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Column: Cross-Play is the future

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Plat­form hol­ders want to have con­trol over their net­work, play­ers want to play tog­e­ther across plat­forms. Even­tual­ly both sides are com­ing tog­e­ther.

SEGA made histo­ry when Phan­ta­sy Star Online (PSO) was released for PC on Decem­ber 21st 2011 in Japan. A year after the launch of the Dream­cast ver­si­on SEGA let PC and con­so­le play­ers adven­ture along­si­de each other. The­re­fo­re PSO is the first cross-plat­form MMORPG (mas­si­ve­ly mul­ti­play­er online role-play­ing-game), despi­te Guin­ness World Records wan­ting you belie­ve it’s Final Fan­ta­sy XI Online, as poin­ted out in the comments sec­tion of the lis­ting.

PlayStation Vita – the Cross-Play machine

Ever sin­ce then the­re have been games that allow Cross-Play, even though they’ve been clear­ly in the mino­ri­ty. Sin­ce June 2008 Lost Pla­net: Extre­me Con­di­ti­on – Colo­nies Edi­ti­on allo­wed PC and Xbox 360 play­ers to batt­le each other. Due to the fact that mean­while Capcom’s 3rd-per­son-shoo­ter has been released on Steam and has been made Xbox One-com­pa­ti­ble this Febru­a­ry, you can still use this fea­ture. Around ten years after PSO, Por­tal 2 (April 21st 2011) brought Cross-Play to Play­Sta­ti­on 3. PC and PS3 play­ers were able to make their way tog­e­ther through a smart­ly desi­gned co-op cam­pai­gn. Street Figh­ter V and DC Uni­ver­se Online are also examp­les of Play­Sta­ti­on (on PS4 in the­se cases) and PC play­ers being able to play tog­e­ther. With the release of PSP’s fol­low-up hand­held Play­Sta­ti­on Vita (Febru­a­ry 22nd 2012), Cross-Play beca­me increa­singly important to the Play­Sta­ti­on fami­ly. Almost every mul­ti­play­er-com­pa­ti­ble game which was released on both PS4 and PS Vita at the time, fea­tured Cross-Play. Even though Nin­ten­do had been sel­ling both home con­so­les and hand­helds ever sin­ce 1990, con­so­le play­ers were intro­du­ced to Cross-Buy and Cross-Save by Sony. While Cross-Buy allows to play the purcha­sed tit­le on dif­fe­rent plat­forms for no addi­tio­nal cost, Cross-Save pres­ents the oppor­tu­ni­ty to sha­re your pro­gress bet­ween sys­tems, in Vita’s case to even take it on the go. PS4 (Novem­ber 29th 2013) fol­lo­wed that trend up until PS Vita’s ine­ve­ti­ble demi­se (pro­duc­tion stop­ped March 1st this year), with a dis­s­ap­poin­ting amount of trip­le A games sup­por­ting the­se fea­tures.

PC – Cross-Play forever on Steam, competitors should cooperate

On Sep­tem­ber 12th 2003 PC gaming chan­ged fore­ver. On that day Val­ve laun­ched Steam. Pre­vious­ly Val­ve was known for deve­lo­ping the revo­lu­tio­na­ry first-per­son-shoo­ter Half-life an dmu­lit­play­er hits such as Coun­ter-Strike (CS) and Team Fort­ress. At first Steam acted as a mul­ti­play­er cli­ent and laun­cher for CS, but it quick­ly deve­lo­ped into the go-to plat­form to sell PC games. After long for­got­ten dis­cus­sions con­cer­ning copy pro­tec­tion and pro­per­ty law, Steam is the prime plat­form for PC gaming. Cross-Play, Cross-Buy and Cross-Save have been part of Steam long befo­re Sony made use of tho­se fea­tures. After all you can play most of the games avail­ab­le on that plat­form on Win­dows, Linux and MacOS.

