As a concept, cross-play is one that we’ve long been pushing for. So fantastic a fit for the environment of online gaming is it that we have to question why it took so long to become a reality. With the next-gen placing a far larger emphasis on cross-play than ever before, we thought it would be a perfect time to revisit what this technology can bring. Exactly why is it so great, and what unavoidable complications will continue to hold it back?
Looking at the Good
As we see it, there are two fundamental advantages that the average user will experience when cross-play is implemented. The first of these is how the systems can enable ease of playing with friends. In the past, many of us would have experienced discussions and arguments among friends on which console we should all buy to play together on. With cross-play, we could see the end of such debates.
The second reason applies to the longevity of a game’s online player-base. Inevitably, over time, players will bleed out of games in search of something new. If you’ve ever loved an online game only to experience a dwindling population making it unplayable (Titanfall 2 we’re looking at you), you’ll know this pain.
By keeping game servers accessible over multiple platforms, this exodus is slowed. Not only does this mean a more viable long-term online system for existing players, but it can also help foster a more welcoming environment for newcomers. Combined, both of these aspects mean that the games we love live far longer than they ever could on one system.
Legality and Distance
The two major factors which stand in the way of total cross-play implementation are those of legality and distance. Legality, in this case, refers to how individual countries restrict their online entertainment experiences. Laws in some places may be simply different than others. This can lead to great disparities in situations which are otherwise largely similar.
A common example of this is seen in the related field of online casino gaming. Here, the best option to play online in the UK might be outwardly similar to those in the US. Bonuses, game selection, and user features are always huge draws, but depending on where the casino is licensed, it may not be playable in another country. Depending on how manufacturers set up and apply for licenses, similar restrictions can apply to regional cross-play availability.
Distance is much simpler to explain, in that it ties into physics. Theoretically, cross-play might allow you to play with somebody on a different system on the other side of the world. In reality, the delay in sending and receiving data over these distances will stay a prohibiting factor. You can’t beat physics; you can only work within its laws.
A Will and a Way
Ultimately, the question of how well cross-platform will be adopted is left up to the developers and publishers. Sony was notoriously reticent in this last generation, leading many gamers to be frustrated at their lack of progress. In the next-gen, however, with the flood-gates now open, gaming is much better poised for a more open landscape. It might not bring players back to the games we’ve already lost, but cross-play is still a massive step forward for gaming.