Games Opinion: Why cross-platform play is Fortnite secret weapon

Epic Games’ Fortnite has quickly taken the world by storm following the launch of its Battle Royale mode in September last year. Its meteoric rise was bolstered by its rapid expansion to other platforms — initially on Windows PC, Mac OSX, Xbox One and PlayStation 4, and now on iOS and Android devices.

Fortnite‘s popularity has made it a staple of the media cycle in weird and wonderful ways over the past year, from industry-wide praise for a developer that actively listens to its consumer base, to scared parents who’ve run out of ways to get their children away from the screen.

There are a lot of factors in Fortnite: Battle Royale‘s success, most of them not that surprising. As an example, one of the most significant factors to Fortnite‘s success lies in it’s completely free to play. Polygon‘s Colin Campbell detailed the intricacies of Fortnite’s success in a piece called Why Fortnite is a “cultural phenomenon,” citing its free-to-play model as one of its strongest selling points.

Free being the best possible price, that immediately puts Fortnite in the running to be an incredibly popular game, especially among younger audiences with no money of their own. The grandfather of the modern free-to-play model and now in its eleventh year of release, Team Fortress 2 still receives semi-regular updates and support. Path of Exile, Warframe, Hearthstone and a whole range of MOBA’s and MMORPG’s have followed suit. Titles like these still reap the benefits of their free-to-play model – a quick look at the Steam Charts Website reveals that four of the ten games topping Steam’s Most Played charts are free-to-play. These games also lean into the idea of Gaming as a Service, as discussed by industry icon Gabe Newell at E3 in 2010.

But there’s another, more unique factor, that makes Fortnite is a special case, and one that will likely have a lasting effect on the wider industry even when Fortnite‘s star eventually begins to wane. From the moment you fire it up, Fortnite is ready to connect you with users playing on other platforms, not just your own. It fully supports cross-platform play.

We don’t see cross-platform play as often as we wish we did – most players agree that it would make everything so much simpler, and break down the barriers of platform superiority. If you’re interested in which games do currently support cross-platform, here’s a list on WikipediaRocket League is a well-known adherent. So is Paragon and Portal 2. But there’s a roadblock and it affects all of these games, Fortnite included. While cross-platform titles can be played without an issue across Nintendo Switch and Xbox One, the PlayStation 4 doesn’t support it. This is unfortunate for PlayStation 4 owners, and Epic Games have done everything they can to make it happen. Everyone but Sony has come to the table. Sony are the lone hold-out, aware that they command a greater player base than any of their competitors and unwilling to share it. Despite Sony trying to play it off as a moral issue (for which they were roundly critcised by the wider industry), cross-platform play on the PlayStation 4 would, for most games, be as simple as a software update. Rocket League developer Psyonix have said that they’re ready to go, and could have cross-play enabled in the PS4 version of the game within an hour of Sony changing their stance.

Sony’s problem, of course, is that they’re thinking about business and not the end-user experience. Because, from an end-user standpoint, cross-play is pretty magical. Being able to jump into an intense, large-scale, multiplayer shooter in a squad with friends — each on an iPhone, an Android, a Switch and an Xbox One respectively, among 96 other players in the same match on Macs, PCs, or consoles and phones of their own? That’s incredible. The industry has never seen anything like it.

Leave it to the company behind the Unreal Engine to create one of the most widely-playable multiplayer experiences ever created. If anyone had known how to crack that code, I suppose it would be them.

The current expectation is that cross-platform play will become a selling point for more games in the future, and it may be more easily achieved down the line, with publishers moving away from catch-all storefronts like Steam and onto their own curated services, like Ubisoft’s Uplay, and Activision-Blizzard’s app. Having accounts on these could unify players across platforms and allow for matchmaking to disregard Gamertags and PSN IDs, and use Publisher accounts instead.

Maybe there’s hope for cross-clatform play in the future. Developers have been all too willing to jump on the Battle Royale bandwagon, with Call of Duty and Battlefield now following the trend for their end of the year releases; perhaps they’d be willing to push for platform compatibility. Console rivalries don’t help anyone, except the manufacturers.