In the gaming marketplace, several consoles and platforms co-exist which allow consumers to experience a wide variety of games. The hardware these platforms use is all tailor made for each, and while they share numerous similarities, the architecture of each is proprietary in nature. It is often the case that video game publishers will publish the same game titles on multiple hardware platforms, but it is very rare that gamers across these devices will be allowed to interact with users on another system. When this does happen, however, it is known as Cross Platform play.
Crossplay has happened a few times in the past, but it is so rare that when a cross platform game does release, it usually makes some headlines. It is exceedingly rare to see a large publisher like Activision-Blizzard or EA release a cross platform release, mainly due to the fact that hardware manufacturers are relying on these games to push sales for their specific system. If you and your friend play on separate devices, if a popular game were cross platform, you would be less likely to purchase the same hardware as each other in order to play. While this works to increase a game’s sales, it doesn’t aid console manufacturers as much. When crossplay does occur, it usually comes from small, independent studios.
Overcoming Competitive Advantages
Hardware differences have greatly differed in the past. From the 32-bit Playstation and 64-bit Nintendo 64, to the modern consoles of today and the PC. Everything from processors to chipset architecture is specialized on consoles, whereas PC has a wide variety of configuration options. While it’s fair to note that no matter what hardware specs a user has, the same game can run, there are a wide variety of differences that each user can experience.
For example, many console titles have been 30 frames per second, whereas their counterparts on PC have uncapped framerates. The ability to render graphics is entirely dependent upon one’s hardware specs, so the better the machine, the better the performance of the game is. In the competitive scene, a higher frame rate means a few milliseconds advantage, and often times that can be more than enough. With the majority of titles running at 60 frames per second on PC, it strengthens the argument of hardware determining the end user’s experience.
Another reason as to why more gamers in the community don’t request crossplay between PC and consoles is that PC users have the advantage of a mouse and keyboard. In recent years, first-person shooters have become the dominant genre in gaming. Originating on the PC, console gamers are at a supreme disadvantage to players who have the high accuracy input of a mouse. Pitting them against each other would cause more frustration than many are looking for.
Street Fighter V
- System/Platform: PC, PS4
- Developer: Capcom
- Publisher: Capcom
- Release Date: February 16th, 2016
In 2013. Yoshinori Ono set about creating the next generation Street Fighter that would technically put its predecessors to shame by a great margin. Releasing in 2016, 3 years after the release of Ultra Street Fighter IV, the Playstation 4 and PC got the sequel fans had been eagerly anticipating. Chronologically set between Street Fighter IV and III, Street Fighter V introduces new characters and plot lines for returning ones. Capcom also took great strides to appease fans who were put off by paying for on-disc DLC by promising to end the practice seen in SF4.
The latest entry in the popular fighting game franchise, Street Fighter V saw a revolutionary addition of cross platform multiplayer between the PS4 and PC. While it was also surprising that SF5 was a PS4 exclusive, given that the PC and console community would finally be linked together was the main focus of the game’s announcement. As the most successful way to compete in fighting games is to use an arcade stick, competitive edge in regards to control schemes was moot. Also, both games running at 60fps on PS4 and PC meant that frame rate would not give a substantial edge.
- System/Platform: PC, PS4, XBO, Switch
- Developer: Psyonix
- Publisher: Psyonix
- Release Date: July 7th, 2015
In Rocket League, players pilot turbocharged cars inside of a soccer arena in an attempt to score an oversized ball into the opponent's goal. Even though the cars seem tiny, they pack a massive punch. Taking out your enemies by blowing them up, or simply outracing and outmaneuvering them are all good strategies. Being able to score in the most extravagant and hair-raising way possible also adds to the excitement.
Rocket League is another title with PC and console cross platform play. It even has crossplay between the Xbox One and the upcoming Nintendo Switch port. While all versions can be matched against PC users, the PS4 is cut off from Xbox and Switch gamers. Reasons as to why this is are unclear, but Sony must have their own internal reasons to decline cooperation.
Cooperative Experiences Work
While it can be argued that pitting PC and console players against each other can lead to disadvantages on the console side, the same is not true for cooperative games. Crossplay co-op multiplayer has numerous advantages for players, publishers and console manufacturers. Opening up matchmaking to more players improves the longevity of a game, allowing players to play more and publishers to increase sales. This, in turn, leads to healthier ecosystem on consoles, which greatly helps console manufacturers.
So why isn’t crossplay co-op done more often? It’s hard to specifically tell. In general, online infrastructures between Xbox Live, Playstation Network, and Nintendo Online are all separate by design. Connecting to open-architecture PC servers is relatively simple, but that still doesn’t always happen. In general, it may be because if a game has both multiplayer and co-op, it makes no sense to only allow one, but that’s not the only reason. Whatever the case may be, it’s a welcome addition when it does appear. Sometimes it can even be unintentional.
- System/Platform: PS4, XBO, PC, Mac
- Developer: Epic Games
- Publisher: Epic Games
- Release Date: July 25th, 2017 (Early Access)
Recently released from Gears of War developer Epic Games, Fortnite is a cooperative build-anything, zombie slayer set in a post-apocalyptic suburban landscape. Players recruit heroes, rescue survivors and craft weapons to take on the never ending hordes of the dead. What’s more, building structures to fortify objectives is a crucial element of the game. You will craft traps, tear down existing buildings and build even more interesting ones all with your own design. It is a unique take on the existing zombie games we’ve all grown accustomed to.
One of the interesting aspects of this game was the PC and PS4 crossplay. Still in Early Access, gamers could buy an edition which gave them access to two licenses for both PC and PS4. They could associate both licenses with their own account or share one with a friend. The game made it possible to switch from PC to PS4 on the fly, having a cross-save feature inherently built in. One unadvertised feature, however, was crossplay co-op. By adding a friend on PSN and Epic Games Launcher, you could join with a console player and matchmake with them as if you were on the same system. There were some inconsistencies, but it was rather seamless all things considered.
The advantage of using a mouse and keyboard was clear when building up a fort. Dragging and dropping or placing objects was far more intuitive than using a controller. In a competitive setting this would be a clear, disadvantage. However, since all players are on the same side during the modes, it allowed for a more positive experience.
Xbox Play Anywhere
Initially, Microsoft was once one of the larger obstacles for crossplay in the past. Games For Windows Live was a mess. It failed to work properly, often causing issues at a basic level. What’s more, it required a paid Xbox Live subscription even though online gaming has been free on the PC since its inception. Taking the harsh criticisms thrown at them over the years, the Xbox One and Windows 10 platforms have seen more synergy than consoles and PC have ever had before.
Moving forward, Microsoft plans to have all their first party titles be crossplay. By owning a game on one system, you gain access to play it on the other. Also, players can play together regardless of whether they’re on Xbox or PC. Titles like Gears of War 4 and Forza Horizon 3 were among the first to put this feature to the test.
In Gears of War 4, crossplay worked as expected in both competitive multiplayer and cooperative Horde mode. Despite being a shooter, since it is a cover based and third person, mouse and keyboard users didn’t seem to have such a pronounced advantage. However, it was a divisive move, so it was made optional for console players to opt out of in multiplayer. Unity across all platforms is filled with stepping stones, but it’s clear that Microsoft is committed to crossplay with their latest moves.
Being able to play with more people is definitely a good thing. While we’ll probably never get universal crossplay, as companies do need to make a profit on their systems, we as gamers are getting more options than ever before. Do you have any favorite cross platform games? If so, tell us about them in the comments section. We’d love to know more about them!