Cross-platform gaming is the future. No matter how strong a game may be on one platform, if it doesn’t have the accessibility that cross-platform gaming provides, it is placing itself out of a huge slice of the market. Gamers want the flexibility of choosing a game, not choosing a platform to play it on and the being unable to interact with other platforms on the same game – and factors that influence choice is less tangible to measure. Whether it be cross-platform console gaming or online gaming that can flit easily between desktop, mobile, and tablet, cross-platform gaming should be the norm, and as the upcoming enhancements prove, the cross-platform revolution is just beginning.
Originally, cross-platform gaming referred mainly to which console you chose. Infuriatingly, two friends could have the same game, published by the same developer, yet be unable to play together live online because of the console. However, in 2016 Microsoft seemed to relax its steadfast rules and vowed to begin to live up to the capabilities that 21st Century gaming allows by implementing a cross-platform approach to the Xbox One. Microsoft’s early advances against its key rival Sony’s PlayStation helped drive gamers to the platform (experience managing a live platform compared to the PlayStation Network; online games like Halo; an early release of the Xbox 360), yet the tables turned and Sony found almost twice as many people had PlayStations than Xboxes by 2015.
While Microsoft claims not to be phased by their rival’s success, they are rolling out several new features that fulfil to the benefits of cross-platform play. Not only does this show they are listening to their users and the cry from the gaming community, but also that they know the cross-platform approach may help balance out the gulf with Sony. Sceptics would comment that, of course, Microsoft would be open to a cross-platform approach with Sony, considering how much better Sony could be said to be doing.
The Xbox’s ‘Play Anywhere’ function, which allows users to play both on Xbox One and Windows 10, provided they have the Play Anywhere title, seems to be making steps towards testing the viability of cross-platform. While the list of titles is varied and full of the big names in gaming (Gears of War, Fallout), there is one title missing from the Play Anywhere series – Minecraft. While there are no plans to include Minecraft in the Play Anywhere series, that doesn’t stop it from attempting to crack the cross-platform play approach itself.
No gaming conversation can be had without the mention of Minecraft, one of the most successful gaming phenomena, and thanks to a reveal from June 2017’s E3 Conference, now a purveyor of cross-platform play. The ‘Better Together’ beta program allows Android users and Windows 10 users to participate in the same Minecraft games – a coup for cross-platform play. With Minecraft opening the door for cross-platform play for a major gaming provider using two very different devices, it could be expected that other developers will follow for the cross-platform revolution.
Mobile and desktop gaming has always been an interesting one from a cross-platform point of view. With mobile developers having separate interfaces for development, and desktop gaming targeting a different breed of gamer, combining them seemed difficult. However, there is evidence of a cross-platform boom across the desktop/mobile divide. Back in 2013 developers admitted that the game was changing and they were beginning to implement multiple cross-platform tools to develop their games. And the cross-platform functionality is still a huge definer of success. For example, the world of iGaming has also been touched by cross-platform play – with online gaming site Casumo offering the benefits of the mobile functionality (fewer menus and submenus, cleaner look) with the perks of the desktop (the high-processing power of the games). The site states the cross-platform approach as one of the differential factors it provides, proving how important being cross-platform is in gaming today.
Although, there are critics of the cross-platform approach to gaming. Some argue that each mode of gameplay is different, and some things just work better on different platforms. An older example is The Sims – the PC games were rated extremely high, while the console equivalents flopped. And it’s not just ease of play that may put some off the cross-platform. A staple of Pokemon is the differences between the sister games that are released (Sun and Moon; X and Y etc.). Granted, these are compatible with one another – but each new generation of Nintendo handheld Pokemon gaming loses compatibility with older generations. Yet, this does nothing to dissuade gamers. Also, the healthy competition between Xbox and PlayStation may be lost should they ‘team up’ for cross-platform play. While there are no financial statistics on how the friendly rivalry helps sales figures, it could potentially be too risky.
However, some argue that games with lower player numbers can be saved with a cross-platform approach. The servers will be more likely to stay open if the player numbers from two platforms are combined, especially when numbers on a popular title begin to dwindle as the game ages. Gamers, on the whole, are calling out for cross-platform functionality, especially considering the lack of it comes across as archaic with all the technological advancements in gaming. It’s almost laughable how we can play in VR with people across the world, yet not with someone in the next street because they happen to have their title in a different machine. The cross-platform revolution is here, and depending on the success of the features, it could become the standard in gaming in the years to come.