For a short while on a Thursday in September, fans of the videogame “Fortnite” got something that had seemed hopelessly out of reach—a chance to play together on competing consoles.
Epic Games Inc., creator of the popular combat game, had accidentally flipped a switch of sorts, letting people using Microsoft Corp.’s Xbox One play alongside those using Sony Corp.’s PlayStation 4.
“This is HUGE,” a person wrote on Reddit. It didn’t last.
Epic said it turned off “cross-play” once it discovered the error, the latest roadblock to a dream feature for gamers that is technologically possible but frustratingly elusive.
The major console makers—Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo Co.—have long supported cross-play between their machines and PCs, and more recently with mobile devices.
But the three don’t always play well together, creating headaches for friends who own different consoles and game developers who say the block limits the potential to expand their audiences.
Players of ‘Fortnite,’ by Epic Games, have been vocal about requesting a cross-play feature. Photo: Epic Games
Matthew Ross, a 30-year-old graphic designer in State College, Pa., usually plays games with strangers because he owns a PlayStation 4 and most of his friends have an Xbox One. “It’s infuriating,” he said.
Recently, the friends agreed not to buy Capcom Co.’s new game “Monster Hunter: World” for their consoles. Instead, they are waiting for it to come out for PCs in the fall so they can play together, Mr. Ross said.
People playing the same game on different hardware can link up online, provided the developer has built software to allow the two systems to talk to each other. But the developer would still need each hardware makers’ blessing.
At around 2 a.m. ET Thursday, more than 600,000 people tuned into Amazon.com Inc.’s Twitch live-streaming platform to watch rapper Drake play “Fortnite” on a PlayStation 4 with a popular streamer who was using a PC. The live stream, which handily beat the previous Twitch record for simultaneous viewers on the channel of an individual broadcaster, occurred days after Epic said it would enable both PlayStation 4 and Xbox users to play against people on PCs and mobile devices—though not against each other.
Epic’s announcement prompted a “Fortnite” player on Twitter to implore Phil Spencer, Microsoft’s head of gaming, to add cross-play with Sony’s console. “We really want cross-play system between XB1 and PS4,” the tweeter said.
“Me 2,” Mr. Spencer tweeted back minutes later. The next day, the official account for “Fortnite” chimed in: “We 3.”
“Fortnite” isn’t playable across the two systems because both Sony and Microsoft would both need to allow it. Sony declined to comment.
It isn’t the first time Sony has been accused of standing in the way. Last year, Psyonix Inc. sought to make its car-soccer game “Rocket League” playable across consoles. Microsoft and Nintendo signed up. Sony demurred.
“It’s extremely frustrating,” Psyonix Chief Executive Dave Hagewood said.
Game developers have good reason to want cross-play, Benchmark Co. analyst Mike Hickey said. “You’re less likely to go play another game if your buddies are all playing together,” he said. “And if you’re more engaged, you’re more likely to spend money” on virtual goodies inside the game, he said.
Prohibiting cross-play can be advantageous for a console maker: Shoppers might be inclined to choose the system friends own, said Piper Jaffray analyst Mike Olson. That tips the scales in favor of the market leader, which right now is Sony’s PlayStation 4.
Microsoft hasn’t always supported cross-play. In 2011, when its Xbox Live service dominated online console gaming, a spokesperson told the website Kotaku that Microsoft wasn’t on board, because it couldn’t guarantee players on competing systems would get the same level of quality as on Xbox 360.
Microsoft said the company’s position has evolved as an increasing number of people play games across multiple devices.
Corrections & Amplifications
At around 2 a.m. ET Thursday, more than 600,000 people tuned into Amazon.com Inc.’s Twitch live-streaming platform to watch rapper Drake play “Fortnite” on a PlayStation 4 with a popular streamer who was using a PC. An earlier version of this article incorrectly said Drake was playing on a PC and that the popular streamer was using a PlayStation 4. (March 17)
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