In a move that would have seemed impossible just a few years ago, Nintendo has released a commercial featuring gamers playing on Xbox One, celebrating the fact that the new version of Minecraft allows for "cross-play" between different devices.
The Microsoft-owned game's "Better Together" update was revealed last year but just launched on Switch this week, with the commercial showing a pair of players exploring and building together online. One player (in red) is using Nintendo's Joy-Cons and another player (in green) is holding an Xbox One controller. Some have hailed the video as an historic moment in gaming, while others read it as a clear jab from two of the industry's biggest players to their third rival: PlayStation.
Despite a great showing at the E3 games expo last week, PlayStation has been making headlines for all the wrong reasons after some gamers found they were unable to use their Epic accounts — needed to play the massively popular game Fortnite — on Nintendo Switch if they'd previously used them on PlayStation 4.
Several games, including Fortnite, Minecraft, Rocket League and Paladins, allow players to meet up and play together across different consoles and other devices including phones and PC. This is especially useful in co-operative games like Fortnite and Minecraft, where groups of players with a mix of phones, Switches or an Xbox can play together in the same room or in different countries. But while Sony has in the past allowed PlayStation games to connect with PC and phone players, it has repeatedly refused to open access to cross-play with Microsoft or Nintendo systems.
The Fortnite issue is especially upsetting for some, as it not only prevents them from playing with friends on other systems but also means their progress can't carry across from PlayStation to other devices. Even if they remove PlayStation from their Epic account, it can't be used on Xbox or Switch and they must start again.
In a much-shared tweet, games media personality and noted PlayStation fan Greg Miller said Sony's strategy seems designed to keep people with PlayStation, but effectively does the opposite.
For its part Xbox has been embracing its connectivity with Nintendo Switch, with its most publicly visible executive — Larry "Major Nelson" Hryb — promoting the feature for both Fortnite and Minecraft.
At E3, Fairfax Media asked Sony Interactive Entertainment Europe’s chief operating officer, Simon Rutter, about the philosophy behind locking third party accounts to PlayStation, or blocking cross-play in general, but he declined to comment on the matter specifically.
Sony subsequently issued a statement to the BBC, which says in part: "With 79 million PS4s sold around the world and more than 80 million monthly active users on PlayStation Network, we’ve built a huge community of gamers who can play together on Fortnite and all online titles.
"We also offer Fortnite cross-play support with PC, Mac, iOS, and Android devices, expanding the opportunity for Fortnite fans on PS4 to play with even more gamers on other platforms."
Nintendo of America COO Reggie Fils-Aime made some pointed comments on the issue, as reported by IGN, without specifically referring to PlayStation.
"What competitors do is their decision to make. We believe being both developer-forward and fan-forward is in the best interest of the game," he said.
With Nintendo seemingly putting its money where its mouth is with the new trailer for Minecraft, which again can be played across all devices except when it comes to PlayStation players connecting with Xbox or Switch, the pressure on Sony to rethink its strategy only grows.
With millions more PlayStation 4 consoles sold than Xbox Ones — and with Switch arguably not a direct competitor to either machine — Sony is in a winning position and doesn't necessarily need to change its tune in order to win fans.
But its current position on PS4 cross-play and third party accounts is a bad look, especially for a system that became popular in the first place by openly rejecting Microsoft's (since reversed) anti-consumer platform restrictions.
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