Hot on the heels announcing a plan to unify the Xbox One and PC platforms, Microsoft has again revealed yet another standards-shifting initiative: "Cross-Network play," which will allow Xbox One users to play with people not only on PC but also on competing consoles.
In a GDC-themed letter posted this morning, Chris Charla (director of ID @ Xbox) outlined the new system:
First, in addition to natively supporting cross-platform play between Xbox One and Windows 10 games that use Xbox Live, we’re enabling developers to support cross-network play as well. This means players on Xbox One and Windows 10 using Xbox Live will be able to play with players on different online multiplayer networks – including other console and PC networks.
Of course, it’s up to game developers to support this feature, and Xbox Live players will always have the option of choosing to play only with other Xbox Live players. We’re thrilled to confirm that Psyonix’s Rocket League will be one of the first games to take advantage of this new capability by enabling cross-network play between Xbox One and PC players, with an open invitation for other networks to participate as well.
Debuting cross-play for Rocket League is a great choice since there is a huge built-in audience on the PC and PS4, which means that players just getting started on the recently released Xbox One version will have a lot of people to play with. On one hand, that actually might make Sony reticent to jump into this sort of cross-play relationship. On the other, it would be a pro-consumer move that makes everyone look good.
I'm curious to see how developers react to this. First, despite an increased degree of similarity this cycle, each gaming platform remains meaningfully different, and developing with cross-platform multiplayer in mind will add one more complication to development. Second, when cross-platform play has been tried in the past (as with 2007's Shadowrun), there was always the question of unfair advantage--even when measures were taken to achieve parity. There's also the question of how Microsoft's earlier announcement about unifying its gaming platforms relates to this new program. Early response to the Universal Windows Platform has been divisive at best--Epic Games co-founder Tim Sweeney even called it an attempt to "monopolize game development on PC."
As a player, I'd love to see cross-platform play take off. I spent nearly a year playing Titanfall on PC, and while that player base diminished, the game continued to thrive on Xbox One. Everytime the game went on sale on console, I read about how lively the game's community still was on that platform and I desperately wished that I could play with those folks without shelling out the cash for an Xbox One. So call it selfish, but I'm hoping that other platform holders and game developers take advantage of this (or else pursue their own similar initiatives in the future.)
There are some additional, smaller details about other things happening with the Xbox One over in Charla's letter, so it's worth giving that a read if you're interested!