Imagine a world where the rigid (and often harmful) borders between gamers across all platforms have been broken down.
This is the dream which some contemporary developers and game directors are chasing.
Some people will argue that such an ideal world is irrational - that by attempting to bridge such dissimilar platforms and crowds you end up hurting the video game community as a whole.
But such opinions are drowned out by the loud majority of people demanding an open gaming experience without artificial barriers.
There is tangible evidence that this is the direction the gaming industry is going in, as we are starting to see new levels of cross-platform play on both consoles and mobile devices.
Simply put, cross-platform games are games that let players on different platforms or devices play together at the same time.
For example, a game that lets PC gamers play on the same servers as Xbox One players, or PlayStation 4 gamers playing together with those on PS Vita.
In many cases, cross-platform multiplayer games will remain within their respective publisher’s domain. For example, some games in the Monster Hunter series were cross-platform games, but only between Nintendo’s platforms - the 3DS, Wii U and the Switch.
Examples of more encompassing cross-platform multiplayer games are still too few, but their numbers of slowly growing.
It is only natural that cross-platform features are on the rise, as AAA titles are released across most major platforms for many years now. As hardware continues to improve, console architecture continues to approach that of a PC, the links between all platforms will only continue to strengthen.
Since so many gamers are playing the same games nowadays, many believe that they should be able to populate the same online networks. In other words: people should be able to play online games with their friends, regardless of platform.
And why should they be able to? Scripting languages, software libraries, and game engines have reached a level of development and sophistication in which platform-specific details can be effectively accounted for and appropriately optimized.
So what is stopping cross-platform play from becoming a standard in the video game industry?
It’s no secret that there is much rivalry between the popular platforms and their loyal fanbase.
Terms such as “PC Master Race” and “Console Peasants” (the former being what many PC players like to refer to themselves, while the latter is a demeaning insult for those that play on console) are thrown around regularly on forums and Reddit threads. It is ironic, as these terms are extremely not PC (politically correct).
Obviously, few PC players really mean it in a harmful or offensive way, but there are still those out there who will adamantly refuse to be involved with any console players, believing them and their platforms to be beneath their superior systems.
It is not just the PC crowd that holds such separatist thinking. Plenty of PlayStation and Xbox fanatics will also show some disrespect towards their PC counterparts. Many find PC players to be far too hardcore in both their vanities and performances.
The same can be said about how “hardcore” gamers view those who play mostly on mobile devices. The phrase “filthy casual” is often used to demean and patronize over mobile gamers, referring to how most mobile games require little skill to master.
Such a divided cultural can indeed hinder the uniting efforts of cross-platform games. There are those who simply do not want to open the borders between their domains and share a match with other gamers with what they perceive to be inferior platforms.
This is a more practical point and has nothing to do with the games or gamers themselves.
There are certainly many differences between a mouse and keyboard combo and a controller, and in many cases, it certainly does not make sense to pair such different control schematics together.
In the case of first-person shooters, a mouse and keyboard provide a slight advantage over a controller. A mouse offers a far higher level of sensitivity and accuracy than an analog stick does, and many console players would simply not be able to keep up.
Of course, boosts to aiming in FPS games, such as aim-assist, are implemented by proponents of cross-platform play, but even this doesn’t solve the problem. It opens the door to accusations of cheating by disgruntled players how “definitely shot you first.”
Then there are server limitations caused by hardware capacities, in which one’s PlayStation 4 version of a game, for example, curbs the number of people that can join an online match, thus preventing any cross-platform support.
Finally, console players will not have frame rates as high or performance as speedy in general as the more high-end computers. This certainly gives PC players a significant advantage in that their games simply run smoother and faster.
Despite such limitations, which are being worked on all the time by cross-platform advocates, many people still desperately want to play their favorite games with their friends across platforms.
There was a time when split-screen was the preferred tool for multiplayer gaming on consoles, before the advent of high-speed internet lines. While we see incredible new levels of online play, too many people miss the physical interaction of the old days.
Being able to play something like Sea of Thieves with a friend or family member in the same room, with one person playing on a PC, and the other on an Xbox One, will rekindle this sense of togetherness.
People do want to play together, and the resistant elitists are few and far between compared to the majority of well-natured individuals that would love to test their mettle against players on other mediums.
There are many co-op games which people wish they could play with each other but cannot due to lack of cross-platform support. When it comes to the best online games to play with friends, it is indeed a great pity when people cannot come together due to technical limitations.
