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Xbox and Nintendo gang up on PlayStation in cross-platform row

Could console momentum switch because of an issue most gamers don't really care about?

"Who won E3?"

We all get asked it every time a show ends, but actually you can't really win E3. Not outright. There's no single winner because E3 is designed for all companies to win. That's the point. It's an expensive, noisy marketing vehicle to reveal your content and excite fans. As a result, this year, Bethesda won E3, and Ubisoft, and Capcom, and CD Projekt, and Square Enix and well, pretty much everyone.

Even if there was a company you thought underwhelmed, that opinion is typically subjective. I am not a huge Super Smash Bros aficionado, so was a touch disappointed by Nintendo. My brother loves the game, and is eyeing up Switch bundles as a result of its reveal. Nintendo won E3, too.

So you can't really win E3 outright. But you can lose it. These incidents are rare and usually linked to PR blunders or a game that simply disappointed. We can remember the famous ones, such as the Wii U announcement, Assassin's Creed Unity... and, of course, the most famous one of all (at least in recent years) the 2013 Xbox One reveal.

One company having a better (or more exciting) show than the other doesn't really bring about change, it's typically not going to be enough to convert millions of fans from one console or franchise to the other. But if one company excites its fans and the other one disappoints them, then that's when change can occur. That's what happened in 2013.

At E3 2018, Xbox probably had the best press conference. There are not too many big Xbox One games coming over the next year (but even then, Forza Horizon 4 looks fantastic), yet Microsoft did a great job of exciting its fans with those studio acquisitions, the reveal of big new games in its AAA franchises, and even ending on Cyberpunk 2077 - one of the most talked about games at the show.

Fornite and Nintendo provided Xbox with a means to hurt Sony

Fornite and Nintendo provided Xbox with a means to hurt Sony

By comparison, Sony's show lacked surprises, yet you still couldn't say PlayStation lost E3. The games it showed looked great, there were original concepts, big exclusives, and some are due out quite soon. You might have left that press event a little dissatisfied, it was definitely a quieter show, but it wasn't a defeat. The promise of a Ninja Theory game on Xbox One isn't going to see floods of PlayStation owners switching machines.

That is why, when Fortnite got its full reveal on Nintendo Switch the next morning, fully cross-compatible with every console bar PS4, that Xbox pounced. Here was its chance to not just win E3, but also inflict a defeat on its competitor. With a new console fight due soon, this was a chance to turn the narrative in Microsoft's favour and have a 2013 moment but from the other side. It was something Xbox could also prepare for, because this isn't a new issue. It emerged initially with Rocket League in 2017, and Fortnite creators Epic Games talked openly about the issue at GDC.

The problem is, contrary to the angry Twitter commentators, cross-play isn't really that big of a deal. The genuine demand for it is limited. It only really involves games that are proactively seeking cross-play, primarily Rocket League, Fortnite and Minecraft, and these are games that perform strongly on PC and mobile - platforms that are cross-compatible with PS4. So it's only an issue for players of certain games on certain platforms - a subset of a subset.

And more to the point, most gamers simply don't care. We asked GameTrack - a consumer research project run by Ipsos Connect that is used by many major publishers - to ask its panel of European users how it felt about cross-play, and the responses were indifferent. 58% of respondents said they didn't care much about it. When asked if cross-play was a reason to buy a console, 54% disagreed with the statement (in fact, 38% strongly disagreed), while only 13% said it might be a consideration in which console or service they would buy.

"The data shows that most gamers simply do not care about cross-play."

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. The data shows that although there are some gamers that find cross-play intriguing, the majority are simply not fussed.

When you consider how blurred console transitions are likely to become, Sony is understandably unwilling to give its competitors a chance to speak with and engage its audience. By the time the next generation finally arrives, we should be looking at over 100 million PlayStation customers. Sony will want them to stay with them onto PS5 and you cannot underestimate the power of: "I'm going to buy this machine because all my friends have one."

There has always been this threat of a 'hard reset' whenever a new generation arrives, yet in the future the reset might not be so definitive. PS5 players will likely still be playing with PS4 owners. Friends lists and game libraries will likely transfer across. Enabling customers to switch to Xbox and still allow them to play with their PlayStation friends gives away a big competitive advantage. So why do it, especially if the majority of gamers are not actually asking for it?

