While Microsoft has been working on making Xbox One and PC games cross-play compatible, and Nintendo has been joining in on the party with cross-play versions of Fortnite and Minecraft, Sony has consistently refused to join in. Most recently, Fortnite players complained about being locked out of using their accounts on the Nintendo Switch after having linked the game to a PlayStation console. According to one analyst, however, staying exclusive may be the move that’s best for Sony in the long run.
Karol Severin, lead analyst for games at MIDiA Research, claims that a walled garden approach is the best for Sony, from a business point of view, even though it may not be the most consumer-friendly policy. According to Severin we’ve reached the point in this console generation where sales of hardware have tapered off, and Sony’s best choice is to hang on to existing users, “protecting” its lead. Sony also has less to gain from opening up to more cross-play than Microsoft or Nintendo, since it already holds the lead in having the most popular console.
“[Sony] knows that growth of the non-hardware part of its gaming base is moving towards monetizing engagement of existing users, rather than expecting significant increases of new users,” Severin wrote for MCV. “The more important engagement becomes in gaming monetization, the more of an upper hand will PlayStation have over its rivals by having the largest active user base. Therefore, it needs to protect its user base lead at any cost.”
Conversely, Xbox has more to gain from cross-play, filling lobbies that might otherwise be empty—and it gives Xbox the moral high ground, so to speak, in promoting cross-play policies that single Sony out as the uncooperative one.
However, Severin points out that many gamers may not actually want cross-play as much as they think they do.
“Gaming network friendships are often formed between people who don’t know each other in real life,” Severin writes. “Gamers happen to be in the same gaming session, help each other out, and subsequently send a friend request. The more online-multiplayer-centric gaming becomes, the more players will need ‘friends’ in their network to enjoy the experience fully.
“Real-life friend networks are not large enough to ensure that there will be real-life friends available whenever a gamer wants to engage in a session and needs help. So even though ‘playing with real friends’ would be nice, players would likely still need their ‘random friend connections’ to truly play at their own convenience.”
If players suddenly swap consoles, moving from PlayStation to Xbox, for example, they lose that network—another reason that Severin notes may keep players staying on their system of choice.
So far, Sony seems to be sticking to its walled garden approach for the immediate future. Past reports have indicated that we won’t see a new console, a potential PlayStation 5, until at least 2020, so Sony may continue to remain in its own isolated ecosystem for at least the next few years.