The lack of PS4 Crossplay for many popular titles was once a long-running joke in the gaming community. Now, new documents reveal just how much Sony was against the practice — and how it might be charging developers for Crossplay today.
"Crossplay" is the ability to play the same game with people on different platforms. For example, I can play Fortnite on PC and join a game with a friend who is playing on the PlayStation 4, even though we're in entirely different ecosystems. A practice such as this is a net win for developers, but the platforms might not be keen on allowing for this kind of integration; after all, someone playing a game on a competitor's console won't necessarily make you money. In a sense, Crossplay can add value by increasing the pool of available players for a particular game.
Unfortunately, Sony wasn't quite so happy to open up its games for PS4 Crossplay; many games were available for Crossplay on PC and Xbox or PC and PS4, but linking up PlayStation and Xbox players wasn't happening all that much until recently. Then, Sony finally gave in by allowing Fortnite Crossplay in 2018 — and several confidential documents reveal a little bit about what went on behind the scenes.
The Cost of PS4 Crossplay
A new report from The Verge's Tom Warren shows just how tough it was to get PS4 Crossplay opened up for more games; Epic Games had been making a case for Crossplay for some time. Even more interesting, however, is the reveal that Sony may be charging developers for the use of the Crossplay feature depending on the player share of a game.
Let's rewind a few years — not too long ago, Epic Games' Joe Kreiner proposed that Fortnite PS4 Crossplay would be a "win/win" scenario for both companies, especially since Fortnite had become the biggest game on the platform.
"We love working with PlayStation, and we want this to be a win/win," read an e-mail from Kreiner. "The longer this drags out, it will be less so. 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."
Kreiner goes on to list a number of concessions that Epic Games was willing to make for Sony including "deeply [integrating]" Sony's eSports API into Unreal Engine 4 as an engine-level feature, extending Sony's license to use Unreal Engine 4 (which was then set to expire in May 2019, announcing Fortnite Crossplay simultaneously with Sony, and a number of other potential bonuses.
"Let's make this a huge win for us all," Kreiner's e-mail concluded. "Epic's not changing [its] mind on the issue, so let's just agree on it now."
Despite these points, Sony appears to have been reluctant to go forward with PS4 Crossplay as noted in an e-mail shared by The Verge's Tom Warren on Twitter.
"I appreciate the points you've listed in the mail, there are a lot of great idea in here for continued partnership[,]" read an e-mail from SIE Senior Director Gio Corsi. "[However,] cross-platform play is not a slam dunk no matter the size of the title. As you know , many companies are exploring this idea and not a single one can explain how cross-console play improves the PlayStation business."
As we all know, Sony eventually came to some kind of agreement with Epic Games and opened up Fortnite Crossplay with other platforms. However, a separate confidential document reveals that Sony may be charging developers money to enable the PS4 Crossplay feature depending on how a game's playerbase is split between platforms.
According to Tom Warren, the above slide was part of a number of court documents that appear to have been erroneously uploaded today as mentioned in this tweet by IGN's Rebekah Valentine. The above slide has not yet been re-uploaded at the time of writing.
What this image shows is an apparent requirement by Sony for developers to pay revenue share depending on how much money a developer is bringing in from a particular game on a per-platform basis along with a couple of examples. If 95% of a game's players are on PlayStation and 90% of that game's revenue is also from PlayStation, then a developer has to pay nothing. However, if 95% of a game's players are on PlayStation but 60% of the revenue is also from PlayStation, then the developers would have to pay a fee.
"If the proportion of PSN Revenue Share divided by PS4 Gameplay Share for a title is less than 0.85 in any given month, the Partner will pay SSIE a royalty to offset the reduction in revenue."
Simply put, this Cross-Platform Revenue Share system means that Sony would charge developers money if it has a lot of people on PlayStation but is earning a greater share of its money from other platforms. As Warren's article on The Verge notes, it's unclear if this requirement is still in place or if any other platforms (Xbox, Nintendo, iOS, or Android) have similar revenue-sharing requirements for Crossplay.
There's an upside for indies; the slide appears to exclude any games that don't exceed $500,000 in gross revenue on the PlayStation network. Since it's on a percentage basis, it wouldn't likely shock any developers with a massive bill, either. That said, the document also notes that Sony has the right to audit a developer's records, presumably to ensure that it's being honest with its reported numbers.
It took a couple of years, but we finally have a little insight into why Sony was so reluctant to allow for PS4 Crossplay with competing platforms; it looks like Sony might have come up with a somewhat unusual solution to ease its concerns. There are still many unanswered questions, though, including whether or not this practice carries on today and what measures other platform developers might have taken.
What do you think of the apparent royalty payments for PS4 Crossplay mandated by Sony? Do you think platforms should charge developers to enable Crossplay? Let us know in the comments below!