“I’m thinking about getting an Xbox One because it is media-centered and it combines both my gaming and entertainment loves. What system are you thinking about getting?” This was the conversation I can remember having with my friends back when the new consoles were announced. The only foreseeable result was that my friend group was about to be divided because if we all wanted to play with each other online, we were going to need to all be on the same system. The pipe dream of playing a game by the same publisher across multiple platforms was blockaded by an invisible force of what we assumed were technical limitations.
On Monday, Microsoft announced that they will be offering cross-platform play. The initial indication is that it will be bridging Xbox One and Windows 10 users, but other gaming systems will have the option of joining in. This move makes Microsoft look like they are the advocates of gaming evolution but don’t be fooled, Xbox and Windows are both Microsoft’s products. It essentially gives Microsoft two horses in the gaming race and I’m sure they will be looking to make full use of that leverage.
Regardless of Microsoft’s underlying profitable reasons to do this, let’s look at the good and the bad of what this change may do to our gaming experience.
The first good thing goes back to my opening quote. Console selection would have the opportunity to no longer alienate groups of friends because they prefer a specific console. Multiplayer games can now have fuller groups of the friends you love playing games with. Another positive possibility coming from this decision is that developers can build their games on a singular multiplayer protocol. I don’t think this is necessarily what will happen, but it certainly offers developers the option and can help reduce bugs or issues when developing across platforms. Lastly, it may no longer be necessary to buy multiple consoles, or even both console and PC versions of a game to play with different groups of people. From experience, having the option of playing Hearthstone on both PC and mobile has only increased my enjoyment of the product. This can be the result if all parties work together.
I know the good side sounds relatively utopian. It’s because if cross-platform play is done right it can be good, actually really good. However, there are always negatives and it wouldn’t be fair not to address those. The beauty of having a closed and locked down environment is the ability to limit the chances for cheaters to abuse the PC’s abilites to modify files or change textures which could give them an unfair advantage when playing against those on the harder to exploit console versions. If cheating doesn’t give you enough reason to dislike the inclusion of PC in cross-platform play, when it comes to first person shooters, the PC players would be difficult to beat. A controller just can’t stack up against the precision of a keyboard and mouse. The next Call of Duty may be a little bit tougher to support knowing some of your opponents can have some distinct advantages.
Considering both the good and the bad, I’m still quite excited for the prospect of cross-platform play. Personally, I have been struggling with my choice of purchasing of an Xbox One instead of a PS4, or buying Diablo 3 for the PC rather than the console. When you can’t play the same games with the same friends you have developed so many bonds with, an online world with millions of gamers can still be quite a lonely world. Here’s hoping Microsoft’s newfound openness to cross-platform play makes the gaming world a little more friendly.