This need is what many people believe will drive developers to overcome the mentioned drawbacks. As consoles become more powerful, and controllers become more sophisticated, we will very soon be seeing future platforms, such as Xbox Two and PlayStation 5, being able to match the power of high-end PCs.
This balance of power and capability will eventually result in the leveling of the playing field that is needed to bring cross-platform games to the masses. Once gamers across mediums can interact with each other freely, maybe the walls between PC, console and mobile players will finally crumble.
To the delight of countless people all over the world, Sea of Thieves is one of the best new examples of cross-platform play. The Rare pirate epic lets players on Windows 10 PC, Xbox One and Xbox One X adventure together.
Back in mid-2016, Rare’s PC Design Lead Ted Timmins and Executive Producer Joe Neate excitedly announced in a video discussing Sea of Thieves’ features that cross-play would indeed be a feature in their upcoming swashbuckling MMO.
Obviously, since then, such a promise was something which many gamers were sincerely interested in, hoping dearly that this game would bring a stable and balanced cross-platform experience which would revolutionize this innovative functionality.
According to an article on cross-play on the official Sea of Thieves website, the developers asked themselves “Why would we segregate players in the first place?”
That is an important question. There’s no real reason to split up the game’s community, especially with Microsoft’s new “Play Anywhere” initiative. This genuinely wonderful step towards unifying the gamer community lets you play all supported Xbox One games on any Windows 10 PC (and vice versa).
Players have reported that the cross-play experienced in Sea of Thieves makes them feel as if they are all playing on the same device. Such borderless interaction has broken down the borders between Xbox One and PC, at least while playing the game.
Game developers have also understood the power of mobile when it comes to cross-platform online games. All you need is to take a look at Epic Games’ massively popular battle royale Fortnite. Much of its popularity can be attributed to the game’s recent versions for iOS and Android that allow for cross-platform play with PCs and consoles.
Since March 12, players on PS4 have been able to play with Mac, iOS, and PC players. Xbox One players are also able to play with iOS, Mac, and PC gamers, but as it stands, Xbox One and PS4 players cannot battle it out as of yet.
Such barriers between PS4 and Xbox One cross play would be overcome by Epic if it wasn’t for the restrictions put in place by Metcalfe’s Law. Ironically, having more users connected to the networks increase its value, so such superficial barriers only restrict the full potential of online gaming in general.
Developers are working very hard on surpassing such restrictions, providing a gaming experience that transcends almost all cross-platform barriers, and allowing a united gaming experience where almost everyone can play together.
While Microsoft is adamant on the helping of cross-platform play become a reality in our lifetime, their main competitor in the console market isn’t so keen on the idea.
Simply put, Sony believes that it would not benefit from cross-platform play. In fact, such a breaking down of walls could be very financially detrimental to big companies that rely on exclusive games to sell the consoles themselves. The PlayStation 4 very much enjoys its passionate fan base and has used its popular exclusives to become the biggest console of this generation.
This kingly status allows Sony to recruit countless new players that are interested in joining the most populated multiplayer arenas on consoles. As one can now see, opening their doors to cross-platform play would severely curb the PS4 dominance and appeal.
Many people regard such stubbornness to be anti-consumer in its design, and with the passionate cross-platform crusade launched by companies like Epic Games gaining such massively acclaimed traction, many believe that even Sony will soon “give in” and join in on the efforts to being gamers from all communities to together.
Recent games have provided an invaluable contribution to cross-platform play development and progression. It only takes a few titles which can successfully, securely, and reasonably bring together multiple platforms to convince the gaming industry that cross-platform functionality can quickly become a reliable, enjoyable, and highly profitable venture.
There is so much to gain from cross-platform integration, and many lead companies in the industry already know that. Technical limitations will be overcome, and a balanced and fair realm of unified play will be achieved through cooperation.
It is not just players being able to play together across platforms; it is a newfound level of cooperation between the giants of the gaming industry. The brightest and most talented minds in gaming development and direction will for the first time be working together.
If things continue as they are with Microsoft’s enthusiasm, and Sony hopefully buckles to the march of progress, we are going to see a renaissance in gaming where the technical and cultural divisions and limitations between platforms begin to evaporate.
We will see a standard of gaming we didn’t think was possible, where ingeniously comprehensive mediums for multiplayer experiences have been revamped to unbelievable levels. It is all certainly very inspiring to think about, and we can only wait and see how this sector of gaming will pan out in the future.