“I just get stuck in who this is helping,” Xbox leader Phil Spencer told me.
“It doesn’t help the developer. The developer just wants more people to play their game. It doesn’t help the player. The players just want to play with their friends who also play games on console,” he said.
“So I just get stuck in who this is helping.”
Spencer was clearly frustrated. I’d asked about Microsoft’s ongoing ambitions to unify multiplayer gaming across competing game consoles, and it sounds like things have stalled with Sony’s PlayStation 4 — the number one competitor to Microsoft’s Xbox One, and the most popular game console in the world by tens of millions of units sold.
It all started with “Minecraft.”
The Microsoft-owned blockbuster is available on pretty much everything that plays games, from consoles to phones to handhelds.
Microsoft — maker of the Xbox One, and direct competitor to Sony’s PlayStation 4 and Nintendo’s Switch — publishes “Minecraft” on Sony and Nintendo (and Apple and Google) platforms in addition to its own Xbox consoles.
More importantly, even though Microsoft owns “Minecraft,” the game can be played across competing devices. “Minecraft” players on Xbox One can join up with players on iPhone, Nintendo Switch, Android, and PC/Mac — even if you’re playing in a virtual reality headset! But Xbox One can’t play with PlayStation 4, and vice versa.
That same situation now applies to “Fortnite,” which launched on Nintendo Switch this week. Xbox One players are able to play with iPhone/iPad, Nintendo Switch, PC, and Mac players — but not with PlayStation 4.
Worse: If you’re a PlayStation 4 “Fortnite” player, your “Fortnite” account is locked to the PlayStation 4 platform.
Any of the stuff you’ve unlocked, and the Battle Pass you paid for? None of that shows up on other platforms if you unlocked it on a PlayStation 4, despite the fact that the game uses an Epic Games account separate from your PlayStation Network ID.
It’s not clear if this is a problem on Sony’s or Epic’s end — both companies declined to comment when we asked. But given that using an Epic Games login for “Fortnite” on other consoles doesn’t lock your account to that console, this one seems like a Sony problem.
That isn’t the case for players on other platforms, and it’s the latest example of Sony’s PlayStation 4 taking a surprisingly exclusionary stance with multiplayer gaming.
When Microsoft announced the “Better Together” update to “Minecraft” — uniting “Minecraft” players across all platforms — it seemed for the first time ever that there was hope for competing game platforms finally playing nice together.
“Sony is a good partner, and they are working with us on this,” head of Microsoft Studios Matt Booty told Business Insider in an interview at the time.
In the perfect world scenario Microsoft was trying to create,”Call of Duty” players on PlayStation 4 could play with “Call of Duty” players on Xbox One, for example, — something that’s still not the norm even if it makes perfect sense. Why can’t “Call of Duty” players on any console play together? Not for any good reasons, basically: It’s because Sony and Microsoft are competitors with the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.
Unfortunately, nearly a year later and there’s been no movement on the plan to unify multiplayer gaming across the Xbox and PlayStation platforms, despite the number of parties that want it to happen. That’s what Xbox lead Phil Spencer told Business Insider in an interview last Sunday at the annual E3 video game trade show in Los Angeles.
“It’s impossible to answer this question without saying the name of a competitor. And as soon as I do that — I don’t want to throw stones at anybody,” Spencer said in a clear reference to Sony’s PlayStation 4.
Instead of directly speaking to Microsoft and Sony’s respective consoles, Spencer offered an example:
“Say you’re not into gaming, and it’s your kid’s birthday. You buy them a console. I buy my kid a console. We happen to buy consoles of different colors — you bought the blue one, I bought the green one. Now those kids want to play a game together and they can’t because their parents bought different consoles.
I don’t know who that helps.
It doesn’t help the developer. The developer just wants more people to play their game.
It doesn’t help the player. The players just want to play with their friends who also play games on console.
So, I just get stuck in who this is helping.”
When asked directly if there’s been any progress, Spencer is direct: “No, no,” he said.
Unfortunately, it looks like the tens of millions of people playing games like “Overwatch,” “Fortnite,” and “Minecraft” on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One will have to continue existing in parallel, disconnected universes — at least for now.