Sony announced today that it has partnered with Discord to bring the popular chat service to the PlayStation Network. This news comes only weeks after reports that Microsoft was in talks to acquire Discord. Besides just a good move for Discord users, it proves that Sony is finally getting serious about cross-play.
Sony was far behind the competition regarding cross-play for a few years, actively blocking it in games like Fortnite, Rocket League, and Minecraft. Though no one from the company is on the record as to why it had such an anti-cross-play stance, Sony CEO Kenichiro Yoshida (via The Verge) said that cross-play wasn't needed because PlayStation 4 was the best place to play, indicating the company felt superior to the competition and would be "lowering itself" by enabling cross-play. User experience, apparently, was best when Sony kept everything on PlayStation. It makes sense on paper as a way to keep users in the PlayStation ecosystem, but it proved to be a controversial move for players and even developers.
Beyond the Microsoft talks, the Discord news comes right in the middle of Epic's lawsuit with Apple, unearthing emails and documents from 2018 and 2019 (via The Verge) showing PlayStation's hesitancy regarding cross-play. These emails revealed that Epic had to reach out to Sony to encourage the company to enable cross-play for Fortnite. Epic's Joe Kreiner proposed that Epic could even go out of its way to make Sony look like heroes if a deal were reached and had implied that Sony was dragging out the situation longer than it needed to be.
A 2019 document also revealed that, at least at the time, Sony wanted to force publishers to pay royalties on all cross-play games to offset the reduction in revenue. The threshold for paying these royalties would be determined by a portion of PSN Revenue Share divided by PS4 Gameplay Share.
Therefore, while it was quietly revealed in 2019 that PlayStation was opening up cross-play to all developers, it seemed like an inevitable move after years of criticism online. That move was reactive, but this partnership with Discord is proactive.
This partnership with Discord is a proactive move by PlayStation.
According to PlayStation CEO Jim Ryan, he was inspired by the Discord team's commitment to bringing friends and communities together. Though cross-play wasn't specifically mentioned, the connection is easy to make. And to hammer home how serious PlayStation is about this commitment, it also invested in Discord, leading us to believe that Sony is in it for the long haul.
"Together, our teams are already hard at work connecting Discord with your social and gaming experience on PlayStation Network," he said. "Our goal is to bring the Discord and PlayStation experiences closer together on console and mobile starting early next year, allowing friends, groups, and communities to hang out, have fun, and communicate more easily while playing games together."
A few years ago, Microsoft partnered with Discord so that users could link their Xbox Live profiles, bringing Xbox and PC players closer together. Now that Sony can be thrown into the mix, the picture is nearly completed. A handful of PlayStation games may offer cross-play, but the PS5 and Xbox Series X don't offer a way to party up and chat with friends on the opposing platform. Having Discord integrated into the platforms could solve this issue easily. Discord is primarily used on PC and mobile already, so these plans show that PlayStation wants to connect with them, too.
That Sony went out of its way to seek out this deal is encouraging.
That Sony went out of its way to seek out this deal is encouraging. It's a far cry from the company so reluctant to support cross-play in the past. The topic of cross-play has been a thorn in Sony's side for years, but times are changing. The move shows PlayStation understands that gaming is more social than ever and will be more so in a post-pandemic world. Following in Microsoft's footsteps isn't such a bad thing in this instance.
Despite what any console makers think about cross-play, it's the only step forward. As developers continue to implement it in their titles — Outriders is the latest example — the barriers between gaming communities are breaking down. The PS5 heralded in a new generation, so it only makes sense for Sony to keep up with the times.
It looks like we have a lot to look forward to in the coming months — provided you're able to buy a PS5.