There’s a glaring flaw with modern video games that’s staring us
all in the face — something that we accept as normal only because
it’s always been that way: not being unable to play online games
with friends across platforms.
For example: Every year, a new “Call of Duty” game comes out, and
every year, millions of people buy that game. Many of those
customers buy the game solely to play it online, but those people
are siloed off in their own consoles for online multiplayer. Your
Aunt bought “Call of Duty” on Xbox, but you got it on
PlayStation? Too bad, friend!
It’s the same game, yet you can’t play together.
It’s not technically impossible, of course, though there
are some logistical issues getting in the way. Chat, for
If you’re playing a game on Xbox One, you can’t chat with players
on PlayStation 4, nor can you team up with players on PlayStation
4. So, even if you got both Sony and Microsoft to sign off on the
idea, implementing it would mean an imperfect compromise that
game developers don’t want to allow. “If we were to suddenly say,
‘Oh yeah, you can play cross-platform. But you can’t group up
with or talk to any of your friends.’ I think more of our players
would be like, ‘This is broken, it doesn’t feel right,'” said
“Overwatch” game director Jeff Kaplan of Blizzard Entertainment
interview earlier this year.
Stuff like that can be fixed, and would make a huge
difference for literally millions of game players.
“It requires real deep work,” Microsoft’s head of Xbox Phil
Spencer told me in an interview this week during the annual E3
video game trade show. Spencer and the Xbox team revealed this
week that “Minecraft” — one of the most popular games in the
world — is
becoming cross-platform. If you’re playing it on any
platform, from iPhone to Nintendo Switch to Xbox One to the
Oculus Rift VR headset, you’re playing with everyone else who’s
Every platform, that is, except for the PlayStation 4.
The “deep work” Spencer is referring to is short-hand for “work
between competitors.” Sony’s PlayStation group and Microsoft’s
Xbox group would have to work together to make games that are
available on both platforms work together.
Maybe they would create a new piece of software that enabled a
core set of functions between both platforms, 0r maybe they’d
adapt one of their own services to function on both. It’s not
clear how the issue would be solved, but that doesn’t matter
anyhow: Talks between the two companies are at an impasse.
When it comes to games like “Minecraft,” played by millions of
teenagers and children, there’s another important consideration
to make: parental controls. Here’s Spencer explaining in more
“If I go and I set parental controls on Xbox, and I say my
daughter can only play with people who I’ve approved to be on her
friends list. I don’t want her to see any user-generated content
[content created by other human players, potentially lewd].
As a parent, I want to make those decisions — you need to know
that that doesn’t go away when she starts interacting with
somebody who might be on a different platform. So that kind of
interaction requires a collaboration between the platforms so
that — even forgetting about messaging and voice chat and all of
that — I think there’s just kind of a base level of security that
we want to be able to support.”
In the case of “Minecraft,” Microsoft worked with each
platform-holder individually to make sure that was handled. But
things didn’t work out with Sony.
“Yeah, you should probably ask them,” Spencer said when I put
that question to him. He quickly added, “I don’t mean that to be
snippy. We’ve shown our intent on what we want to go do. And I’d
love for ‘Minecraft’ players to get to play ‘Minecraft.'”
For Sony’s part,
Eurogamer spoke with PlayStation global sales and marketing head
Jim Ryan. His answer also focuses on parental controls and
“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.”
Also of note in his response: “PlayStation curated universe.” In
the case of “Minecraft” — on all platforms — a login to Xbox Live
is required. Xbox Live is Microsoft’s online service, which
includes an online storefront and an optional paid membership.
Using Xbox Live does guarantee a uniformity of experience across
platforms (in terms of services like chat and parental controls),
but it also hooks more people into Microsoft’s online service.
And Sony would rather people keep using its service,
PlayStation Network, instead of Xbox Live. Even without making
the financial argument, Sony has a justifiable interest in
maintaining a level of control over games played on its
In the case of “Minecraft,” the situation is unfortunate at
worst. But the bigger picture of this is galling: being unable to
play the same game across platforms because of an inability of
competing companies to work together for the good of their
consumers. It’s the kind of thing that makes less and less sense
as more games become platforms unto themselves, playable on
“Minecraft” is almost there. Here’s hoping Microsoft and
Sony can work something out.