Sony started off the generation strong by dominating the Xbox One in terms of sales and player reception. That hasn't necessarily changed — PlayStation 4 recently passed 100 million sales, which by all estimates is well over double what Xbox One has sold (Microsoft no longer reports official sales numbers) — but the console has fallen behind when it comes to services and features. It needed to catch up with the times.
PlayStation was notoriously against backward compatibility as well.
Much like the company's previous stance on cross-play, PlayStation was notoriously against backward compatibility as well, with PlayStation's Jim Ryan infamously saying, "why would anybody play this?" in regards to backward compatible games. That tune has certainly changed in the following years now that the PlayStation 5 is expected to be fully backward compatible with all PS4 games when it launches. It seems that PlayStation is slowly but surely realizing when players ask for something, they actually want it. And another thing that players asked for a lot? Cross-play.
Last year, Sony found itself in hot water after players were locked out of cross-progression in Fortnite if they had ever linked their Epic account on another platform. This incident had followed an interview with Bethesda where the developer said that it would not bring The Elder Scrolls: Legends to PS4 if it would not support cross-play or cross-progression. Mounting pressure from fans escalated to a point where Sony had to respond.
Following a comprehensive evaluation process, Sony Interactive Entertainment has identified a path toward supporting cross-platform features for select third-party content... The first step will be an open beta beginning today for Fortnite that will allow for cross-platform gameplay, progression, and commerce across PlayStation 4, Android, iOS, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows, and Mac... Today, the communities around some games have evolved to the point where cross-platform experiences add significant value to players. In recognition of this... we look to open up the platform. This represents a major policy change... and we are now in the planning process across the organization to support this.
That planning process seems to have ended as it was revealed that cross-play functionality had exited its beta and is now open to all developers. Funnily enough, this news was revealed in an interview that Wired ran with Jim Ryan discussing PlayStation Now, which recently saw a significant price decrease. Though it wasn't stated explicitly, the outlet notes that cross-play is officially open to any developer who wishes to utilize it.
"The track record of the incumbent platform winning the next time around is not a great one," Ryan said. "So the major thrust of my executive energy is to avoid complacency."
The list of games that support cross-play on PS4 is limited right now, with Fortnite, Rocket League, Dauntless, and PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds topping the list, but they are soon to be joined by a juggernaut: Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. When this year's Call of Duty launches, it is set to support full cross-play between PC, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4.
This is good news for everyone involved.
This is good news for everyone involved, both PlayStation and Xbox fans alike. Opening up cross-play support means opening up the ecosystem, which can be a scary thing when you're talking about playing nice with a competitor. But it helps everyone. Fans stay happy and won't feel pressured to switch platforms just because their friends jumped ship. I personally know several people who picked up a PlayStation 4 solely because that is the console their friends had, not because of any particular game or feature.
I would be shocked to see these open policies disappear anytime soon. In fact, I think Sony will promote them further going forward before the PlayStation 5 releases. Sony wants to best Microsoft in every way possible, and that means playing ball in their court for a little while. Microsoft is doing everything right when it comes to cross-play right now, and what it lacks in critically-acclaimed games it makes up for in popular services like Xbox Play Anywhere, Xbox Game Pass, and backward compatibility.
Ryan is also right in trying to avoid complacency. It simply can't afford it. No matter how well the PS4 does this generation, that does not automatically translate to PS5 sales. We've seen how easily a company can lose the good will of its customers like what happened with Microsoft and its botched reveal of the Xbox One. Last generation was lead by Xbox 360, and now look at where we are today. Current sales prove nothing about future sales, and opening up cross-play shows Sony isn't being complacent.
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