Crossplay is a feature gamers have been clamouring for since the console wars started. Ever since you bought one system and your friend bought another, there have been debates over which one was better, but also wishes that you could both just play together anyway. In recent years, developers have been given more leeway with crossplay, and now that Sony is opening up the system to more developers, we could be seeing a greater focus on the much-requested feature.
Microsoft really paved the way with crossplay. In 2007, a little game called Shadowrun was released by FASA Studio. This was a first-person take on the typically strategy-based role-playing game, and it immediately became a cult classic among its fans. What really made this Shadowrun experience different was that it included crossplay between Xbox 360 and Windows Vista.
This was really the first time console players and PC players could compete against one another in the same game. In order to ensure a fair playing field, the developers had professional Halo players and professional Counter-Strike players come in and compete with one another.
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Outside of anecdotal balancing, some design decisions were also made to ensure PC players didn’t have a distinct advantage. Weapon bloom was slightly different in Shadowrun, favoring a controlled hand. This type of bloom wasn’t common in console games, though it was later a point of difference for Halo: Reach.
Shadowrun’s release was 12 years ago now, and since then little progress has been made in crossplay. There have been some instances between PC and console, with Microsoft’s Play Anywhere being implemented for first-party titles, but between console platforms it’s been limited. That is until very recently.
Rocket League originally launched with no cross-platform support on Xbox One. It wasn’t until 2016 that Microsoft revealed it would be part of their crossplay network between console and PC. On the other side of the aisle, Sony wasn’t interested in crossplay, with Jim Ryan staying it was a “commercial discussion between ourselves and other stakeholders.”
This was obviously extremely disappointing for gamers. The lack of crossplay meant a smaller player pool, which could result result in fewer games of higher quality. To have a feature denied due to stakeholder interest was frustrating. But this wasn’t the end of the story.
Enter Fortnite, arguably the biggest gaming phenomenon of the decade. Love it or hate it, the unmatched popularity of Fortnite reignited the push for crossplay. The major console manufacturers came to the table, and all agreed that crossplay was the way to go.
Now, regardless of where you play Fortnite, you can jump into a match with a friend, even if they’re on a different platform. This momentum carried on to Rocket League, which has only just announced at the start of this year that it would feature full crossplay support.
And now, as we enter the fourth quarter of 2019, gamers are preparing for the release of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, a resetting of the franchise, and a massive moment for crossplay. The developers at Infinity Ward revealed that Modern Warfare will feature crossplay between PC, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4.
This makes Modern Warfare the first game to launch with crossplay across all platforms. This is a massive step for developers and a giant leap for gamers. However, much like with the balancing of Shadowkeep, balancing for the differences between systems and equipment is no doubt a challenge for the Call of Duty developers.
The news of Modern Warfare’s crossplay support happened around the same time that Sony decided to move its own crossplay systems out of beta. According to an article on Wired, “While it’s not announcing the news explicitly, the PS4’s cross-play efforts have officially moved out of the beta stage, meaning that the console can support cross-play on any titles that studios provide the functionality for.”
The wins just keep coming for gamers. With Sony fully on board with opening up crossplay, we could be entering an age where crossplay support is an expected feature of all games, much like how HD is now a norm.
Obviously there are still challenges for developers. Regardless of whether a manufacturer or publisher allows crossplay, it still takes valuable resources to implement these features.
The lineage of crossplay can be traced back to Microsoft, who has seemingly entered in at the ground level with Shadowrun. Thanks to Microsoft, and the extreme success of games like Minecraft, Rocket League and Fortnite, Sony and Nintendo are learning the value of letting gamers play where they want and with whomever they want.
As we look toward the future, we’re hoping we’ll see more and more games release with full crossplay support. While there will always be console exclusives to drive sales, it’s exciting to see developers, publishers, and console manufacturers making decisions that are purely for the good of gamers everywhere. Perhaps now the console wars can come to a close.
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