Recently, Microsoft made one of the most significant announcements in the history of the video game industry. The company announced that they would open up their online service, Xbox Live, so that it could be used to connect with PC gamers and with users of Sony’s Playstation 4. This hasn’t gotten nearly the amount of attention that it should, but it’s the first step to changing the video game industry as we know it.
Although it might seem like a technical challenge to connect gamers on different consoles at first, upon further scrutiny, that doesn’t appear to be the case. In theory, any game could be played across multiple different platforms, but the problem is that Sony is still trying to decide if this is in their best interest.
The company has only released a few noncommittal statements, but it would be extremely wise from a business standpoint for them to accept Microsoft’s offer and start working to build a more inclusive gaming world. The first thing that came to mind when I heard this news is how much longer the lifespan of certain games would be if you doubled their user base. More gamers, playing a game for longer, means that you can sell more downloadable content and even move more copies of a game.
I also happen to believe that if this plan moves forward, we’ll see the end of console exclusivity. It just doesn’t seem possible that Microsoft and Sony would come together to build these bridges and then continue to force their users to buy one console or the other to play “Halo” or “Killzone.” You might be thinking that the companies want the profits from those exclusive titles, but it would be closer to revenue neutral or beneficial, as Sony, for example, would benefit from people playing “Gears of War” on a PS4, and vice versa for former PS4 exclusives on the Xbox.
Console exclusivity has always been kind of pointless, creating unproductive but nonetheless passionate debates that go on for hours, centering on whether the Xbox or Playstation is “better.” It always felt to me like publishers were dividing up customers like territory between a couple of colluding corporations, where Sony wouldn’t go after the “Gears of War” crowd as long as Microsoft never ventured into Sony’s “Uncharted” turf. More cooperation between these publishers for the benefit of the consumer could lead to a radical change in what games are available to us in the future.
I do have some personal concerns with how this will play out in terms of balance, especially when it comes to multiplayer-heavy games. The technology backing this cross-platform effort would have to be rock solid to work, as even a half a second delay would mean the difference between virtual life and death for millions, and if latency issues favored one group or another, it would lead to justified but vitriolic criticism.
The other issue that consoles and keyboards are uniquely capable at performing different tasks. Studies have shown that PC gamers crushed their console counterparts in “Counterstrike” almost every single time, just because the mouse and keyboard was so much better at the game mechanics than a controller. By contrast, anyone who’s ever played “Grand Theft Auto” can tell you that driving a car with arrow keys and a mouse is a chore when you could be using a natural-feeling controller to drive around fictionalized America. The solutions would probably have to be unique for each game, but I think many developers would pay that price if they could double or triple the number of people that they could sell to.
The video game industry has long been divided between several titans that held a grip on the consumer. Now, incredibly, Microsoft has offered to break that grip, and in doing so create a better industry for both consumer and publisher. Should Sony accept Microsoft’s offer, I can say with no hyperbole that it will be the greatest development for the video game industry in years.
Edward Pankowski is life editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at email@example.com.