The time is right for Xbox One and PS4 cross-play

Not long after Microsoft and Sony released their latest consoles, South Park did three episodes centered around the consoles (and they were a great parody on Game of Thrones, to boot). The episodes touched on a problem that gamers have faced since online gaming took off during the previous console generation. Namely, the decision of which popular console to choose.

Console wars are nothing new. When I was a kid, you either had a Nintendo or a Sega. Before that, there were choices between the likes of Atari and Commodore. However, when online gaming really took off in the Xbox 360/PS3 generation, it became a much bigger choice. This is primarily because your choice in consoles determined which of your friends you could play with.

In the previous generation, I had one friend who had a PS3, while the majority of my other friends had Xbox 360's. Some of my friends didn't own any consoles, and instead gamed exclusively on their PC. To give you an idea of just how annoying that was, I purchased the original Borderlands three times, and beat it three different times with different friends. It's still one of my favorite games, so I didn't mind playing it a few times, but having to purchase it three times was a bit ridiculous, just to play with my different friends.

Buying both major consoles and a gaming PC isn't in the cards for most people. After all, many games can be played on any of them, so there's little reason to invest that kind of money, just to play with a few more friends.

This scenario was unavoidable in the previous generation for a number of reasons. First, online gaming with consoles was a relatively new venture for both Microsoft and Sony. Yes, the original Xbox and PS2 both had online capabilities, but broadband internet was still a limiting factor for people. So when you're making your first big push for online gaming, getting your games to play nice with the competition isn't exactly a high priority.

Another issue was that the Xbox 360 and PS2 were built on two very different architectures. So it's possible that setting up servers to handle clients from both consoles would have been very difficult for developers.

The current generation of consoles have both been out for a while now, and both of those limiting factors have been eliminated. Both companies know exactly what they're doing when it comes to their online presence. And both consoles are using the same architecture, which is also similar to the PC. So technically speaking, setting up servers to accept players regardless of the platform should be a breeze.

Rocket League developer Psyonix has already proven that cross-play functionality is not only possible, but is relatively easy. Once Microsoft announced that they would support cross-play between the Xbox One and the PC, Psyonix was first in line to support the feature. And once they had it ready, they went a step further and said that their servers were ready to handle Xbox One and PS4 cross-play, as well.

So why doesn't Rocket League support cross-play for all platforms? That's because Sony and Microsoft aren't ready to play ball yet. Psyonix is waiting for both companies to give them the go-ahead to enable the feature.

The developer has good reason for wanting to support it. Namely, because there is no downside for doing so. In fact, their sales have continued an upward momentum, and part of that is likely due to the fact that friends can now play together, despite some owning PCs, and others being on the Xbox One. If they could rope in support for the PS4 on the same servers, they would likely see even more players, since the platform barrier no longer separates anyone.

There aren't many downsides for Microsoft or Sony, either. Perhaps some people might not buy a second console to game with their friends, or their decision to buy their first console will be swayed by what their friends own. But that seems like a small number that could benefit either side equally.

The only downside for gamers would be if some developers enabled cross-play between PC and consoles, where the mouse and keyboard give a distinct advantage. This primarily affects FPS titles, where the mouse is able to give you a more precise aim than a controller. However, this is unlikely to be an issue, because FPS developers are well aware of this advantage, and it is in their best interest to keep the game fun and competitive. So they would be unlikely to pit the two groups together.

Recently, Blizzard commented on the possibility of cross-play for Overwatch. They mentioned that they're looking into it on consoles, but stated that they wold not enable the feature between PC and consoles because of the advantage it would give to the PC players.

It's hard to imagine two companies such as Sony and Microsoft coming together to allow both consoles to play with each other. However, they have little to lose, and gamers have everything to gain from such cooperation.