One of the most significant developments in the history of gaming could very well be upon us. Picture this: Xbox owners and PlayStation owners playing online together across networks. The Berlin-esque wall separating the two communities could come crumbling down very soon.
First off, let’s not start with the potential wall-smashing, let’s start with how we even got anywhere near here. In mid-March, Microsoft announced support for Cross-Network Play, which would include PC and potentially PlayStation as well. As of right now, only Xbox and PC gamers are officially linked, but the invitation to Sony has been made. The first game to support Cross-Network Play between Xbox and PC is the usual suspect at this point; Rocket League. Believe me, when I reviewed it back in October I had no idea it would become this important to the gaming community. Sony already supports cross-play for the game between PS4 and PC on their end (they have for a while now), so at this point it would seem the next logical step would be connecting Xbox and PlayStation. However, there may be more to it than that.
Representatives from Sony have responded to the offer somewhat. The good news is that the technical aspect of connecting two closed networks is quite possibly the easiest part. The problems lie in the consideration of the deal from a business and policy standpoint. Basically, the main debate will take place over whether it is in the best interests of Sony to connect the two.
They do already have the more successful console of this generation. If Sony decides they have nothing to gain from a union with their long-time competitors, then we can say farewell to any dreams of Cross-Network Play.
To understand Sony’s thought process, you need to understand the history between the two sides. The competitive rivalry between the companies themselves has existed since the very beginning, all the way back to the first generation consoles. Sony struck first in 1995 with the PlayStation One and existed without much competition for years. They even released the PS2 before Microsoft even released the original Xbox. When Microsoft finally did step up to the plate, they were immediately a serious challenger. The original Xbox had better hardware and graphics, as well as the ability to coast on Microsoft’s well-known brand name.
The rivalry only grew with time, reaching a pivotal point in the early 2000’s, when online play was first introduced. Lines truly were drawn at this moment, where gamers firmly took sides with either Xbox or PlayStation.
Things only worsened with the growth of the internet and online forums. Through these means, fans from both camps could directly attack each other. It’s almost undisputable that the rivalry and the hatred between the fans is far more intense and heated than between the companies themselves. This console war has existed for over a decade, and shows no signs of stopping any time soon, unless, perhaps, Microsoft and Sony can reach an agreement.
In continuing that particular train of thought, let’s discuss both the potential upside and the potential downside to a Cross-Network Play deal between Microsoft and Sony. On the positive side of things, cross-play between the two consoles could very well (this may come across rather dramatic, but I happen to believe it isn’t) end the war between the fan bases which has raged for far too long and has nothing but a negative impact on the gaming community. Consider this notion for a minute.
Theoretically, if both fan bases were finally allowed to play together, if they were finally brought together into the same space (not physically, but you get it), would there not be a very high probability that they could come to an understanding? Numerous studies have shown that playing video games together with someone builds a strong relationship. Applied here, it wouldn’t be a huge leap in logic at all to believe this could end the rivalry. If gamers from both sides were able to interact, they could potentially see that there is more common ground between them than they would think.
Now let’s take a trip over to the land of pessimism and consider the negative. A Cross-Network Play deal between the two giants could actually have the exact opposite effect of what we talked about over in the optimistic land of sunshine and rainbows. If the long-separated fan bases of Xbox and PlayStation were finally brought together, it could serve to only deepen each side’s hatred for the other. The connection could quite conceivably only enable those from each camp to more directly attack one another, both through in-game actions and verbal assaults over their microphones.
Imagine, say, a Minecraft server in which players couldn’t care less for the intended purpose of the game and instead decide to relentlessly attack those from the other console. A server in which Xbox players run around mercilessly killing all PlayStation players and vice versa. The only effect cross-play would have is translating the console war from one restricted to online forums and social media to one in-game where players can more easily attack each other. Ultimately, it would only make things worse between the fan bases and drive them even further apart (if that’s even possible).
Personally, I’d prefer to look on the bright side of life (thanks, Monty Python) and believe in the positive outcome. Maybe the console war won’t dissolve entirely, but I believe that at the very least it would lessen the vehement hostility between the communities. And that essentially brings us back to the discussion over Sony’s potential decision. Let’s put this in the most basic terms we can. An extremely toxic console war has existed for over a decade between the fan bases of Xbox and PlayStation. This war results in nothing but a negative impact on the gaming community as a whole. This Cross-Network Play deal could conceivably end the hostility, or at the very least diminish it. So, in these terms, would Sony not accept the deal? What other reasoning could outweigh this? I’d like to think that both Microsoft and Sony don’t entirely enjoy their fan bases attacking each other. I’d hope they don’t particularly like the war between their respective communities. When given the opportunity to make the war come to a conclusion, would they not take it?
As one who knows the gaming community and has experienced the ruthless aggression from both sides, I would nearly jump for joy if it finally ceased. The animosity adds nothing good to the community, and only serves to make gamers as a whole look bad. Perhaps if we all quit it with the in-fighting, we could possibly gain some sort of respect. All the console war does is perpetuate the stereotype that video games spark violent behavior in the people who play them. This Cross-Network Play deal could quite possibly be the first step in the right direction, and we can only hope that Sony realizes it.