One of E3 2017's more interesting announcements so far is the news both Rocket League and Minecraft will allow Nintendo Switch, Xbox One and PC players to play online together across platforms. That's a pretty startling development, given how game console online services are usually walled gardens. Yeah, some games have allowed cross-play between console and PC before — anyone remember Shadowrun — but play between consoles is big news.
Do you notice a problem? Maybe something that's missing? In case you couldn't tell, the most popular game console right now isn't going to support this feature.
Sony gives flimsy excuses for refusing cross-play in Minecraft and Rocket League
Eurogamer did the noble deed of asking Sony exec Jim Ryan — whom you may remember from his questionable comments about backwards compatibility not even two weeks ago — about the lack of cross-play on PS4. First, he talked about it as a business decision.
It's certainly not a profound philosophical stance we have against this. We've done it in the past. We're always open to conversations with any developer or publisher who wants to talk about it. Unfortunately, it's a commercial discussion between ourselves and other stakeholders, and I'm not going to get into the detail of that on this particular instance. And I can see your eyes rolling.
OK, sure, Sony would be fine with it, but it might upset certain stakeholders. That's a little flimsy, but whatever. These companies primarily exist to make money, not lose it. Thankfully, Eurogamer kept digging and got a completely different answer in the same exchange.
We've got to be mindful of our responsibility to our install base. Minecraft — the demographic playing that, you know as well as I do, it's all ages but it's also very young. We have a contract with the people who go online with us, that we look after them and they are within the PlayStation-curated universe. Exposing what in many cases are children to external influences we have no ability to manage or look after, it's something we have to think about very carefully.
Wait, just a few second ago it was a business decision and you didn't have any philosophical qualms with it. Now it's suddenly about protecting the children? That's a bizarre about-face from Sony.
The problem here is there are kernels of reason in both responses, but they don't make a ton of sense right next to each other. In the same interview, the company line went from "We think it's cool but we can't, for business reasons" to "We don't want kids to get yelled at by outside infiltrators in Minecraft."
I can see the business case against allowing cross-play, as people will generally buy the console their friends have so they can play with them. One person could convince multiple friends to buy PS4s, which is obviously good for Sony. Capitalism tends to get in the way of good things.
In the other direction, if an Xbox player is griefing a PS4 player in Minecraft, the PS4 player has no system-level way to report the Xbox player. At that point, the onus is on each individual game to have diligent moderators, which Sony can't necessarily always count on.
I could even see the technical hurdles being a factor. I don't know anything about making games, so to me, it seems it could be tough to maintain a stable connection in Rocket League when you've got players from Xbox, PS4, Switch and PC in one game. However, according to a Rocket League developer, it's actually pretty trivial.
"It's literally something we could do with a push of a button, metaphorically," Psyonix exec Jeremy Dunham told Polygon. "In reality, it's a web page with a checkbox on it. All we have to do is check that box and it would be up and running in less than an hour all over the world. That's all we need to do."
Dunham called it a "political barrier" with Sony rather than a technical one. From the outside looking in, it sure seems like Sony just doesn't want to do it versus not being able to do it. The story here should be that console gaming just got a lot more utopian, but instead, a cursory Google search about cross-play brings back nothing but people criticizing Sony.
Given the negative response, I assume Sony will eventually capitulate, whether with these two games or something else in the future. Still, this initial response is disappointing — it's not a good look to fall behind Nintendo in something that involves online gaming.
More news from Nintendo E3 2017
Check out even more news from Nintendo's big E3 2017 presentation, including an exciting look at Super Mario Odyssey, new details about the Zelda: Breath of the Wild DLC and confirmation that Rocket League is coming to the Switch. Plus, here's the latest on new Metroid and Kirby games on the way.