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Sony doesn't want you to play with your Xbox or Switch friends

As Xbox and Switch enter a new era of cross-platform gameplay, PlayStation seems intent on remaining an island.

Sean Hollister Senior Editor / Reviews
When his parents denied him a Super NES, he got mad. When they traded a prize Sega Genesis for a 2400 baud modem, he got even. Years of Internet shareware, eBay'd possessions and video game testing jobs after that, he joined Engadget. He helped found The Verge, and later served as Gizmodo's reviews editor. When he's not madly testing laptops, apps, virtual reality experiences, and whatever new gadget will supposedly change the world, he likes to kick back with some games, a good Nerf blaster, and a bottle of Tejava.
Sean Hollister
4 min read
Sarah Tew/CNET

It's an open secret: for well over a year, Sony has been the only roadblock to multiplayer games that work across Xbox and PlayStation. You could have been playing games like  Destiny , Overwatch , Titanfall or Grand Theft Auto without leaving any of your friends behind.

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Big multiplayer games like Destiny 2 usually aren't exclusive to a single game console -- yet there's still a wall between them.


Sure, playing games across different living room consoles has never been the norm. But things change -- and last July, zany explosive racing football game Rocket League made it crystal-clear that Sony's selfish business decision is the only thing standing in the way. 

"We're literally at the point where all we need is the go-ahead on the Sony side and we can, in less than a business day, turn it on and have it up and working no problem. It'd literally take a few hours to propagate throughout the whole world, so really we're just waiting on the permission to do so," Rocket League VP Jeremy Dunham told IGN.  

That permission never came. (And Sony didn't respond to CNET's request for comment on this story). 

But at E3 2017, the stakes have just been raised. Microsoft announced that Minecraft will soon support cross-platform multiplayer between every single platform, including VR headsets and the Nintendo Switch

Every single platform except PlayStation, of course.  

And when it launches on the Nintendo Switch this holiday season, Rocket League will also allow Switch, Xbox and PC players to all play together. Only PlayStation is left out.

Last year, Sony said it'd be happy to chat with developers about cross-platform play, but that seems to have been lip service.

And to be fair, why would it be? Every Xbox and Switch sold is potentially one fewer PlayStation. 

Plus, there's very little incentive now, when PlayStation is in the lead. On Monday, Sony announced it has now sold 60.4 million PlayStation 4 consoles -- almost double the number of Xbox Ones sold, according to the latest estimate from SuperData. (Microsoft no longer provides Xbox sales numbers.)

In the meantime, Sony is making excuses for the lack of cross-platform play on one hand -- even as it enables it on another.

Excuses -- and hypocrisy

It just so happens that one particular Sony executive -- PlayStation global sales and marketing head Jim Ryan -- took the bait this Tuesday. In an exchange with Eurogamer editor Wesley Yin-Poole, Ryan threw up a thin explanation for why Sony isn't playing ball: they're protecting the children, of course!

Eurogamer: Well, you must see that PlayStation owners are upset. They want to play with Switch owners, PC owners and Xbox One owners for these two big and important games, and they don't have an explanation for why. That's what I'm getting at, really.

Jim Ryan: Yeah. We've got to be mindful of our responsibility to our install base. Minecraft - the demographic playing that, you know as well as I do, it's all ages but it's also very young. We have a contract with the people who go online with us, that we look after them and they are within the PlayStation curated universe. Exposing what in many cases are children to external influences we have no ability to manage or look after, it's something we have to think about very carefully.

Eurogamer: It doesn't seem to be a problem for Nintendo , perhaps the most mindful video game company of the protection of children.

Jim Ryan: Yeah, that's true. Everybody has to take their own decisions. We'll do that. Like I say, we have no philosophical stance against cross-play at all.

I don't think that excuse holds water. Here's why.

Aside from the obvious Nintendo counter-example, there's Microsoft to consider. Is Sony saying Microsoft doesn't protect kids online? Xbox boss Phil Spencer took offense at that idea in an interview with Giant Bomb, one of our sister gaming sites.

"The fact that somebody would make an assertion that somehow we're not keeping Minecraft players safe ... I found, not only from a Microsoft perspective but an industry perspective, I don't know why that has to become the dialogue. That doesn't seem healthy for anyone," reads a GameSpot transcript of Spencer's comments. 

What's really infuriating, though, is Sony already has cross-platform games (including Rocket League, Street Fighter V, Final Fantasy XIVStar Trek: Bridge Crew, Eagle Flight, Werewolves Within, DC Universe Online and Portal 2) that allow PlayStation owners to play with friends on Windows PCs -- a platform where it's farharder to control any "external influences."

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Star Trek: Bridge Crew is one of three Ubisoft virtual-reality games that supports play across the PS4 and Windows PCs.


But let's imagine for a second that Sony is the ultimate defender of children's privacy, has bulletproof armor against the Windows PC... and yet somehow can't keep Microsoft and Nintendo from accidentally tainting our kids. Why not simply have developers disable any features that could potentially be abused, like voice chat and text chat? 

"We would do whatever we would need to do to make it possible to be cross-network play with all the other platforms and PlayStation 4. They just need to tell us what that is," Rocket League's Dunham told Polygon this week.

What you can do

Sony clearly isn't interested in enabling cross-platform play. But that's why it's more imperative than ever for the PS4 community to tell the company to get with the program. 

My advice: Tell your friends. Explain loudly -- but politely -- on social media just how gamer-unfriendly this decision is.

Remember when Microsoft said we wouldn't be able to trade used games or play games offline? Gamers were outraged, Sony ripped them a new one, and Microsoft was forced to backpedal

Let's hope Sony's stonewalling on cross-platform play suffers the same fate.

For more on E3 2017, check out complete coverage on CNET and GameSpot.    

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