How many of you readers out there experienced the golden years of multiplayer couch gaming? Getting a bunch of friends around to hang out and play Halo, Goldeneye, or TimeSplitters – making jokes, designating the worst controller to the most annoying person, or the one who dominated everyone else regularly – we all had our own little sessions with often funny little rules and oh-so-many injokes. Starting at beginning of the 7th generation of consoles, however, the focus began to move away from split screen multiplayer and into an almost entirely online infrastructure.
While this was not without its advantages, it had a few downsides, the most relevant of which being that in these cases people would choose their own main device, with the different devices usually being incompatible. PC players would have to play against or with PC players, Xbox with Xbox, PlayStation with PlayStation. In the modern age, we are making a little progress back in the form of cross-platform games. Where did this start, what issues do we face, and what can we expect from these in the future?
Learning Early Lessons
One of the first major releases to support cross-platform play was the connection between the PC and Sega’s Dreamcast with Quake III Arena, in September 1999. While this was a revelation in terms of technology and what could be accomplished, it also showed a major inhibiting factor. As you might already have guessed, a controller was no match for the speed and accuracy which was afforded by a mouse and keyboard on the PC. This meant the competition was anything but fair, with a major hamper being put on further efforts. Over time, as controllers and aim assists became more advanced, this issue has massively decreased, though it still exists in a meaningful way for some genres.
The Case for the Future
In our current 8th generation of consoles, online infrastructure has advanced beyond anything the early consoles could manage. This development brought with it a much larger focus on cross-platform play than ever before. Not only has this become more common, the range of games supported has shifted to those better suited to a cross-platform experience. This is probably best seen with fighting games, as these games usually offer no real advantage based on the platform of choice. Cross-platform play has also proved extremely helpful in maintaining long-term interest by means of fostering an active community. Still, some companies like Sony refuse to play ball.
The reasons for this come down to the level of control which these companies desire. In the case of Nintendo, it often makes sense. Many of the major multiplayer Nintendo games are first party and/or exclusives – they don’t exist on any other system so cross-platform is unnecessary. PlayStation, however, has approached this with a much different attitude. In simple terms, this seems to be down to Sony’s ultimate unwillingness to lose any degree of control over their product. While they are, of course, well within their rights to do this, it has made a less than enthusiastic splash with players and has resulted in the company losing a lot of goodwill.
As more games push towards cross-platform games, many believe that the rewards for a cross-platform game will become too undeniable for the holdouts to ignore. While stubbornness might take a while, we would be happy to place a bet that the next generation of consoles will have a greater emphasis on cross-platform play. Whether this will ever become standard remains to be seen, but we know where players stand, and we hope for all the best.