Yet for Microsoft, it does make sense. This is a company that wants to knock down console barriers so it can attract people to its platform - and we're not just talking about a physical platform here. It's the challenger brand, so it has less to lose from opening its platform to its competitors and more to gain.

The big thing, however, is that the resistance to cross-play is not a good PR look for PlayStation. It cannot legitimately argue that its decision to block cross-play is for user safety, especially when Nintendo - a company that is perhaps a bit overzealous with protecting its customers online - is so open to the concept.

So Microsoft has attacked. Initially with a few cheeky comments at E3 and getting its execs to tweet about how much fun they're having with Fortnite on Switch, and then it escalated that to a full-on marketing video for the new Minecraft on Switch, showcasing the game's ability to connect with Xbox players.

It's quite something to see Nintendo and Xbox unite in such an aggressive and blatant attack on PlayStation. Whether it's a sign of a deeper bond between the two businesses, or a temporary alliance against a common enemy, it's not entirely clear. But it puts Sony in a tricky predicament. If it relents to cross-platform demands, then it's Xbox that will truly win, as it will paint Microsoft as the hero and take away one of the many reasons to own a PlayStation over any other device.

Stick to its guns, and Xbox and Nintendo will continue to paint PlayStation as anti-gamer.

All over an issue that most people don't really care about.

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Latest comments (14)

Emmanuel Dorée Studying Software Engineering, Open University4 months ago
The people who care about crossplay are not the people who have been interviewed. The people who care about crossplay are the younger gamers the ones that are happy to play on anything their parent let them play with: an old phone, an old tablet, the old family PC, the brother's PS4, the Switch they got at Christmas etc. These players represent a huge amount of people and are underestimated by this article. Crossplay is the future. Game as service is growing every year so soon FIFA, COD etc will also transit towards crossplay and Sony will have to change his stance or be prepared to lose some ground.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Emmanuel Dorée on 27th June 2018 1:55pm

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Richard Browne VP Production, Leyou Technologies4 months ago
As someone with two younger gamers with friends who are younger gamers ... they don’t care.
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Adam Campbell Game Production Manager, Azoomee4 months ago
I don't play online much these days, but its a bit of a shame that I wouldn't be able to play with some of my closest friends, because they have an Xbox. Especially given the technology has long allowed it.
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Show all comments (14)
Robin Clarke Producer, AppyNation Ltd4 months ago
What percentage of respondents would have said a battle royale game would influence them to buy a console before Fortnite came out?

It's hard to gauge consumer interest in a feature that has never been offered, especially when many assume it isn't technically possible (having been told as much for years by console makers).

Ignoring demand for crossplay isn't a problem until it is. Fortnite is unlikely to be the last game as a service where the benefit is clear. The advantage of a unified player base for games like Destiny 2 and GTA Online is obvious.
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Chris Nash QA Engineer 4 months ago
You've completely misunderstood the reason why this blew up in Sony's face. It wasn't over cross-play, it was because a Fortnite account that had been previously linked to a Sony Entertainment Network (PSN) account cannot be used on the Switch version of the game. This means that Fortnite players could not carry their PS4 progress over to the Switch version, dashing these players' hopes and dreams - they'd envisioned being able to play Fortnite on-the-go using the Switch, while still keeping the PS4 as their primary Fortnite device at home. Conversely, Xbox One, PC and mobile users can all use the Switch version with no problems.

The problem is compounded when you factor in people who used the PS4 version just to redeem console-exclusive items or deals and don't usually play on the PS4. They too are locked out, because once your Fortnite account is linked to PS4, it can't ever be unlinked. It's forever branded and it's (apparently) not possible to remove that association. Fortnite PS4 players are pissed, and all the blame has been laid at Sony's feet. They don't care about cross-play; they care about being able to play Fortnite as Epic and Nintendo promised that they could, using their existing profile with all of its unlocked features and progress.
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Christopher Dring Publisher, GamesIndustry.biz4 months ago
@Emmanuel Dorée: That's not true. Everyone is interviewed as part of the GameTrack survey.

