Recently a small game by the name of Rocket League has been setting the internet ablaze. It’s large, ravenous fan base and surprising popularity aside, Rocket League has recently set fire to the internet with word that it has developed a way to create cross platform multiplayer. After word came from creative director Jeremy Dunham that he thought it was possible for Xbox One and PS4 players to play together, Microsoft openly supported the idea. Fast forward a couple of weeks from Microsoft eating the easy PR cake, and Jeremy Dunham of Rocket League has now said they are ready to launch cross platform play, they are just waiting on the approval from Sony.
While console players anxiously await this cross platform future, it’s hard not to be excited about the possibilities. Rocket League is a relatively small team of employees, and their ability to make cross platform play indicates that games of much larger size should be able to find similar success. If Microsoft and Sony can come together, it may no longer matter which console you purchase third party games on.
Currently, one of the biggest factors that affects a gamers decision in which console to purchase is where their friends play. While first party exclusive titles (such as Uncharted or Halo), and exclusive console features (such as Spotify or EA Access), will remain constant factors in the decision of which console to purchase, cross platform multiplayer eliminates the need to buy a console because your friends bought that console. No longer will a gamer have to go back and forth from whichever company has the current most popular gaming hardware (from PS2 to Xbox 360 back to PS4), they can instead stick with the console hardware and software that appeals most to them.
This also eliminates the dilemma of deciding where to buy your third party games. You won’t be forced to purchase games like Destiny, The Division, or Overwatch on the PS4, just because that’s where everyone else is buying it. If you prefer the ecosystem, controller, or achievement/trophy system of one platform over the other, you can stay dedicated to that system and still play with your friends. While this news has great impact for these massive titles, and has an overarching influence on console and game purchases for the rest of the generation, the biggest winners of this potential cross platform multiplayer will be the smallest titles.
If we look at a game like Battleborn, that was met to middling sales success and then has bled daily players since the release of Overwatch, we can create a more viable ecosystem for its user base. Battleborn didn’t start on the right foot, being the consensual “downgrade” when launching against a similar “hero shooter”. Couple the poor initial sales and poor critical reception to a player base that has bled users since its first week (because there were other, better games to play, i.e. Overwatch, Uncharted 4, Doom) and we come to a small collective of passionate fans, trying to make the most of their purchase, with not enough players to make the ecosystem viable.
While, when taking into account inflation, games are technically the cheapest they have ever been, $60 is still a large investment for many gamers out there. When you live, breathe and love a medium that is that expensive (barrier to entry being at least $250, not including a TV or internet bill), you have to make very deliberate and critical decisions on which games you purchase. For some they can only afford a handful of games a year, and aren’t able to go week to week buying and enjoying the plethora of new releases. For them, when they finally purchase that game, they want to get as much value and time from that game as possible.
Bringing this back to Battleborn, a couple weeks after launch we have this small collective of passionate fans trying to keep an ecosystem afloat, and for some they don’t have the disposable income to move onto another game. Their only option is to keep playing Battleborn, making the most of their decision, and trying to suck as much value as they can from this AAA game. Similarly we can look at Evolve, a game that generated large amounts of preview buzz but saw its user base dwindle weeks after launch. These games fundamentally aren’t playable without other users online. After having Evolve for a month, it would take 10-15 minutes for me to pair with other players.
These online focused multiplayer games aren’t small in scope, they are AAA titles published by established studios with large financial investment, but they quickly became small in user base. Trying to enter matches with other players became a challenge soon after launch for both games. As Evolve continued to release new content (monsters and hunters), it was only truly feasible for me to play during one of their “free weekends” when the game was available at a base level to anyone. These weekends would boost player numbers for a short period of time, but trying to play the game regularly outside of these times, I found myself constantly in a loading screen like I had just died in Bloodborne.
By merging the multiplayer ecosystems of the two consoles, this immediately almost doubles the potential players and size of the online ecosystem for these games. This cross platform multiplayer will help make these smaller AAA titles more viable, weeks after launch; although the player numbers will still decrease as time goes on, the dedicated fans and active users will have more opportunity to find other gamers to play with.
These positive effects will be seen across all games that have a small user base. Any multiplayer game, whether indie or AAA, that has a small active user base but relies on multiplayer gameplay, will find a boost to their numbers. This boost in player base will only make things better for the consumers; the gamer will be able to find other players easier, play their games longer before the community moves on, and take more value from their games as a result. Games like Evolve and Battleborn will still lose a large quantity of users, gamers aren’t going to not move on to other games, but the consumers that keep playing will be able to do so longer.
Cross platform multiplayer really only brings positive change to our industry. No longer would a consumer have to purchase a console because that is the one their friends bought. When a gamer goes in to get a new title, they would be able to do so on the console of their choice, no longer having to buy Destiny on Xbox because everyone else is playing there. And finally, the biggest effect will be seen in the online users available for these smaller titles.
Call of Duty already does massive numbers, and increasing their user pool would produce no dramatic change in their online play. Smaller indie or AAA titles would experience a dramatic effect. These smaller games will be more viable to purchase because they will have longer legs and give more value to the consumer. Gamers will be able to find other players to match and play with effectively for longer durations after the initial launch of the game. This increase in possible value makes these games more worthy of a purchase, and increases the overall quality and experience the game provides. Although there are a lot of positive effects from this potential industry change, the largest possible impact comes from the potential value that these middle tier games can gain from having their online user bases expanded due to cross platform multiplayer.