Cross-Network Play – Will it Happen?
While not the first, the Dreamcast really ushered in the idea of online play done easily on console. And it wasn’t to have an online platform of theirs, it was just to have it possible on console. Dreamcast online play could also work with PC players. Yes, that existed back then. The Xbox has always been the console that carried the Dreamcast’s torch, despite the Sony oppressor. The Xbox technically offered more for the consumer, even if Sony had a handle on the better exclusives.
So Microsoft decided to take it a step further with online play and create a service. This service had exclusive games and a whole system for online play. It rivaled anything on PC, and really, the PC took time to catch up – it’s on an open platform, so there’s not one standard. Anyway, this grew into a big business for Microsoft. Sony was still a bit big-headed with the PS3 but Microsoft was succumbing to that same success with the Xbox platform (Kinect, DRM on XB1). They focused less on gaming and more of an entertainment box, whereas Sony went back to being about gaming. Through this, Sony maintained the idea that cross-network online play is a possibility with their platform, but Microsoft wouldn’t play ball.
Now, with MS trying to keep up, they’ve gone back to their open ways (Microsoft software on PCs in the 80s) and announced cross-network play is possible. First game will be rocket league, but with many more to come. This inflates online player numbers in order to attract those players to the Xbox platform. Finally, with MS on board that just means all platforms unite! But, now that Sony has the upper-hand, they aren’t having that. Business and Policy issues are blocking it from happening…for now.
The PS4 is a beast of a console right now – most multiplayer games on Xbox are nowhere near the population count of the PS4 counter-part. Sony knows this, so they aren’t quick to join in for cross-network play. Really, this makes Sony the bad guy. For all the good they are doing for gamers with the PS4, it sounds like it’s just whatever it takes to get people on their platform, not whatever it takes for gamers (PS4 has had a lack of good exclusives, and indie titles do launch bugged). From a business perspective, sure. I guess it makes sense. But the future of hardware and services will change quite a bit, and Sony shouldn’t get behind like they did with the PS3. They’re banking on PS Now, so obviously they have an idea of where this is headed.
The best answer from Sony should have been – “We’re working on it right now”. Just get over the hump of exclusive online networks, and focus on a strong exclusive first-party titles.