@Chris Nash... no, Fornite PS4 players that want to also play the game on Xbox and Switch are pissed. Well, some of them.
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Ben Link Video Game Enthusiast and Graphic Artist 4 months ago
We absolutely care. Not everyone agrees on consoles. But games we do and is something that should be cross platform.
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Graeme Quantrill Mobile App Developer 4 months ago
I'd be interested to see how the question was phrased in the GameTrack survey and in what context and also what profiles they used.
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Daniel Trezub QA Analyst, Ludia4 months ago
Most people may not care, but surely who does care is really vocal. As usual. So it seems that everybody and their moms all care about the ability to play ONE niche game in more than one platform. Like the article said, it's a small subset of a really small subset.

I'd like to see the numbers of players affected by this "issue" versus the number of players actively playing (any game) on each platform, what is probably what Sony executives are looking at right now to take their decisions.
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Jeff Kleist Writer, Marketing, Licensing 4 months ago
It’s a waedge issue that many will see as categorically unfair.

Now what I’d be afraid of if I were Sony is Nintendo seeing how terrible their online and contractors are, and having Microsoft run their online operations in the future. Pretty sure they’re willing to do that deal at extremely reasonable rates
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Paul Jace Merchandiser 4 months ago
"Sony's show lacked surprises, yet you still couldn't say PlayStation lost E3."

Sure you can. Watch me: "Sony LOST E3". See, it was easy and I didn't even break a sweat.

"So Microsoft has attacked"

I wouldn't say they attacked. The E3 comments were made to show people that cross-play is now a viable option and it works well. The comments from Phil and Reggie in that recent interview were their responses to the cross-play questions asked about them. I don't think neither went out of their way to attack Sony out of the blue. It might have appeared that way after Sony's baffling response to why they weren't interested in cross-play but that's because they felt Sony's answer wasn't sincere(saying it was due to safety reasons). As for the video, that could have easily featured an Xbox gamer, Nintendo gamer and Sony gamer all playing happily along together. Again, I doubt they made it to attack Sony but instead did it to show gamers that cross-play is indeed possible this generation.

As for the survey I'd like to know how thoroughly they explained cross-play to the people taking it. It's true that there are people that are a little less interested in it but I know lots of people who have been interested in it since last gen. And if it were fully explained to the responders that it could/would, eventually, mean that all third party multiplayer games had the ability to do cross-play such as Call Of Duty, Battlefield, Assassin's Creed, Grand Theft Auto, etc, the results probably would have been much different and in favor of cross play.

I also don't buy the whole "nobody cares" excuse. They said the same thing about backwards compatibility this gen after Microsoft brought it back and Sony couldn't. As someone who still uses backward compatibility to play last gen games: yes we care about it. Just like we care about cross-play. As someone above mentioned it seems inevitable that cross-play is the future of gaming, regardless of which system/PC/tablet/phone you are playing on.

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Paul Jace on 28th June 2018 11:09pm

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Bonnie Patterson Narrative Designer, Writer 4 months ago
Don't forget us oldies!

Despite my advancing years, I still enjoy spending time with my partner and playing games with him, but local co-op seems out of fashion, and even where it is available, either I can't see what I'm doing on my portion of the screen, or it limits where I can go, cramming us both into a tiny space and destroying the "open world" I was hoping to enjoy.

So here I am on my PC, and I can see an XBox and a PS4 just a metre away. But we can't use them to play together; no, in order to do that we have to have two of one console, which is more than a little disappointing.
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Christopher Dring Publisher, GamesIndustry.biz4 months ago
The question that was asked was: "Developers and console manufacturers are starting to allow gamers to play against (and with) those that may own a different console or platform (for example, PC gamers playing against console gamers, and console gamers playing against those on different consoles)."

And then we asked them to agree or disagree with a series of statements about how this would impact their gaming habits, such as 'It would make me more likely to play online' or ' would consider buying a console over another'... and we asked them how important such a feature would be to them.

You should find details on the GameTrack panel on the firm's website. It's quite extensive and also includes direct communication, not just online communication.
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Keldon Alleyne Strategic keyboard basher, Avasopht Ltd4 months ago
A more telling question would be, "would the availability of cross play with friends who have the game on a different console influence which console you purchase the game for?"
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