We’ve seen Sony block cross-console multiplayer on PlayStation 4 before and heard unconvincing justifications for it, but never has the issue seemed as petty – and yet also as big – as it has this week.
I’m talking about Nintendo Switch users being blocked from playing Fortnite if trying to log in using an account which has ever played Fortnite on PS4. To reiterate: this isn’t even cross-play, this is simply logging in.
Even if you’ve only played Fortnite once on PS4, and play the majority of your Fortnite on PC or mobile (these platforms are compatible), you will still be blocked from using your account on Switch. Your only option is to create a new account to play.
But a new account will not have all the skins, emotes, sprays and history you have spent hours, days and weeks building up – not to mention your Battle Pass, which you buy and then spend the following month or two progressing along to unlock further rewards. These don’t make you any stronger in the game but they’re an enormous part of what Fortnite is. To not have a way to wear the hours and money you’ve invested for the rest of the community to see is to lose a sense of your existence within it.
In essence, Sony is holding your Fortnite career ransom to ensure you continue playing the game on only one console: the PlayStation 4, the market leader. You might understand that as an adult, but how do you explain it to Fortnite’s huge chunk of players – kids?
Incidentally, you see a similar error message trying to log into Fortnite on Xbox One using an account which has played on PlayStation 4. But you do not get an error hopping between Fortnite on Xbox One and Switch.
Epic accounts do offer the option of disconnecting from associated platforms but it doesn’t alleviate the problem; I’ve tried uncoupling and I still cannot play Fortnite on Switch or Xbox One.
Worse, playing Fortnite on PS4 doesn’t appear to be the only way your Epic account can be cursed by Sony’s apparent hubris. Remember Paragon, Epic’s now closed but once openly free-to-play MOBA? There are reports of people on Reddit who played Paragon on PS4, but never touched Fortnite on PS4, facing the same Fortnite Switch issue.
Understandably, the Fortnite-hungry gaming community is up in arms, with discussions about Fortnite account blocking soaring to the top of the million-strong Games subreddit and strong language being thrown around.
But whose fault is it? Overwhelmingly fingers are pointing at Sony, which has a track record with preventing console compatibility and seems to be the only party set to gain from this situation. So what does Sony say?
“We’re always open to hearing what the PlayStation community is interested in to enhance their gaming experience. Fortnite is already a huge hit with PS4 fans, offering a true free-to-play experience so gamers can jump in and play online,” Sony told The BBC in a statement.
“With 79 million PS4s sold around the world and more than 80 million monthly active users on PlayStation Network, we’ve built a huge community of gamers who can play together on Fortnite and all online titles. We also offer Fortnite cross-play support with PC, Mac, iOS, and Android devices, expanding the opportunity for Fortnite fans on PS4 to play with even more gamers on other platforms.”
With Sony not talking to specialist press at E3 2018, we are unable to ask more.
But does Epic have a part to play in this too? Is there an issue with the Epic accounts and their associations which could simply be fixed? Remember we’re not talking cross-play here – which may never happen, disappointingly – we’re only talking cross-linked accounts.
I find it hard to believe Epic couldn’t flick a switch to sort this out (and I have asked Epic for comment, incidentally). In fact, Epic once enabled PS4-Xbox One Fortnite cross-play before quickly turning it off again, so it’s easily doable.
Microsoft is doing it. Giant Bomb talked to Phil Spencer about the Fortnite Switch block issue at E3 (skip to around 20 minutes in the video).
“My view is this,” he said. “If you bought your son, your child, an Xbox, and I bought my child a PlayStation – and I’m just a parent, it’s their birthday, whatever – and the kids want to go play Fortnite and they all of a sudden go home and can’t play with each other: it’s not – it doesn’t feel like it helps the consumers.
“If it doesn’t help the developers and it doesn’t help the consumer then it doesn’t feel like it helps grow gaming to me. Gaming is one of the most important art forms this planet has … it can be a space that, in a world where we have way too many things that drive us apart, brings us together. I look at that and I wish people could get to play together.
“I get it,” he added, “I get the business side of it, and I’m not going to judge anybody else making their decisions because they’ve got to run their business. Our goal is to be relevant and important to every gamer on the planet. If people want to go buy someone else’s console and play games there, great, as long as we’re all leaning in to how do we make this business for everybody as vibrant as possible.”
Likewise, Nintendo is open to doing it. Polygon talked to Nintendo of America’s Reggie Fils-Aime about the same Fortnite issue at E3.
“In fairness there are three different things going on,” he said. “You have companies like mine that encourage cross-play and enable cross-play. You have a developer and content owner that wants cross-play and is encouraging cross play, and then you have the other platform holders and what it is that they do. And when it comes to other platform holders, as much as you have influence on other platform holders, I don’t. And that’s a decision that each of them are making, and some are supporting cross-play and some are not.”
Which brings us back around to Sony, the company which “won’t allow” Ark PS4-Xbox One cross-play, which blocks Minecraft and Rocket League cross-play, and now which blocks Epic accounts associate with PS4 logging-in on other consoles too.
PlayStation 4 is “for the players”, Sony always says. But this? This is anything but.