Fortnite: Battle Royale is the latest video game to have cross-platform play among some devices but just can’t link PlayStation and Xbox players. Funny how that keeps happening.
Last week we learned that Fornite Battle Royale would be coming to mobile with cross-play between PS4, PC, Android, and iOS. Then, over the weekend in a blog post, Epic Games announced that Xbox One would have cross-play as well—with PC Android, and iOS. Not PS4. Afterwards, one Tweeted at Xbox boss Phil Spencer, telling him how much the community wants to see Xbox One and PS4 owners be able to play the game online together. “Me 2,” Spencer replied. Even Fortnite creators, Epic Studios, chimed in. “We 3!”
“Microsoft has long been a leading voice in encouraging the adoption of cross-platform play and the potential of connecting players across PC, mobile and all consoles,” a Microsoft representative said in an email to Kotaku today, when asked to elaborate. “We’ve worked closely with Nintendo to allow cross-network play between Xbox One and Switch and our offer to do the same with PlayStation players still holds. For any other questions regarding ‘Fortnite’ cross-network play between Xbox and PlayStation, please reach out to Epic or Sony directly.” Sony and Epic did not respond to a request for comment.
We’ve been here beforee. In early 2016 Microsoft announced support for cross-platform play between Windows 10 and Xbox One, paving the way for Rocket League players across both platforms to be able to play together, something already possible between PS4 and Steam users. The company then went further, extending an “open invitation for other networks to participate,” i.e. Sony. In a statement to Gamespot, the latter dodged the issue. “PlayStation has been supporting cross-platform play between PC on several software titles starting with Final Fantasy 11 on PS2 and PC back in 2002,” said Sony. “We would be happy to have the conversation with any publishers or developers who are interested in cross platform play.”
The issue came back up later that year when the head of Psyonix, the studio behind Rocket League, told IGN that everything was in place to make the game cross-play between PS4 and Xbox One. All the studio needed was permission from both of the companies involved. CD Projekt RED, the studio behind The Witcher series and its current multiplayer card game spinoff Gwent, said something similar. “Microsoft already confirmed Gwent’s cross-play feature not only between Xbox One and PC, but also other consoles if they allow it, CEO Marcin Iwiński told IGN. “All we need is a green light from Sony.” Currently, Rocket League is cross-play between Xbox One and Switch but not PS4. Gwent players on Xbox One and PS4 are also walled off from one another.
Then in 2017 at E3 Microsoft announced that Minecraft, would eventually be cross-play between Xbox One, PC, Switch, and mobile, but again, not PS4. When asked about its conspicuous absence by Eurogamer, then head of PlayStation global sales and marketing, Jim Ryan, said Sony was doing it for the children. “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,” said Ryan. “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.” Currently, Minecraft is playable between Xbox One, PC, mobile, and VR, with Switch integration still in the works. “I don’t mean that to be snippy,” Spencer said last June. “We’ve shown our intent on what we want to go do. And I’d love for Minecraft players to get to play Minecraft.” Nearly a year later, neither company has managed to reach an agreement.
Now we have Fortnite: Battle Royale, far and away one of the most popular games in recent memory on its way to mobile and, who knows, maybe eventually the Switch. Lo and behold, the same dance has begun all over again. Everything is in place to allow people on Xbox One and PS4 to start playing together right now. How do I know this? Last year, Epic Studios accidently did just that. For a few hours in September, cross-play between the two platforms became a reality. “We had a configuration issue and it has now been corrected,” Epic told Kotaku in an email at the time. Right on cue, Spencer took to Twitter. “I would have liked to see them leave it on,” he said.
As a company, this was not always Microsoft’s position. In 2011, Trion global brand director Alex Rodberg told Kotaku its upcoming shooter, Defiance, wouldn’t be cross-play because “Microsoft won’t let Sony players play against them.” Naturally, Kotaku reached out to Microsoft to confirm this was the case. “We have a high level of expectation for our game developers to ensure that all Live experiences remain top notch,” a spokesperson for the company said. “Because we can’t guarantee this level of quality, or control the player experience on other consoles or gaming networks, we currently do not open our network to games that allow this cross-over capability.” Sound familiar?
Now, in 2018, the tables have turned. PS4s are outselling Xbox Ones and Sony remains silent on that prospect, although its partnership with Epic allowing cross-play between PS4, PC, and mobile, but not Xbox One, would seem to speak for itself. If ever there was the perfect opportunity to announce the digital wall between the two platforms would be coming down, or at least get a few doors, the announcement of Fortnite: Battle Royale coming to phones was it. Alas, the wall remains.