Just earlier last week, Sony announced a cross-play beta via a blog post, beginning with Fortnite. While this is unquestionably good news, as I look at the reactions across the internet, it appears that the bigger picture is unfortunately being lost.
Now before I begin, yes, be excited and happy that Sony is getting with the program. Throughout this whole article, don’t think for one second that I’m telling you to not be excited. You should be excited. You should be happy. I’m simply saying we need to look at this further in order to understand the bigger picture, because the bigger picture is being totally missed.
No doubt, it’s tempting to merely read the headline of this article, make assumptions that I’m somehow here to “not let people enjoy things,” and then get angry with me. And I fully expect a large portion of folks to do so. But it is possible to be excited for something while still possessing the capacity to understand the bigger picture. In other words, excitement and pragmatism are not mutually exclusive.
I’d like to begin by looking at the official statements from Sony. It is only by understanding and analyzing carefully crafted messaging from these companies that we as consumers can inoculate ourselves against corporate pandering and PR BS. As discerning consumers, it’s vital to understand what is being said, how it’s being said, and what is not being said.
In their blog post, Sony state,
“Following a comprehensive evaluation process, SIE has identified a path toward supporting cross-platform features for select third party content. We recognize that PS4 players have been eagerly awaiting an update, and we appreciate the community’s continued patience as we have navigated through this issue to find a solution.”
Notice how they word this, as if almost to flatter the gamer by commending the “community’s continued patience.” This is done carefully to, in effect, build up the gamers’ confidence and sense of importance. They want to soften you up.
They also mention a, “comprehensive evaluation process.” Reading between the lines, this is really Sony saying, “you guys rightfully kept giving us crap to do the right thing.”
The statement continues with,
“The first step will be an open beta beginning today for Fortnite that will allow for cross platform gameplay, progression and commerce across PlayStation 4, Android, iOS, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows, and Mac operating systems. We see the beta as an opportunity to conduct thorough testing that ensures cross-platform play is best on PlayStation, while being mindful about the user experience from both a technical and social perspective.
For 24 years, we have strived to deliver the best gaming experience to our fans by providing a uniquely PlayStation perspective. Today, the communities around some games have evolved to the point where cross-platform experiences add significant value to players.”
Let’s take a step back here for a moment to unpack this. Saying, “while being mindful about the user experience” harkens back to what Sony CEO Kenichiro Yoshida said not too long ago at the IFA Technology Show in Berlin,
“On cross-platform, our way of thinking is always that PlayStation is the best place to play. Fortnite, I believe, partnered with PlayStation 4 is the best experience for users, that’s our belief.”
Back then at the technology show, Yoshida was effectively saying that PS4 is the best place to play Fortnite, even though this was objectively false. It was an objectively lesser version specifically because it lacked widespread cross-play like every other version of Fortnite. This was a missing feature.
Now, with their blog post announcing cross-play, Sony seem to tout the same line, but under the exact opposite circumstance. Now, they seemingly want to, “ensure cross-platform play is best on PlayStation.”
So previously, Fortnite was best on PS4 even though it lacked cross-play. But now, they’re claiming to want to provide the best experience on PS4 with cross-play.
Not only that, but one can say that Sony are admitting that cross-play adds “significant value” to players when not too long ago, they were of the mindset that the PS4 version of Fortnite provided the best experience despite not having cross-play. There is gross contradiction here, as to be expected. Companies do this all the time.
This veneer of PR continues with recent statements by PlayStation Worldwide Studios boss Shawn Layden during a blogcast,
“We know this is a want, this is a desire, and we want to be able to deliver that in the best way possible. Now, enabling cross-play isn’t just about flipping a switch and ‘there you go’. It’s a very multi-dimensional kind of attribute or feature.
“So we had to look at it from a technical point of view, we have to work with our partners from a business point of view, we have to make sure that if we enable this, do we have the right customer service support, do we have the right messaging out there, do we have all these different things that you have to get in line. It’s rather ordinal – they have to go in a certain order to get them all set up.”
