A few days ago, Microsoft opened to the possibility of cross-network gameplay between Xbox Live and other consoles and PC networks, extending an open invitation to other manufacturers to jump on the bandwagon. Of course, this immediately prompted many to expect a quick response from Sony Computer Entertainment on that possibility.
GameSpot first, and Eurogamer later inquired with Sony, seeking such an answer. In the latter case, SCE Worldwide Studios Shuhei Yoshida was asked directly. The answers provided were vague and indirect, and were saw by some as Sony being iffy on the whole idea.
Personally, I have championed the possibility a long time ago, so I’m eager to hear something concrete from Sony like anyone else, but looking at it with the necessary filter of realism, I’m surprised that some expected an actual answer just two or three days after the invitation was made.
It’s important to realize that this isn’t Phil Spencer asking Shuhei Yoshida out for dinner. While cross-network gameplay between Xbox Live and PSN is doubtlessly feasible from the technical point of view, a discussion needs to happen, not only between Sony and Microsoft, but also within Sony itself.
Shuhei Yoshida is a high ranked executive within the company, but he does not manage the network, and even if he did, he cannot take the responsibility to make any promises on this on his own initiative.
Microsoft’s invitation will have to be discussed by Sony not only at the top executive level, but also at the engineering level, and this will take weeks, or possibly months. This is why I fully expected to hear vague answers from the house of PlayStation. As a matter of fact, I was more surprised to see people seeing it as something strange or suspicious, and building up narratives on Sony’s possible refusal, only a couple of days after the invitation was extended.
It appears absolutely obvious to me that Yoshida-san, or anyone else within the company, didn’t have the time to consult with his peers and superiors on the issue, so the tentative answer he gave was simply the only one he was able to provide at that stage.
Expecting anything different at this point of time pretty much equates to imagining Yoshida-san taking part to an emergency meeting among Sony’s top executives while he was traveling to San Francisco for GDC, which quite obviously doesn’t make sense. While the issue is certainly relevant, Sony definitely doesn’t need to hurry a response, especially when we don’t even know if and when publishers or developers will actually ask them to follow through.
Will they respond in some form? Most probably. Will they do it soon? Most probably not.
A response could come directly, or via a third party publisher, either with the announcement of the first cross-network game, or with the mention that Sony decided to decline the possibility (and developers do talk. Remember when Gaijin Games quite vehemently outed Microsoft’s refusal to allow cross-network interaction?), but it’ll take a while for us to hear something one way or another.
Personally, I’m fairly confident that it will happen at some point down the line. Gaming is becoming more and more global, and artificial borders are starting to make less and less sense. A larger player pool means more longevity for online communities, and that’s pretty much a positive for everyone involved: Microsoft, Sony, third party publishers and developers, and ultimately gamers.
Besides, with how much Sony waved around their open approach to cross-platform gameplay with PC, I’m positive that they are aware that outright refusing Microsoft’s invitation would not be beneficial for their image. Positioning themselves as “good guy Sony” ever since the issue of pre-owned and borrowed games flared up, served them very well during this generation. I doubt that they would be willing to risk that perception to change.
Incidentally, one element that could cause a “truce” among the two companies to hit a snag could be a caveat in Microsoft’s announcement:
“Xbox Live players will always have the option of choosing to play only with other Xbox Live players.”
That could potentially close quite a few doors: for instance, I don’t see Square Enix porting Final Fantasy XIV to Xbox One if that would require them to figure out a system to isolate on demand Xbox Live players from the rest of the community. I don’t even see how that would be feasible within a MMORPG environment.
We’ll have to see if Microsoft will be willing to bend on that point, possibly case-by-case. They have already changed their policies rather radically over time, and have shown a very relevant ability to adapt, so I don’t see that as impossible, or even improbable.
That said, future will tell, but any response from Sony will indeed come in the future. Executives and engineers will discuss, tentative contacts will probably be made, and publishers and developers will have to be consulted. It’ll almost certainly take quite a while.