The varie­ty of avail­ab­le plat­forms to play with your PC on is big­ger than ever – Epic Games Store, Ocu­lus Store, Micro­soft Store, uPlay and Ori­gin, to only name a few (RIP GameS­py and Des­ura). It’s coun­ter­pro­duc­tive that some games, espe­ci­al­ly con­ce­ring copy pro­tec­tion and VR sys­tem com­pa­ti­bi­li­ty, limit mul­ti­play­er lob­bies to par­ti­cu­lar PC plat­forms. In the day and age of low game pri­cing and via­ble sub­scrip­ti­on models such as Hum­ble Mon­th­ly and Twitch Prime, pira­cy shouldn’t be a big of a fac­tor as it still seems to be when gaming com­pa­nies com­p­lain about lost sales.

Nintendo – from 6 to 45 Cross-Play games

Apart from PC and Play­Sta­ti­on the­re is ano­t­her plat­form on which more and more Cross-Play tit­les are released – Nin­ten­do sys­tems. Pure Chess mixes up PC, Wii U and Nin­ten­do 3DS play­ers. In Mons­ter Hun­ter Ulti­ma­te 3 Wii U und 3DS play­ers can take on giant bos­ses tog­e­ther. Tho­se are alrea­dy two out of six Wii U / 3DS Cross-Play games. On the other hand the list of Cross-Play tit­les on the Nin­ten­do Switch alrea­dy con­tains 45 games.

Xbox Play Anywhere and Xbox Game Pass Ultimate

At E3 2016 (XTga­mer published the pres­ser with voice-over) Micro­soft announ­ced Play Any­whe­re. Ever sin­ce then most of their first par­ty tit­les are Cross-Buy across Xbox One and Win­dows 10, e.g. Sea of Thie­ves, For­za Hori­zon 4 und Crack­down 3, but only if you purcha­se them digi­tal­ly via Xbox and Micro­soft Stores. Should you purcha­se Gears 5 on Steam or as a retail copy, then you’re restric­ted to that one plat­form. It’s a posi­ti­ve deve­lop­ment that Micro­soft is releasing more and more games on Steam, though restric­ting some copies to par­ti­cu­lar plat­forms doesn’t help to lower the con­fu­si­on of cos­tu­mers.

Sin­ce 2017 Xbox One play­ers can play a lot of first and 3rd par­ty tit­les via Xbox Game Pass for €9.99 per month. In recent mon­ths Micro­soft is exten­ding that offer with 100 games to PC for €4.99 per month (cur­r­ent­ly on offer for €1). Sin­ce many of the avail­ab­le games on Xbox Game Pass have been sup­por­ting Play Any­whe­re, many first par­ty games were alrea­dy play­a­ble on Win­dows 10 via the ori­gi­nal Game Pass, wit­hout addi­tio­nal cost. Now both Pas­ses are sold seper­ate­ly and there’s also the Xbox Game Pass Ulti­ma­te, com­bi­ning Xbox Game Pass, Game Pass for PC and Xbox Live Gold for €12.99 per month (cur­r­ent­ly €2 for the first two mon­ths, any remai­ning Xbox Game Pass and Gold sub­crip­ti­on run­ti­mes can be tur­ned into a Game Pass Ulti­ma­te sub free of char­ge). Should you own a power­ful PC, but also want to play on your Xbox One X at times, this offer can make a lot of sen­se. Most of the tit­les also sup­port Cross-Play bet­ween PC and Xbox One, for examp­le Gears 5 and For­za Hori­zon 4 – even on Steam. We hope that Micro­soft will keep going into that direc­tion with upco­m­ing pro­jec­ts such as the PC port of Halo: The Mas­ter Chief Collec­tion, xCloud and Scar­lett.

Cross-Play today

This year marks a tur­ning point in con­so­le makers’ approach to Cross-Play. For years Psyo­nix has been try­ing to enab­le Cross-Play for their suc­cess­full eSports tit­le Rocket League and sin­ce Janu­a­ry 15th play­ers on Switch, XB1, PS4 and PC can play tog­e­ther in 2v2 to 4v4 matches. Due to the fact Rocket League doesn’t fea­ture an account sys­tem, the cross-plat­form fri­ends list can get pret­ty con­vo­lu­t­ed sin­ce you have to add each fri­end for each plat­form, but at the bene­fit of play­ing with ever­y­bo­dy on any plat­form defi­ni­te­ly out­weighs any irri­ta­ti­on. We’re still wai­ting on Cross-Play Voice Chat, but the deve­lo­pers con­fir­med to us that they’re working tireless­ly on making that fea­ture hap­pen.

