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How one indie got Sony and Microsoft to support cross-platform content

Samit Sarkar (he/him) is Polygon’s deputy managing editor. He has more than 15 years of experience covering video games, movies, television, and technology.

Cross-platform play: It's the feature gamers always ask about, with Xbox fans wishing they could play with PlayStation people and vice versa. That doesn't appear to be something either Microsoft or Sony is interested in, but the companies' new attitudes on the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One allowed one indie studio to deliver the next best thing — cross-platform sharing of users' creations.

User-generated content, like custom maps for a shooter, can often be uploaded to the internet and shared with other players — but only if they're on the same console as you. That has been standard for the past decade, with rare exceptions such as Unreal Tournament 3, where players on PlayStation 3 could use maps, mods and skins that others had created on Windows PC.

But games in which you can create content on multiple platforms almost never let you share it across those systems. On the previous generation of consoles, the PS3 and Xbox 360 had very different hardware architectures, which made it difficult just for developers to produce the same gameplay experience across both platforms. On top of that, Sony and Microsoft each had unique policies and guidelines about practices such as publishing downloadable content, so it was even tougher to offer feature parity for something like user-created platformer levels.

The dawn of the new generation last fall upended the status quo, as it usually does. The PS4 and Xbox One are more similar to each other than the old consoles, and both are closer to the PC development environment. In addition, Sony and Microsoft are being much friendlier to indies, with more open policies like the ability for developers to self-publish full games digitally.

It's a new landscape for the new consoles, and one of the clearest examples of that is The Golf Club. Released this month on PC, PS4 and Xbox One, The Golf Club is a new entrant into the tough-to-crack console sports market from Canadian indie developer HB Studios. The game is headlined by a course creator that lets players build the golf course of their dreams from scratch. And through discussions with Sony and Microsoft, HB was able to allow players on all three platforms to upload and share their creations with each other.

HB designed the course creator to be "cross-platform-friendly" from the start, said executive producer Peter Garcin in an interview with Polygon. The studio was hoping all along to be able to deliver that sharing functionality across consoles and PC. The company did think of some alternatives in case it couldn't make that happen, like curating the best of the community creations and releasing them in add-on packs.

"I think we were, let's say 'hopeful' that it would be possible given the overall change in the console ecosystem," said Garcin. "In previous generations, we wouldn't have even been able to self-publish the game on some consoles, let alone be allowed to host our own content externally and share that with our whole user base. I think everyone is pretty aware that things have changed."

According to Garcin, HB found it easy to work with both Sony and Microsoft on the sharing feature. He noted that "it is definitely a process that takes a decent amount of time — months," but said that "both parties were actually very supportive and helpful." And through those discussions, Garcin came to understand the platform holders' concerns and where they were coming from.

"Really, they are just looking out for the users on their platform and ensuring that their experience is consistent and that we are respecting their parental controls, privacy and content moderation rules," said Garcin.

"Everyone 'gets it' — I don't think we ever got a 'no' anywhere along the line," he added. "It was always about, 'How can we make this work?'"

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