It’s no secret that Sony held back PS4 cross-platform play for years, but new confidential documents and emails reveal just how much Sony was against letting people play the same games with their friends on other platforms. Sony initially blocked cross-platform play for both Rocket League and Minecraft, despite Nintendo and Microsoft both enabling players to play across Xbox and Switch. The issue really blew up when Sony blocked Fortnite crossplay in 2018, and players were angry. It now appears that Sony may have been holding out to offset potential revenue losses.
In the months leading up to Sony’s decision to block Fortnite crossplay in 2018, Epic Games had pleaded with Sony to enable crossplay, emails in the Epic Games v. Apple case reveal. “I can’t think of a scenario where Epic doesn’t get what we want - that possibility went out the door when Fortnite became the biggest game on PlayStation,” said Joe Kreiner, Epic’s vice president of business development.
Kreiner proposed, “We announce crossplay in conjunction with Sony. Epic goes out of its way to make Sony look like heroes.” Epic even offered to brand its E3 presence with PlayStation or add unique characters, exclusive to PS Plus subscribers, to sweeten the deal. “Let’s make this a huge win for us all. Epic’s not changing it’s mind on the issue, so let’s just agree on it now,” said Kreiner.
Sony didn’t agree.
Gio Corsi, Sony’s senior director of developer relations at the time, dismissed the idea of crossplay, noting that “cross-platform play is not a slam dunk no matter the size of the title” — a clear reference to Epic’s flex about Fortnite’s dominance on PlayStation. “As you know, many companies are exploring this idea and not a single one can explain how cross-console play improves the PlayStation business,” said Corsi.
But as of August 2019, it appears that Sony may have found a worthy argument: a way to potentially siphon off money from its competitors in exchange for access to PlayStation players.
The email correspondence doesn’t reveal where the issue ultimately ended up, but a document entitled “cross-platform policy, requirements, and process” from August 2019 (after Sony’s change) reveals how Sony may now approach crossplay: a cross-platform revenue share, forcing publishers to pay Sony a royalty whenever PlayStation players contribute more than a certain percentage to the bottom line of a cross-platform game, to “offset the reduction in revenue” from Sony enabling crossplay.
Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney confirmed in testimony today that Sony is the only platform holder that requires this compensation for crossplay. “In certain circumstances Epic will have to pay additional revenue to Sony,” said Sweeney. “If somebody were primarily playing on PlayStation, but paying on iPhone then this might trigger compensation.” Sweeney also revealed that Epic had to agree to pay these additional fees to Sony in order to enable crossplay in Fortnite.
Sony also stipulates in the policy that publishers can’t transfer virtual currency to or from PlayStation, and that there must be a setting to disable all cross-platform interactions.
There may have been other good reasons for Sony to stop blocking crossplay as well: three months after the Epic Games emails, Sony was facing a backlash when it blocked Fortnite crossplay and eventually backed down in late 2018, with a new policy change to enable crossplay in certain games.
These emails and documents offer just a small glimpse into Sony’s efforts to initially block crossplay, before Epic Games’ success with Fortnite seems to have forced the company to ultimately concede.
Update, May 3rd 6:15PM ET: Article updated with comments from Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney confirming Sony’s crossplay compensation.