Sony is most­ly in the spot­light when it comes to Cross-Play. In the case of Fort­ni­te Cross-Play fea­tures had to be dis­ab­led only to be rein­sta­ted once they had the plat­form holder’s appro­val. Absurd when you see Sony’s role in pushing Cross-Play for­ward wit­hin their own con­so­le archi­tec­tu­re. Cross-Play is defi­ni­te­ly a trend wit­hin free-to-play mul­ti­play­er tit­les. Daunt­less, SMITE and Pala­dins: Cham­pi­ons of the Realm sup­port cross-plat­form play on PC, PS4, XB1 and Switch (if avail­ab­le). As deve­lo­pers are stri­ving for pro­vi­ding their audi­ence a simi­li­ar oppor­tu­ni­ty on win­ning, they now them­sel­ves restrict play on dif­fe­rent plat­forms. In Fort­ni­te Switch play­ers can only com­pe­te with mobi­le play­ers sin­ce pC, PS4 and XB1 play­ers expe­ri­ence a bet­ter per­forming game. Popu­lar games Realm Roya­le (PC, Switch, PS4, XB1) and PlayerUnknown’s Batt­le­grounds (PUBG; XB1, PS4) will get Cross-Play abi­li­ties added on next month.

Cross-Save is also increa­singly more important. After Activi­si­on sepa­ra­ted from Desti­ny 2, Bun­gie enab­led Cross-Save accross PS4, XB1 and PC, in order to let play­ers con­ti­nue their jour­ney no mat­ter which plat­form they’re on. As first major RPG Divini­ty: Ori­gi­nal Sin 2 – Defi­ni­ti­ve Edi­ti­on enab­les you to sha­re your save games accross Steam and Nin­ten­do Switch Online bet­ween PC and Switch. Squa­re Enix’ Final Fan­ta­sy: Crys­tal Chro­ni­cles Remas­te­red is sup­po­sed to also sup­port Cross-Save via PS4 and Switch.

Call of Duty: Modern War­fa­re is most tal­ked of in terms of Cross-Play the­se days. The most popu­lar video game brand is reboo­ting its Modern War­fa­re branch and will sup­port upon release next month cross-plat­form play accross PC, PS4 and XB1. Until tomor­row you can try it out yours­elf in the Open Beta. Call of Duty: Modern War­fa­re sup­ports not only Cross-Play but also enab­les con­so­le play­ers to play with mou­se and key­board, sup­por­ted with a varie­ty of opti­ons. Play­ers remai­ned scep­ti­cal for a long time, if play­ers using a con­trol­ler real­ly stand a chan­ce against someo­ne with mou­se and key­board. Deve­lo­per Infi­ni­ty Ward tried to make sure to balan­ce the game in a way that play­ers have equal chan­ces. Our expe­ri­ence with the beta is exac­t­ly that: In any given Team Death­match (TDM) match, play­ers with con­trol­lers and tho­se with mou­se and key­board take turns in having the best kill/death ratio. Trans­par­ent­ly you can see befo­re and after each match if they’re using mou­se and key­board or con­trol­lers. In our ses­si­ons we expe­ri­en­ced that a play­er used mou­se and key­board despi­te being dis­play­ed to be play­ing with a con­trol­ler, so the sys­tem isn’t 100% to be trusted. As with Cross-Play you can dis­able to play with play­ers using other input devi­des than yours­elf to cus­to­mi­ze your expe­ri­ence.

Loo­king ahead and see­ing how cloud and strea­ming ser­vices such as xCloud, Goog­le Sta­dia and Play­Sta­ti­on Now are increa­singly important, Cross-Play is wit­hout a doubt the future of gaming. Ever­y­bo­dy should be able to play their favou­rite games tog­e­ther with their fri­ends, no mat­ter which plat­form they’re on.

What are your thoughts on Cross-Play? Vote next to the arti­cle or com­ment below.

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