Cross-play – the all-powerful cure or an excessive measure?

Jun 05 2019 7 min read

Cross-play – the all-powerful cure or an excessive measure? ⚡⚡⚡ Esports and gaming news, analytics, reviews on WePlay! The latest news on WePlay!

Sony has long been the main obstacle in the process of making the cross-play feature a reality. And while most of us believe that merging the existing console and PC communities is a good step towards creating a healthier gaming atmosphere, there might be more to the issue then you could imagine. Perhaps, Sony is not that evil after all. Let’s find out whether it’s the case.

The most general idea of cross-play allows gamers from various platforms to play online together regardless of their gaming device of choice – while also ignoring the particular features of different devices. Such a straightforward implementation raises a lot of questions and could lead to a number of problems – and the potential positive outcome would be definitely overwhelmed by the negative effects. First of all, various gaming devices use different input methods – and this is the most crucial point, especially in the case of shooters. It’s no secret that console players simply cannot compete with PC mates to outshoot them. Moreover, shootouts in PC games tend to happen at fairly long distances since you can easily control the spread of a gun and aim precisely using a mouse. Strictly speaking, it’s no fun being molested by a PC player when you enter the battle with a controller. While the situation draws a huge disadvantage for console players, they too can get a huge benefit with auto-aim assist algorithms – in that case, one side gets an officially permitted aimbot.

Various gaming devices use different input methods – and this is the most crucial point.

Sony’s arguments against cross-play are a bit different. The company advertises its PlayStation platform as the best place to play – and while this might not be necessarily true, PlayStation is obviously the most popular gaming console in the world. The audience of Sony’s consoles is several times bigger than the ones that exist in Xbox and Nintendo ecosystems. For Sony, cross-play is simply disadvantageous in terms of profits – while the feature will obviously benefit the competitors, which will see their potential audiences grow. It’s also fairly hard to bring the PC gaming audience into the equation. Statista estimates that the current number of PC gamers is around 1.3 billion people, but this amount obviously doesn’t represent the pool of competitive online players – and they are the core audience of the cross-play feature. We can take, for instance, the number of Steam monthly active users, which is around 90 million people, but even then, we can’t define the PC gaming audience correctly.

A huge downside of merging PC and console communities is the issue of cheating on PC. It’s very hard – almost impossible – to cheat on consoles, and the most common example is, funnily, simply simulating the controller input via scripts or external devices to use a mouse and a keyboard in console shooters to gain an advantage in precision. At the same time, competitive online games on PC are plagued with cheaters equipped with aimbots, speedhacks, wallhacks, and all sorts of fraudulent software. If you just open the floodgate between the console and PC communities without any moderation – the flow of cheaters will uncontrollably rush towards poor unprotected Sony, Xbox, and Nintendo fans. In regards to that, you can easily understand the console manufacturers – and Sony in particular, which claims to be defending its audience against unfair players. However, many developers are going for more strict anti-cheating measures, and with joined forces of various companies interested in cross-play, this very problem could be very well fought off.

Competitive online games on PC are plagued with cheaters.

Thankfully, it’s not only about the negative effects that cross-play might cause. While the specific example of shooters is rather controversial, there’re genres that can only benefit from incorporating cross-play support. Take for instance Rocket League – the game was among the first ones to fully unite the gaming audiences of PlayStation, Xbox, Nintendo, and PC. Due to the fact that Rocket League is not a competitive shooter, the problem of cheaters isn’t that much big of a deal. It is worth mentioning that Sony has been holding against this decision for a long time, but the company has inevitably surrendered under the pressure of its own customers. Ultimately, there’s a possibility to implement cross-play in all existing arcade platformers, racing games, sports games like FIFA and PES, etc. – in the genres that do not solely rely on the precision of the mouse input and the ones that are not widely affected by the problem of cheaters.

But even with shooters, there’s space for research and successful implementation of the cross-play. In Fortnite, the feature works in a fairly clever way. You can’t just jump into the pool of mobile players while on PC – it would be extremely unfair otherwise. Instead, Fortnite allows you to party with friends from other platforms so that you can play together. The pool you’ll join after that depends on the top platform of your party. Given you’ve got a PC player, a mobile player, and a console one, your squad will join the PC pool. The next Call of Duty, simply titled Modern Warfare, will use a similar approach so that the matches between different platforms stay relatively fair. The game will allocate players based on their input method; for instance, a PC player with a controller will be able to join console pools with PS4 and Xbox One players. If console players would like to enter the general PC pool, they’ll have to first party with a PC friend – much like in the fashion of Fortnite.

Even with shooters, there’s space for research and successful implementation of the cross-play.

In terms of professional esports, cross-play might not be that much attractive. Even in regular online gaming, there’re issues that can affect the gameplay – and you can only imagine how they could influence professional matches. For example, the difference in computing power of various platforms results in supporting various frames-per-second templates, from 30 FPS on Nintendo Switch – to unlimited FPS count on PC. There was a story with Fortnite, when the version of the game for Nintendo Switch had a clear technological disadvantage because of 30 FPS lock. According to Digital Foundry, there was a measurable difference in shooting speed between the Switch version and Fortnite on platforms with 60+ FPS support – and not in the favour of Switch. Once again, this is also the issue of genres – not only technological limitations; but it definitely makes the cross-play support in esports pointless.

In general, the idea of bringing together players from different platforms seems to be rather promising if various companies and studios decide to join forces and work in that direction together. Epic Games has recently offered its own cross-platform services for free – these are the ones used in Fortnite, which means they are already working as intended. Next, we need general consent between the platform manufacturers. As we’ve mentioned a few times above, Sony is the only one trying to keep the exclusivity of its platform; however, the company is making significant steps towards the merging of the communities. In conclusion, the main idea of implementing cross-play on a wider level narrows down to the obvious necessity of doing it thoughtfully and with caution. Cross-play should not be a rushed measure just for the sake of the initial thought.

Cross-play might actually lead to creating a healthy worldwide gaming community.

As we’ve already learned, there’re various obstacles and downsides to this idea, but with right intentions, cross-play might actually lead to creating a healthy worldwide gaming community. You will be able to play with your friends anywhere regardless of what they use to launch the games. This is a utopian future, which is fairly close to reality. Judging by the fact that Sony has started to allow cross-play in selected games and has even collaborated with Microsoft to develop new gaming technologies, we could see the tables sensibly turn in the nearest future. Imagine, what a joy it would be to launch Uplay and to see that your friend has just prolonged their PS Plus subscription – and then to jump into the newest Battlefield together!

At the end of the day, the freedom of playing with your friends even if they decided to choose a platform that differs from yours is priceless. There’re obvious issues on the way of mass incorporating of the cross-play feature, but they can be avoided or at least significantly dealt with. There’s a huge demand from the gaming communities all over the world, and we already have great examples that are actually working and making the players happy. Why not push this even further?

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