy Star Online, which released on December 21st 2000 in Japan, January 29th 2001 in North America and February 15th 2001 on the Sega Dreamcast, followed by releases on the PC, GameCube and Xbox but out of the four platforms, GameCube and Xbox miss out on the cross-platform compatibility, as it was only available for Dreamcast and PC at the time. The Cross-play feature for Dreamcast and PC only lasted until September 30th, 2003 in North America, March 30th, 2007 in Japan, with the Japanese Xbox servers shutting down on January 31, 2007, and the North American servers closed on March 22nd the same year.
The second title featuring cross-play, Final Fantasy 11, released on May 16th, 2002 on Playstation 2 in Japan and on March 23rd, 2004 in North America, with the PC version releasing in 2002 in Japan, 2003 in North America and 2004 in Europe, finally releasing on Xbox 360 on April 2006, which was the first Final Fantasy game to release on the Xbox platform. The cross-play longevity went on from 2002-2016 and the Xbox 360 version went from 2006-2016 which only leaves the PC version playable to this current day.
Microsoft originally explored the idea of cross-play with their Games for Windows live program in 2007, with the first game to have cross-play between Games for Windows and Xbox 360 being Shadowrun, releasing on May 29th 2007. The idea for Games for Windows was to allow gamers to connect their Xbox live accounts to PC and vice versa, play on both platforms. The concept became such a popular feature, with the release of Windows 8 in 2012, Microsoft rebranded Games for Windows to Xbox Live for Windows.
Nintendo’s initial take on cross-play didn’t go quite as well. Whereas their competitors had the capability to cross-play games from console to PC, Nintendo could only include cross-play on their own platforms, (Wii U to 3DS). Initial launch of the Nintendo cross play feature were only included on two titles, Super Smash Bros (3DS/Wii U) and Dragon Quest 10 (Wii, Wii U, 3DS, Android, iOS and PC). With the launch of the Nintendo Switch, Nintendo took a more aggressive approach for third party support on their games. Wanting to compete on the multiplayer market and to be more mainstream, thus becoming comparable for consumers, in relation to Xbox One and PS4, Nintendo implemented PC cross-play, finally allowing players to support cross-play with the Nintendo Switch on PC.
Proceeding the PS2 era, Sony limited their cross-play options due to Sony’s refusal to cater to other developers. This led to a lot of PlayStation players becoming infuriated with widespread social media outrage calling the company out. One example being Fortnite, as a lot of Fortnite players from other platforms wanted to play with PlayStation player base, but couldn’t due to policy issues. In September 2018, Sony caved and finally allowed cross-platform support for select third-party games (e.g. Fortnite), Rocket League and most recently, Apex Legends.
The concept of cross-play, in my opinion, is an excellent idea, in theory. Being able to play third party games with your friends who aren’t on the same console, whilst an exciting possibility for gamers, doesn’t make monetary sense for console developers or gaming developers. This is not only due to the competitive nature of the industry but also due to the extra financial burden it places on gaming developers, whom will not only have to ensure their game is capable of the feat, but also can support and maintain their servers to include the additional millions of players, all playing together in the same lobby, on different platforms. It will take a massive change and cross the board cooperation from all three console developers to make all games cross play supported. After all, cross-play development has only been included in a small number of titles because of gamers themselves, not the developers. It was gamers that demanded cross party support for Fortnite, forcing Sony to give in. However, I personally do not see it happening on a large enough scale, that would warrant it becoming a basic feature of all third party titles. Smaller Developers would need extra time to ensure their third party console games are capable of cross-play and this will also come at a cost, due to the man hours needed to make each title capable. Which could mean the games themselves are delayed and/or may (or may not) increase the retail price for games. Which is not something I personally would want. It might be just me but having to pay extra on top for a game that originally cost sixty bucks, now costing more, just so I can play with someone on another console, doesn’t seem worth it. This is easily done for MMO’s, obviously, but for games mainly focused on a single player story with minimal online features, I’m just imagining the lag and wait times, trying to load my copy because of the thousands, perhaps millions of additional players on my server. One upside to this though could be an end to the ongoing and quite frankly exhausting gamers war of “who has the better console,” which in my honest opinion, has dragged on for too long. If you can all play the same games together, then the ridiculous competition is at least over.
But what incentive is there for console developers to allow cross party support across the board? Whilst Xbox’s purchase of Bethesda and other studios could signal Microsoft’s push back in this generation, it still lacks any real first party titles at present. Therefore, Xbox, in it’s current state would become nothing more than an extension of the PlayStation system, who not only share a large number of games already on the Xbox but an extensive library of first party IP’s, that in the current gen’s lifecycle, have outsold everything Microsoft have released. This could force Microsoft to build upon it’s first party title releases to stay alive and rely less on Xbox Game Pass, indie titles and third party games and more on redefining their game library. Whilst that’s good for gamers, and fans of Xbox, trying to force Microsoft to rely less on Game Pass and more on original games, would not be an easy feat. Xbox has been in favour of cross party support with Sony in the past, which led to Minecraft players being able to play across platforms, but their business plan for the concept didn’t make much sense at the time and thus, my question is why then? It wasn’t going to increase game or console sales when the game is also on the other console. What need do customers have to purchase an Xbox to play a game they already could get on a PlayStation system? Personally, I think this was poorly timed on Microsoft’s part. Hopefully, with their huge acquisition of Bethesda and development studios, the time may be right to try cross-party releases on third party games once again.
My first ever crossplay game was Final Fantasy 11 on the Xbox 360 and whilst at first I didn’t understand why I was playing against other players from other platforms (this was not made clear) nor whether I WAS playing against other players on other platforms, nowadays the platform you go on gives it away (console brand being visible). One benefit of cross-platform is the fact cross-save is supported. For those who don’t know what cross-save is, it’s basically a save function which allows you to save the game on the platform you originally played on and continue playing on another. For example, my Xbox one is the primary account for Rogue Company and Nintendo Switch is secondary. Thus my save file is playable on both including the level and character unlocks. Digimon Story Cyber Sleuth has cross-save compatibility due to it being a single player game and you can connect that from the PS4 to the PS Vita, The Nintendo Switch version however doesn’t support cross-save because it’s 2 games in one.
The negatives of cross-play gaming isnt just the logistics and the potential wait times trying to get into a lobby, but also the potential sign of cheaters coming into the game, example being Call of Duty Modern Warfare (2019); due of the use of keyboard and mouse, which enables PC gamers to take advantage of a more advanced control scheme over your average console gamer. Another drawback of cross-play is you don’t always know who you’d be playing with from your friends’ list and the cross-platform chat isn’t the greatest (lags, cut offs etc). One work around is using a third party conference app, such as Discord or Skype, (or you can use the ICUGamer chat room and message boards.)
Do I think Cross-play should be implemented to PS5 & Xbox Series S/X for the years to come? Absolutely. It’s something that could revolutionize the industry. Is now the right time? Possibly. It would cost less for gamers sticking to one console, rather than having to buy them all, it would bring the gaming community together as a whole and stop pathetic bickering but is the industry ready for it? No, I don’t believe so, but time will tell and given Microsoft’s present purchase of several studios, 2021 could be the year we see Microsoft finally start catching up to Sony in the console wars and evidently, create some middle ground, enabling Cross-Play to become an industry standard. Just do me one favor developer Gods, don’t mess it up, please?
This is Abu Tareq first professional written article as a gaming journalist.
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