Layden makes it seem like a huge complex ordeal — which I don’t necessarily doubt at a fundamental level — but this naturally brings up the question: if it’s as complex as Layden makes it seem, how is it that Microsoft, Nintendo, Epic, and others have managed to implement it rather seamlessly? Surely, it’s reasonable to assume these companies have a wealth of resources at their disposal just like Sony.
In fact, Layden mentions it’s not as easy as “flipping a switch,” yet this is exactly what Epic seemed to have done last year.
Again, this is the type of corporate PR BS that we as consumers must be mindful of. Messaging like this has been deliberately crafted. Only by understanding how these messages are crafted and presented to the public can we inoculate ourselves against the veneer of misleading PR presented by these companies.
In addition to this cross-play beta, the biggest issue that kickstarted the whole thing earlier this summer, linking your Epic account on PS4 and having that account get locked to your PSN account, seems to have been resolved.
The Fortnite Twitter account tweeted that they were looking into a couple of things, namely, account merging and unlinking a console from one Fortnite account and linking it to another Fortnite account.
Eurogamer tested this and found that it indeed works,
“We’ve tested this ourselves and logged into a Fortnite account created on PlayStation 4 via a Nintendo Switch. And we’ve also tried the reverse, logging into a Fornite account first created on Switch via a PS4.”
Again, this is obviously good. Cross-play is a good thing. Cross-play between PS4 and other platforms is now possible with Fortnite. Like I said at the top, you have every right to be happy.
As I looked at reactions to this, most, if not all, reactions were happy. And this is perfectly fine. You should be happy.
But many were actually thanking and praising Sony for finally allowing cross-play, including major figureheads in the gaming industry like Bethesda’s SVP of Marketing and Communications, Pete Hines.
This right here is the bigger issue. Sony doesn’t deserve thanks. They wilfully and stubbornly denied you the ability to play with your friends, and then lied in their justification for doing so.
Remember, Sony said at the IFA technology show that Fortnite is the “best experience for users” on PlayStation. By not allowing cross-play, this was one less feature the PS4 version of Fortnite had compared to every other version of the game. Objectively, it was not the best experience. And Sony knew it.
To thank a company for finally doing what they should have been doing all along is missing this bigger perspective. To thank a company for reversing course after they patently stated objective falsehoods to consumers is missing this bigger perspective.
Again, note here that I’m not telling gamers to not be happy and excited about this cross-play. But as a discerning consumer, it behooves you to understand this greater point and view this holistically.
That greater point is that Sony should have allowed cross-play from the beginning. They lied to consumers in their justification, and they finally bowed to the pressure.
For a major industry figurehead like Pete Hines to publicly praise Sony merely perpetuates the problem because consumers will see Hines’ reaction and reciprocate it, thinking that if he says it, it must be ok. And this is wrong.
Sony’s messaging for more than a year has been to spin a tale in order to sell us on their anti-consumer and misleading justification for disallowing cross-play. After more than a year of this, Sony doesn’t deserve praise. Sony doesn’t deserve thanks. Sony doesn’t deserve what is effectively a pat on the head. Games media, and certainly industry figureheads like Pete Hines should know better.
The actions and thought processes I’d encourage gamers to think about is not to thank Sony and heap praise on them. Rather, ask why Sony didn’t allow cross-play in the first place.
I explored this in a recent editorial where I explained that Sony could afford to do this because they were the market leader in the console race. After you ask the “why” question, you can then begin to understand that these companies are just that: companies. They exist to make money. They’re not your friend. They should not be praised for doing something they should have done in the first place. They should not be praised for turning an about-face after repeatedly stating objective falsehoods to consumers.
Instead, continue to hold their feet to the fire. Put pressure on them and speak up when you know they’re doing something wrong. That’s how we as consumers can affect change.
Personally, I do hope all those who have waited for cross-play get to go out there and enjoy playing with their PS4 friends. And if you’re on PS4, I hope you have fun playing with your friends on the other platforms.
So yes. Be happy. Be excited. Have fun. But never lose sight of the bigger picture.