Recently, Sony CEO Kenichiro Yoshida gave a statement to The Independent, casually mentioning the controversy surrounding PlayStation’s lack of cross-play between Xbox and Nintendo Switch. “On cross-platform, our way of thinking is always that PlayStation is the best place to play. Fortnite, I believe, partnered with PlayStation 4 is the best experience for users, that’s our belief.” As you might imagine, his response didn’t go over too well. Games journalists and fans flocked to social media, expressing their frustration for Sony’s increasingly apparent refusal to co-operate with other consoles.
This isn’t shocking news – Sony has been blocking access to cross-play on other platforms ever since Microsoft and Nintendo opened the gates to online cross-console-play last year. Xbox One and Switch owners can play Minecraft, Rocket League, and the previously mentioned Fortnite together through cross-play with no problems, while PS4 owners are still locked behind the iron curtain Sony has constructed. What’s worse, if you try to login into a Fortnite account that has been previously used on a PS4 on another console, it blocks you. Refusing cross-platform play is one thing, but blocking users from playing elsewhere is something else entirely
Why does Sony insist on keeping their fans limited like this? Well, they can afford it. This console generation has been very profitable for Sony – the PlayStation 4 has far outsold the Xbox One by more than double the units. At the moment, the PlayStation has an install base of more than 80 million users, making it the eighth-highest selling console of all time. Sony isn’t hurting for console sales, so they don’t necessarily need to convince on-the-fence consumers to buy a PS4 anymore. Sony is number 1 – a position that Microsoft and Nintendo can’t lay claim to. Perhaps that’s why the latter two are pushing cross-play in the first place.
Sony is in a powerful spot, so they can afford to stay secluded. But can they keep that up forever?
This debacle with refusing cross-play is clearly hurting Sony’s reputation. Tom Marks, a writer for IGN, believes that “the truth of the matter is that this decision benefits no one. […] [The lack of cross-play on PS4] hurts Sony by making the PS4 a less appealing choice for gamers that are considering their options for multiplatform games.” (Source). Sony’s intent may be to lure more users to play games on PlayStation to play with their PS4-owning friends, but the reality is that it’s doing the exact opposite. PS4 has become the place NOT to play online games. And while Sony may not be hurting too much right now, no doubt, there will be plenty of repercussions down the road…
Games industry history has proven that the developers who refuse to move forward get left behind. Take Nintendo, for example. In the late 90’s, as Sony themselves pioneered the CD-based game format, Nintendo refused to do the same. The result? The PS1 sold more than 100 million units, and the competing Nintendo 64 sold just over 30 million. You could also look at Sega and its messy history of commercial flops in the late 90’s/ early aughts. While you might point to a few specific examples, ultimately, the Sega Saturn and Dreamcast failed hard because of Sega’s inability to adapt to the market. They didn’t create many compelling reasons for the average consumer to buy a Saturn. So by the time the Dreamcast came around, the damage had already been done.
But we can go even further back to find an example. Atari, once the biggest video gaming company on earth, is now a mere shell of its former glory. Back in the day, they single-handedly launch video games into mainstream popularity with Pong. They were also responsible for the creation of Activision, the first third-party developer. Most importantly, they created the first mainstream video game console, the Atari 2600. So Atari was hugely influential! But as time went on, they proved incapable of adapting to the market and marketing compelling reasons to buy an Atari 5200 or Jaguar. They lost support, both from developers and consumers, and eventually lost their share in the market. They fell at the reign of Nintendo, and they’ve never been the same since.
Companies who refuse to move forward get left behind. Sony is no exception.
I want to put this plainly – Sony cannot succeed with their current approach to cross-platform play. The negative effects may be small right now, but as time passes and they still refuse to adapt, they’ll start hurting. There will be fewer PlayStation 5 sales, fewer subscriptions to PlayStation Now, fewer fans to back them up – whatever it may be. They’ll lose support – support from their fans, support from their stockholders, and most importantly, support from their developers. Don’t believe me? It’s already started.
Bethesda, developer of The Elder Scrolls and Fallout, is the first leak in the dam of Sony’s support. The upcoming Fallout 76 will not support cross-play between Xbox and PlayStation, and Bethesda isn’t at all happy about it. CEO Todd Howard has stated his annoyance with Sony publicly, saying that they’re “not as helpful as everyone would like.” (Source). But Bethesda is lashing back against Sony. The Elder Scrolls Legends, a free-to-play themed card game coming to consoles this fall, will not be making its way to PS4 unless Sony opens it up to crossplay. Of course, Legends is no Skyrim in popularity, but this is still significant. If Bethesda is willing to hold back their games to put pressure on Sony, then other developers have the potential to do the same. Will they? We can only hope.
The surmounting pressure on Sony is rising to blazing heat-levels. Let’s hope they jump out of the fire and embrace a cross-platform future.