This week has been quite an unusual one for gamers, and Sony’s just made it weirder. Coming out of nowhere is an announcement by Sony Interactive Entertainment president and global CEO John Kodera, who penned a blog post on the Playstation website laying out the future for multi-platform gaming with other consoles and the PlayStation 4 family. The first game this change will affect is Fortnite, which could be running on fridges next year if we’re lucky. Sony will, for the first time, release restrictions on player accounts being tied to their ecosystem, allow users to transfer their accounts to and from their PlayStation Network accounts as desired, and play with gamers on other platforms, including Xbox One.
Kodera notes in his blog post that Sony has “strived to deliver the best gaming experience to our fans by providing a uniquely PlayStation perspective” for 24 years. For Sony, that has meant exclusivity to their platform. In recent years, this has been evident by how the company tied accounts and player progression from various platforms to the PlayStation Network account held by the player. Movie purchases, music tracks, one-off in-game items, everything resided in the silo that Sony created for their players, and it’s one of the reasons why the platform is so attractive – it’s vendor lock-in to an extreme degree.
There have been exceptions to this in some games, mostly with third-party studios. Rockstar Games allowed PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 owners of Grand Theft Auto 5 to move their online profile and progression to another platform, where it would be “linked”, but cloned to that account. I moved my character at level 45 to my Steam profile when I was using GTA5 for graphics card benchmarking, and that character has not progressed at all, whilst my profile on my PSN account is somewhere at level 130. This is the approach Sony used for Fortnite in the past – players were able to sign in and bring over their profiles from other platforms, but from that point on the cloned characters on that account were considered separate. Any progression or unique items earned could not be taken to another console or platform.
This lacking integration is what drove millions of Fortnite fans on PS4 to take Sony to task for not playing nice with other platforms. Sony, via Kodera’s blog post, announced that the first step to fixing this was starting an open beta program for Fortnite PS4 players to test their ability to use their accounts and characters on other platforms, as well as play online with players on other devices. This is just a beta for now, and may be rescinded at any point if there’s an issue identified, but it’s an important first step for Sony to play nice with others.
Crucially, in the blog post which you can read below, Sony very carefully chooses its words when making the announcement. “SIE has identified a path toward supporting cross-platform features for select third party content,” and “we will update the community once we have more details to share… and what this means for other titles going forward” both hint at the company’s eagerness to at least explore the option of supporting cross-platform gameplay between themselves and others like Nintendo, Xbox, and the PC platform. This siloing of players into set camps benefits Sony to a large degree, but it also means that friends in groups often have to make choices about what consoles they’re going to buy if they want to continue playing with each other. I hope this is the end of that.
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.
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. In recognition of this, we have completed a thorough analysis of the business mechanics required to ensure that the PlayStation experience for our users remains intact today, and in the future, as we look to open up the platform.
This represents a major policy change for SIE, and we are now in the planning process across the organization to support this change. We will update the community once we have more details to share, including more specifics regarding the beta timeframe, and what this means for other titles going forward.