Cross-play, as it relates to gaming, is an abbreviation for cross platform play. Simply put, it means that if you own one console (say a Sony PlayStation 4) you have the ability to play games online with or against people who own other consoles (say a Microsoft Xbox One).
It’s something that would have never crossed your mind in the early days of console gaming. The idea of playing a Super Nintendo game against your Sega Genesis owning friend without one of you having to play on the other’s console was ludicrous.
Times have changed, though. As consoles become less and less distinct in terms of exclusive games and hardware design, the idea of a PlayStation and Xbox gamer playing each other from their respective consoles doesn’t seem all that ridiculous anymore. In fact, if you didn’t know about cross-play, you’d be forgiven for thinking that someone you play with online might just own a different console than you do.
That’s not the case, though. Cross-play between consoles remains a rare feature. As it turns out, that’s just the way Sony likes it.
Recently, Microsoft commented that they are in discussions with Sony in regards to expanding cross-play support between Xbox and PlayStation consoles. Mind you, they just said they were talking with them. They didn’t say what Sony had to say on the matter.
The thing is that we know what Sony has to say on the matter. Earlier this year, for instance, Sony’s Jim Ryan stated that he supported the company’s decision to not allow PlayStation users to play Minecraft with Xbox users because Sony has to be mindful of their responsibility to their user base.
He explained that Minecraft had a young player base and that Sony couldn’t find a way to protect those gamers – and themselves – from outside players who didn’t agree to the rules and regulations of the PlayStation Network.
While the “Think of the children” defense usually plays well, it feels particularly weak in this instance. First off, Minecraft is just one game. A multi-billion dollar game, perhaps, but one game. Most of the games people are talking about when they talk about cross-play skew towards older gamers. Besides, it’s not like the PlayStation Network community is a safe haven from toxic online gamers.
So what’s Sony’s real reason for not supporting cross-play? Well, nobody is 100% sure, but the popular theory is that Sony doesn’t support it because Sony doesn’t have to.
Sony is the undisputed market leader in the console wars. They will do nothing which jeopardizes their position. In their mind, cross-play might hurt the PlayStation’s overall sales. If you are thinking of buying an Xbox or PlayStation, you might end up choosing the console most of your friends own. If there are more PlayStations in the world, the odds are better that your friends will own a PlayStation.
Besides, cross-play might require Sony to restructure their online network which may not be an impossible proposition, but it might be an expensive one. Even if the cost isn’t great, you can be sure that Sony has figured out that the potential loss from supporting cross-play is greater than the money they can gain from supporting it.
Maybe one day, Sony will find the profit in cross-play. Until that happens, they simply have no incentive to bother with it.