Today, Microsoft announced that they are finally allowing Xbox to PC cross-play and are open to the idea of allowing Xbox One players to play against gamers from “other consoles” – but while the American software giants are being hailed as forward thinking hero’s, they’re actually the reason why cross-platform play isn’t already a reality.

Cross-Platform multiplayer might *actually* happen. I have to pinch myself every time I think about it. The dream of playing against a friend on-line, regardless of which gaming platform they choose, is finally within our grasp – only it could have been a reality years ago if it wasn’t for one staunch detractor of the entire idea. Microsoft.

Microsoft Cross-platform

Cross-Platform play is not a new idea. In fact, its a system that was used on some games stretching as far back as PlayStation 2. An early example is Phantasy Star 2 which allowed console gamers to play with PC players – except if you played the game on Xbox 360. While PS2 and PC gamers were able to play the game side-by-side, Xbox gamers had their own servers. While no reasons were ever given as to why Microsoft’s machine would be separated from the other systems, the rumour mill suggested that full cross-platform play was blocked by Microsoft as the firm didn’t want to draw comparisons with other platforms that didn’t charge for online play. A fair assumption to make given that both PlayStation 2 and PC gamers could play the game online for free*.

“Criterion had a version of Burnout: Paradise that enabled cross-platform play between Xbox 360 and PS3 players and they had to add code to actually STOP it happening because Microsoft said “No”

This discrepancy happened time and time again during the 7th console generation. Portal 2 allowed PC and PS3 gamers to play alongside one another but not with Xbox 360 owners. Even though Defiance developers Trion had managed to get the shooter-MMO running side-by-side on Xbox 360 and PS3, the idea of cross-platform play was shot down by Microsoft. “Microsoft won’t let Sony players play against them,” said Trion’s Alex Rodberg. Criterion had a version of Burnout: Paradise that enabled cross-platform play between Xbox 360 and PS3 players and they had to add code to actually STOP it happening because Microsoft said “No”.

Burnout cross-platform

The same trend leaked into the start of the 8th console generation. Rocket League launched with near-flawless PS4 and PC cross-play and that ability is only now being allowed to reach the Xbox One version of the game. Upon release, developers Psyonix said “The Xbox platform doesn’t allow for cross-play matchmaking between other systems as a general practice across all titles,”. According to developer Naoki Yoshida, Final Fantasy XIV: ARR (which has cross-platform play between PC, PS3 and PS4) has not arrived on the Xbox One because Microsoft wanted a separate server base for their players. DC Universe Online now supports PC, PS3 and PS4 cross-platform play – but not with Xbox One. Gaijin Entertainment’s CEO Anton Yudintsev explained that War Thunder won’t release on Xbox One because “Microsoft is not allowing cross-play completely; which means it cannot be on Xbox One”. Even future titles are being effected, with Smite developers Hirez Studios confirming via a Reddit AMA that the MOBA’s characters will be able to transfer from PC to PS4 and vice versa, but won’t be able to transfer from Xbox One to PC or PS4.

logo-smite-impressions1

Back to the point. Today, Microsoft announced that they were finally entertaining the idea of cross-platform play with PC and “Other Consoles” and many media outlets are hailing them as a white knight, riding in on a horse to save gaming with the novel idea of cross-platform play.

In an unprecedented move, Microsoft announced Monday that its opening up its network gaming capabilities, allowing developers to make their Xbox One and Windows 10 games support cross-platform play with other “online multiplayer networks.”

Fortunately, the push towards cross-platform play doesn’t begin and end with the Xbox One and PC. It appears as though Microsoft is inviting every console to get in on the action, at least according to the Director of ID@Xbox Chris Charla in an Xbox News Post.

Microsoft has announced it will natively support cross-platform play between Xbox One, Windows 10, and other “online multiplayer networks.” The move effectively opens the Xbox Live platform so that it can accommodate players on Sony’s PlayStation Network, among others.

What the majority of these outlets fail to mention is that for years now, Microsoft were the only company preventing cross-platform play. PlayStation to PC cross-platform gaming has been a reality for years. Hell, even Nintendo and Sony have allowed PS3, PS4, Wii U, Android, iOS and 3DS cross-platform play in the past. Speaking to a developer (who requested to remain anonymous) about today’s announcement, they said “To my knowledge, Sony don’t have a policy on [cross-platform play]. We broached the subject a few years back and they were open to it. They just wanted to know what our middleware solution was“. But Microsoft? They’ve blocked the possibilities of cross-platform play at almost every turn, only allowing it when it served them. Instead of the White Knight, Microsoft are the villain that suddenly grew a conscience, searching for redemption of their past crimes.

In reality, every other stakeholder in this – Steam, Sony, Nintendo, Google, Apple, developers, publishers and gamers – have already had chips in the pot (please forgive my Poker analogies) but it’s only now, when Microsoft are quickly losing market share and desperately need a PR “win”, do they turn up to play the game.

Let’s be fair to Microsoft, they are certainly turning over a new leaf and they should be praised for finally shedding some of their archaic policies but let’s not pretend that they suddenly revolutionised gaming. Let’s call this how it is – Microsoft just stepped up to the plate and are finally on par with their competitors.

Let’s hope that with the American firm finally at the table, cross-platform play can become a long overdue reality.

*PS2 users did have to buy that awful online component-thingy for the PS2, so not necessarily free.