Since the rise in popularity and accessibility of online gaming and game modes, the multiplayer experience and the large absence of cross-platform play have become massive determining factors in the average gamer’s decision to invest in a particular platform or video game title.
People will choose to buy a particular platform or game on a variety of factors that all contribute to the overall online experience.
These factors could basically be surmised as:
1. The number of a person’s friends that own a particular platform.
2. The total number of people that own the particular platform.
3. The nature of the online experience (e.g. Are system servers always down, how difficult is it to navigate the multiplayer/networking capabilities of the system, etc.)
4. Video game title or DLC platform exclusivity.
Probably the biggest reason that people tend to buy the same platform that their friends own is that people are then able to lend games to one another, meaning that you don’t really have to buy every single game that is released. However, in terms of the multiplayer perspective, buying the same platform as your friends is basically a guarantee that you will have someone to share your multiplayer experience with.
The total number of people that own a platform affects a person’s decision in the fact that if you’re an online gamer, you need a community to play with or get involved with. It won’t matter if you and all of your friends own a particular platform, but hardly anyone else does because then it is going to be difficult to find or set up matches.
The nature of a platform’s online experience is very important if you’re primarily an online gamer. If a particular platform makes it a pain to set up or play multiplayer game modes or the servers are always down, you’ll be less likely to gravitate towards it.
Finally, we all know that particular video games have the ability to make people invest in a particular platform. At the beginning of the current generation much was made about Activision deciding to strike a deal with Sony that would give PlayStation users time-limited exclusivity to the Call of Duty DLCs (an aspect that had previously been a selling point of the Xbox 360). If a specific game has a large community of players that is strongly invested in a title, the publisher’s decision to sign exclusivity and even time-exclusivity deals has the ability to decide which platform a gamer will buy.
I wouldn’t say that I’m a huge multiplayer gamer, but I do enjoy playing online games or game modes from time to time. In the previous generation of consoles, I started with a PlayStation 3 whilst all my friends owned a 360. This was not really a problem until I wanted to play the odd multiplayer title with my friends. This eventually led me to invest in an Xbox 360, after which I did notice a stark difference between online play on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 and did gravitate towards playing online titles on Xbox because it was seemingly easier to create parties and navigate the online functions. (Admittedly, none of this really affected my decision when deciding whether to get the PS4 and Xbox One first.)
It does seem, however, that this is all potentially about to change in the near future.
Earlier this year, Microsoft announced that the Xbox One would soon be able to support cross-play between Windows 10 and any other ‘online multiplayer networks’ (i.e. PlayStation Network) if the owners of said network accepted the idea of cross-play.
It was largely implied that the ball was in Sony’s caught to allow cross-play between platforms. Sony replied to these statements by indicating that cross-platform play between PC and PlayStation was already possible for many titles.
Fairly recently, Sony being the inhibiting factor towards introducing cross-platform play was again put forward when CD Project Red announced their desire to make their upcoming Gwent (a card game from The Witcher 3) standalone title (Gwent: The Witcher Card Game) cross-platform compatible, but told IGN that they still required the green-light from Sony.
CD Project Red is not the only developer that has expressed an interest in making use of cross-platform functions. Psychonix, the developer of Rocket League, also indicated their desire to make the game [Rocket League] cross-platform compatible and telling media outlets that they too were waiting on a green-light from Sony.
It is easy to understand why Sony would be somewhat apprehensive to allowing cross-platform play at this moment.
According to tech analysts, the PS4 has been performing ridiculously well with over 40 million consoles already sold; a number that is more than double that of the Xbox One figure and a number that Sony would like to continue to better.
Sony does face a risk of sales numbers dropping if cross-platform gaming comes in to effect for the reasons stated above regarding people buying a particular platform because either their friends own it or the online community is significantly larger on that platform. This is obviously something they will want to avoid, but I do not believe that they will be able to do so forever.
Many people may mention that a strong set of exclusive titles also aid a console’s sale numbers, however, one must look at the demographics of gamers. Although there have been exclusive titles that have the ability to sell consoles (the Halo series being a very good example of this), nobody can really argue that it is the multi-platform titles, such as Call of Duty, FIFA and GTA, that most gamers (casual to serious) own and probably moves the most consoles.
All companies at the end of the day have to adapt to particular trends in the market. If Sony continues to persist with a reluctance to adopt cross-platform online gaming it may also deter customers in future from purchasing their products. Indeed, there are many titles that available on PlayStation that makes use of cross-platform functions to allow users to play with PC gamers, but it is cross-platform play with other console users (Xbox) that people seem to be calling for. It is for these reasons that I believe that it will only be a matter of time before all gamers (or most gamers) are all able to play against one another regardless of platform.
But, will this bring an end to the console war?
No, the console war will only cease to exist when consoles cease to exist.
The very reason that the console war exists is that there are consumers out there who insist on validating their purchase choice in a very loud and abrasive manner. The PS4 is a great machine and the Xbox One is a great machine. They both have their positives and negatives and different consumers prefer one to the other for different reasons.
Sadly, even if we’re all able to play online together, there will still be people out there saying one console is better than the other. If anything, cross-platform gaming will probably introduce a whole range of new complaints and insults.
Even if cross-platform play doesn’t end the console war, it is still something that will be most welcome. Although it doesn’t seem as if it is something that will be released this year (much like the next book in A Song of Fire and Ice), it is something that we can look forward to in the near future. Till then I guess we’ll all just have to make use of the current communities available to us – which were not bad to begin with.