In what is becoming an ongoing thorn in the side of PlayStation PR, the Ark: Survival Evolved developers have revealed that they have gotten cross-play working internally for the survival dinosaur sandbox – but Sony won’t let them roll the feature out officially.
Cross-play has become one of the defining features of the latest console generation, extending from consoles to PC and even between the consoles themselves. Ever since Rocket League and Street Fighter V lead the push in bringing PS4 and PC users together, more and more games have been trying to merge players.
But as has increasingly become the case, PS4 users are being left out. Things came to a head during this year’s E3, when Microsoft announced it was opening up Minecraft to cross-play across all platforms – which included the Nintendo Switch, and smartphones, but not the PS4. Rocket League, which helped illuminate the value of cross-play when it first launched, followed suit by allowing cross-play between PC, Xbox and the Switch all at once.
The initial response, put simply, wasn’t good. Jim Ryan, head of global sales and marketing for Sony, told Eurogamer at the time that they had “a contract” with their online users and that they were concerned about “exposing what in many cases are children to external influences we have no ability to manage or look after”.
Minecraft owners can soon play across Xbox One, Switch and PC. Rocket League owners will soon be able to play across Xbox One, Switch and PC. There's a console missing from that equation, and Sony's explanation why is not good.Read more
The backlash from that was pretty swift, drawing an exasperated response from Microsoft’s Phil Spencer. But as Jim Ryan pointed out during the Eurogamer interview, Sony doesn’t have a philosophical disagreement with cross-play – it’s more of a commercial one.
And the fact of that matter came up over the weekend again, thanks to ARK lead programmer and designer Jeremy Stieglitz:
It’s not the first time we’ve heard developers complain about this. In an interview with Polygon, Psyonix’s VP of publishing Jeremy Dunham said they would happily unite all Rocket League platforms, but Sony wouldn’t give them permission.
“From Psyonix, we would do whatever we would need to do to make it possible to be cross-network play with all the other platforms and PlayStation 4. They just need to tell us what that is,” Dunham explained.
A key factor here is that both ARK and Rocket League run off Unreal Engine 4, which has made cross-platform support – and cross-platform development – a key feature. But it doesn’t matter how integrated or simplified cross-play networking is on an engine level if the platform holders won’t support it. Or, if we’re being blunt, Sony.
From a ruthless perspective, it’s understandable why: Sony is the market leader, and there’s no commercial benefit to giving users a reason to play with PS4 users without having to invest in their own platform. And it’s not like Sony isn’t giving Microsoft a taste of its own medicine.
Remember Defiance, the shooter MMO that came with its own TV show? When Stephen first saw it in 2011, developers Trion had the game running with PS3 and Xbox 360 players in the same instance just fine – but it was a feature that was never released to the public, because Microsoft wouldn’t allow it.
That’s what market leaders do, after all. But 2017 is a different kettle of fish to 2011. Cross-play isn’t the technical challenge it used to be. The only reason why Sony steadfastly refuses to allow cross-play between more games is because they believe they’ll forfeit a commercial advantage in doing so. Even if it comes to the detriment of their own players, stuck in longer matchmaking queues.