Opinion: Xbox is making PlayStation appear villainous

Sony’s policies and attitude to rival platforms are holding PlayStation back, while Xbox is now embracing the entire gaming community.

There was a time when Microsoft was seen as being an unfriendly corporate giant, and for good reason. Xbox has always been Microsoft’s most approachable brand but it still felt less friendly than PlayStation, in particular to developers.

Sony has long put developers first and maintained a fantastic relationship with them which continues today. Similarly, the company has also invested heavily in the gaming community with talented first-party studios like Naughty Dog and Guerilla Games who have released some of this generation’s most noteworthy titles.

Microsoft’s relationship with developers has been rockier. ID@Xbox, the program for attracting indie games, was criticised for unfriendly policies such as the often mooted ‘parity clause’ which prevented a game from being released earlier than Xbox on another platform. When the Xbox One launched, it was slighted by gamers and developers for its focus on being an entertainment platform rather than a traditional gaming console and featuring a complicated system architecture, unfinished development tools, and strict DRM policy.

“If you look at the Microsoft announcement of the Xbox One, that was a train wreck if I’ve ever seen one,” Vlambeer’s Rami Ismail told VG247. “It was impressive. The amount of stuff they did wrong was just frankly amazing. I think that will be in handbooks for students for the next hundred years as one of the biggest disasters in management.”

This combination of factors led to PlayStation outselling the latest Xbox at an expected rate of 2:1 in some major markets. The lack of shipments created a vicious circle where first-party studios were having to close due to poor console sales, and the subsequent decreasing number of exclusives provided little incentive for gamers to buy an Xbox. Meanwhile, third-party studios preferred to develop for PlayStation because Sony had a larger user base and a more powerful console.

Fortunately for Xbox fans, the brand’s new head, Phil Spencer, became an almost messiah-like figure and put the ship back on course. Whereas his predecessor, Don Mattrick, was seen as being more of a corporate salesman, Spencer was a game developer himself and oozes passion for the entire gaming industry.

While it will take nothing short of a miracle for Xbox to now catch up to PlayStation’s console base, the company’s E3 showing displayed a strong roster of over 40 diverse titles – including over 20 exclusive – arriving over the course of the next year. Developers have been enticed by the announcement of the “world’s most powerful console” in the One X which offers more freedom to realise their visions in native 4K as opposed to the checkerboarding technique often found used for PS4 Pro titles. Sony will continue to crank out some gems from its first-party studios, but the majority of games are multiplatform, and the Xbox One X is going to be the best place to play those games.

But it’s not the Xbox One X’s power advantage which is a concern to PlayStation fans, but rather Sony becoming seen as the unfriendly corporate giant Microsoft once was. Last year, Microsoft committed to enabling cross-platform play between Xbox Live and any multiplayer network that would support it. This year, we’ve seen Minecraft updated with cross-play between Xbox, PC, tablets, smartphones, and even the Nintendo Switch… but PlayStation remains ominously missing. Reportedly, it’s something Microsoft “really wanted to do”, but Sony refused.

Speaking to Polygon on why Rocket League doesn't allow cross-play between Xbox and PlayStation, VP of publishing at Psyonix, Jeremy Dunham, said, “The honest answer is PlayStation has not yet granted us permission.”

Dunham describes cross-platform play as “the future of the industry” and hopes the “community and the media can actually help get around the idea of pushing it forward and doing what we can to make it a reality.”

Everything is ready to go with Sony’s permission. “It’s literally something we could do with a push of a button, metaphorically. In reality, it’s a web page with a checkbox on it. All we have to do is check that box and it would be up and running in less than an hour all over the world. That’s all we need to do.”

While gamers on all the other major platforms are happily joining up online, players on PlayStation are limited to playing with other PlayStation players and it would appear it’s only down to Sony’s corporate policies. The situation feels similar to game publisher Bethesda’s experience with mods on the major consoles. Whereas the Xbox team placed little restrictions on mods and the update to support them was released fairly quickly, the update for PlayStation was released much later and with significant limitations to the amount of, and capabilities, of the mods.

Sony is in danger of gaining itself a reputation with corporate policies which are beginning to limit what game developers can achieve and what gamers can experience on PlayStation. Xbox, however, is now fully embracing the entire gaming community and will soon deliver a console that leaves all others before it in the dust.

Update: Jim Ryan, PlayStation Global Sales, claims part of the reason for Sony's decision not to support cross-play is the company "cannot risk exposing its younger demographic to an external network that it has "no ability to manage or look after"

In an interview with GiantBomb, Xbox head Phil Spencer appeared to take some offense and had the following to say in response:

"I would love for players on all platforms to be able to stay connected. I will jump on another grenade on this one, but the fact that somebody would kind of make an assertion that somehow, we're not keeping Minecraft players safe, I found, not only from Microsoft's perspective, but from a gaming industry perspective, like I don't know why that has to become a dialog, like it doesn't seem healthy for anyone, and I feel that we can always do better with everything that we do. […] I just really found the whole discussion around safety with our games, that somehow, we wouldn't take that as a top priority, and frankly, through our parental controls on Xbox Live and everything else that we've done, has shown that it's incredibly important to us as a platform. […] We would never put Minecraft in a place where we felt that our players weren't safe."

Do you think Sony should relax some of their policies? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Related Post

Rojenx is a leading concept artist who work appears in games and publications

Check out his personal gallery here

In other news …