Sony’s position on cross-play is not “For the Players”

Five years ago Microsoft and the Xbox One were under siege by angry gamers because of ill-conceived and poorly communicated DRM restrictions for their new console. Sony, on the other hand, was riding high and basking in the light of public goodwill. When Jack Tretton announced that the PS4 would not have the same unprecedented DRM on the stage of E3 that year the crowd rose to give him a standing ovation. Public opinion was so overwhelmingly on the side of Sony and the PS4 that the PlayStation marketing team coined the phrase “This is for the Players”. The message was devastating to the Xbox One and abundantly clear – Unlike a certain competitor Sony would not place needless restrictions on gamers with the PS4 console. Unfortunately, comments from the company’s newest CEO regarding cross-play seem to indicate that the idea of Sony truly being for the players is questionable at best.

As my colleague Samuel reported earlier this week, the CEO of Sony spoke about cross-play during a press conference at IFA 2018. Kenichiro Yoshida said the following, “On cross platform, our way of thinking is that PlayStation 4 is always the best place to play. Fortnite, I believe, partnered with PlayStation 4 is the best experience for users, that’s our belief. But actually, we already opened some games as cross-platform with PC and some others, so we decide based on what is the best user experience. That is our way of thinking for cross-platform.”

The arrogance on display is simply shocking. Contrary to what Mr. Yoshida may believe, it is not Sony’s place to dictate to gamers where the best place to play Fortnite or any other game happens to be. Indeed. there is a valid argument that the PS4 is the worst place to play Fortnite or Minecraft simply due to the fact that competing platforms allow for cross-play and as a result enjoy access to larger player bases.

What is particularly grating about Yoshida’s response is that Sony used to champion the concept of cross-play. Final Fantasy XIV enjoys cross-platform play between the PS3, PS4 and PC while Microsoft famously blocked that feature which resulted in the game not being published for the Xbox 360 and (as of this writing) the Xbox One. Microsoft and Sony have only recently switched their policies regarding cross-play. While Microsoft was rightly criticized for blocking cross-play features in the past, it is now time for Sony to face the same criticism.

The situation is especially bad when it comes to Fortnite. If you link your Fortnite account to your PlayStation 4 then any skins you have purchased become locked to the PS4 – even if you had originally purchased them on another platform such as the PC. If you attempt to access those skins on another console you will be informed that your own content is not available.

What is the reason for Sony’s stubbornness? John Smedley, the former head of Sony Online Entertainment, suggests that Sony is not happy with the idea of players purchasing content like a Fortnite skin on Xbox or the Nintendo Switch and using it on PlayStation. Given the fact that Sony locks content purchased elsewhere to the PlayStation 4, this seems especially hypocritical if true.

It is my genuine belief that cross-platform play will become more common in the years to come – even on the PlayStation 5 and beyond. Recent history shows that our digital content is becoming more widely available and not restricted to a single platform.

Until Sony chooses not to remain alone on the little island they have carved for themselves but instead chooses to join the rest of the world they cannot truly claim to be “for the players”.

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