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Do gamers really care about cross-platform play?

GameTrack survey of European gamers shows indifference to the trend, and a lack of influence on purchasing decisions

Cross-platform play may not be as important to gamers as many in the industry believe, with the results from GameTrack's Q4 2017 survey showing a general indifference to the trend among consumers.

The value of PlayStation, Xbox and PC owners being able to play together has been a regular feature in the news over the last 12 months. Microsoft has made cross-platform play between console and PC a core feature of its first-party strategy, while Sony has been widely criticised for its apparent reluctance to allow cross-platform functionality between PlayStation and Xbox.

However, in a GameTrack survey that spanned gamers in the UK, France, Germany and Spain in Q4 of last year, a question presented by GamesIndustry.biz revealed a lack of belief in the value of gamers playing together across platforms: when asked about their feelings on cross-platform play in general, 58% of respondents admitted to being "Indifferent" to the trend.

"The GameTrack survey shows that cross-platform play is not an important factor in how consumers think about purchasing consoles"

It's worth noting that only 8% felt either "Fairly Negative" or "Very Negative" about the industry's current push towards tearing downs the barriers around gaming platforms, and a total of 34% saw it as Fairly or Very Positive thing overall. But, ultimately, the largest number of respondents weren't moved in either direction.

This is a surprising outcome for what has proved to be a divisive issue within the industry. Minecraft, Rocket League, Ark: Survival Evolved and Fortnite, among others, have all been the focus of debate around cross-platform play at some point in the last year, often due to Sony's clear lack of interest in allowing its customers to play with Xbox owners.

The GameTrack Q4 survey shows that cross-platform play is not an important factor in how gamers think about purchasing consoles, though. When presented with the idea that it would make them more likely to buy a console they might not otherwise, 54% of respondents in Europe either Slightly or Strongly disagreed, with 38% disagreeing Strongly. That's compared to just 13% who agreed with the statement.

Similarly, 56% disagreed to some extent that cross-platform play would make them more likely to subscribe to a console or computer's online service - compared to 13% who agreed.

The same trend was evident in statements about software: 48% of respondents disagreed that cross-platform play would be an incentive to buy a game they otherwise might not, versus 17% who agreed; and 49% of respondents disagreed that cross-platform functionality would make them more likely to play online than they currently do, compared to 17% who agreed.

Rocket League is just one of many games that has pushed for cross-platform play between Xbox and PlayStation

Rocket League is just one of many games that has pushed for cross-platform play between Xbox and PlayStation

Microsoft's Phil Spencer has been open about his desire to unite the disparate communities on Xbox and PlayStation, and has publicly commented on Sony's reluctance to agree - both directly and indirectly - on several occasions.

"I know there is a certain view that says if my friends have this console, they can't play with people who buy another console. That's a reason they go buy my console," he said last year. "That reason is not going to go away. So we're putting Minecraft out there as one of the biggest games on any platform and allowing people to play together regardless of what device they bought.

"That one remaining barrier will inevitably come down"

Tim Sweeney, Epic Games

"I don't think everybody is taking that same approach to the ecosystem. So I'm never going to call anything a lost cause, but I think some of the fundamental reasons and certain scenarios, they're not really going away. So I don't know what would change."

Whether cross-platform play has the potential to influence purchasing decisions among consumers or not, there is a view within the industry that dissolution of the barriers between platforms will happen soon. Speaking to GamesIndustry.biz at GDC this year, Epic's Tim Sweeney talked about the unprecedented levels of cross-platform integration in Fortnite - which allows people to play the same game on console, PC and mobile.

The only platforms that don't allow it are Xbox and PlayStation, but Sweeney was unequivocal in his belief that it is only a matter of time before they seek and establish common ground.

"I think it's inevitable now," he says. "Games have become social experiences in the same way that Facebook or Twitter have, and these experiences only really make sense if gamers can communicate with all of their friends.

"For Sony and Microsoft to support their customers well they have to be open to all their customers' friends - their real world friends - otherwise they're breaking up real-world social groups. Like kids in school have their friends, and do you expect this platform schism to divide them into two separate groups that can't play together? No. It's got to come together now.

"That one remaining barrier will inevitably come down."

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Latest comments (3)

hmm, the advantage of cross-platform play is not one that will automatically appeal to all users, you have to have friends who play exclusively on one platform and you on another for that, but it is an advantage to the developer/publisher, by ensuring their games servers have a healthy heaping of players at all times, which may not be an issue on day 1, but at some point down the line having a combined playerbase will help retention and keep a game's servers active for its playerbase for the maximum possible time, and extend your product's tail, which is especially important primarily multiplayer offerings.

Edited 3 times. Last edit by Alexander McConnell on 12th April 2018 4:46pm

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Robin Clarke Producer, AppyNation Ltd7 months ago
Very dubious conclusions to reach from the data.

1. What percentage of respondents are interested in network multiplayer games at all?

2. How many of that group are aware that cross-platform multiplayer is even possible, having been sold closed systems for the past fifteen years?

The consumer can't easily judge the value of something they've never been offered.

I am sceptical of MS's line that Sony are unilaterally obstructing progress on this issue. Hardly unreasonable that they don't want to license a version of Minecraft that requires an Xbox Live account on their system(!). Microsoft's definition of 'crossplatform' is between platforms they own (Xbox, Win10) or have no stake in (mobile). Neither MS or Sony has a genuine interest in giving up their captive userbases to the other - just MS are feeling the pinch of having the smaller userbase this time around.

I think Sweeney's right, but it's going to take a lot of faith (and perhaps starting some neutral standards body like Compact Disc , DVD etc. ?) to get the console makers to abandon the prize of completely owning their online ecosystems.
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Nathan Richardsson Executive Producer 7 months ago
I'm biased as I've been trying to accomplish this with consoles for a long time. Last big push was Defiance.

Cross-platform play being a value proposition as part of a purchase decision of hardware, no. Of course not. It can be a factor, but not a determining factor, and it's based on your actual real-world friends, as Sweeney points out. Just anecdotally, think back how often your friends are comparing notes on which platform to buy so that they are on the same platform.

They aren't thinking "hey this one has cross-platform play". They are thinking "we should play these games together on XBOX so make sure you buy it for your XBOX".

Now had this been "would you like to buy a game and be able to play with your friends on any platform", I believe the answer would have been entirely different, based on the above. God knows the barrages I've gotten through the years that people can't play together, and/or that they bought the game on two platforms (yes, imagine that) but even their progress isn't synchronized between platforms.

So yeah, I think mixing "would cross-platform determine what platform you buy" with "would you like to play with your friends" or "I'd like to play my (single player) game on whatever device I have at the moment" is kind of obfuscating any conclusion to three very different points.

Network theory and social network theories by extension (No, not Facebook, sociology) apply here. The customer doesn't see the value, the value isn't there until the people are there. And that has to be possible for that value to be created and become even remotely an upfront selling point.
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