That was just the latest volley from Microsoft in its ongoing push toward cross-network play.
The reality, of course, is more complicated: The way Microsoft accomplishes cross-network play is by putting a form of Xbox Live into other platforms. And Sony, logically, doesn’t want that — it operates PlayStation Network, and doesn’t want to cede control of its players to the competition.
AP Photo / Nam Y. Huh
With over 70 million PlayStation 4 consoles in the wild, and Microsoft’s Xbox One in a distant second place (estimates put the console at anywhere from 30 to 60 million sold), Sony is actually in a position to say no.
Though PlayStation 4 owners would certainly benefit from being able to play with friends on the Xbox One, Microsoft would clearly benefit the most from the arrangement: Anyone on PlayStation 4 (or Switch, or wherever else) who wants to play games with friends on Xbox One has to sign up for an Xbox Live login.
Xbox chief Phil Spencer explained this in an interview with Giant Bomb last summer:
“We use Xbox Live as the way to make sure we know who our players are, controls around parental controls and other things that we put into our platform are there. And as you’re buying things in ‘Minecraft,’ you want to make sure you have them available on other platforms, so we have to know who you are. If you have a realm that you’ve created on the PC and you want to get to it on the Switch, we have to have an identity system and we just use Xbox Live.”
It’s a smart solution. Xbox Live is widely regarded as the gold standard in online gaming networks. It set the original standard for what a game console’s online service could be, and it continues to be a powerhouse.
But if you’re Sony, which operates the also excellent PlayStation Network, it makes a lot of sense why you wouldn’t want Xbox Live on PlayStation 4: It’s a threat.
Long-term, having PlayStation 4 owners sign up for Xbox Live might sway them to Microsoft’s platform — and that’s a real problem. Microsoft is making an ecosystem play, betting that you’ll use its ecosystem (Xbox Live) in perpetuity if you’re locked in now. It’s where your game library is, and your friends are! It works across platforms, even! Why bother getting anything else?
Of course, if you’re a normal person who wants to play games with your friends on whatever game console they own, all of this is not your problem. It’s perfectly reasonable to wonder, “Why can’t I play games with my friends, on whatever console they own, period?”
In this way, Microsoft comes out looking like the “good guy” because it’s pushing for cross-network play. “Me 2,” Microsoft’s Phil Spencer said on Twitter in response the statement, “We really want cross-play system between XB1 and PS4.”
That Microsoft would accomplish this goal by layering Xbox Live on top of the competition’s online services is smart, but it makes sense why Sony wouldn’t want to let that happen. Unfortunately, as the two companies sort it out, you still can’t play “Fortnite” with friends on Xbox One if you’re playing on the PlayStation 4.
That’s bad for players and it’s bad for business.
As “Overwatch” director Jeff Kaplan told Business Insider last year, “We’re very respectful, and we understand our partners and why they’re not allowing [cross-network play] at this time. We’ll use whatever influence we have to keep reminding them: ‘Hey, this would be cool. It’s something our players really want. It’s something your players really want.”
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