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How much is Sony willing to get hurt to keep people apart?

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This is going to keep happening

Fallout 76 - back of vault dweller’s Vault 76 suit Bethesda Game Studios/Bethesda Softworks

It seems like everyone in the video game industry has been beating up Sony over the company’s unwillingness to bend on cross-platform play. The issue came to a boil when we learned that playing Fortnite on the PlayStation 4 even once with your Epic Games account ensures that you can never use your account on the Nintendo Switch or Xbox One.

And now Bethesda has joined the ranks of major gaming developers who have called out Sony for keeping people from playing together.

“You cannot do cross-play in [Fallout 76],” Bethesda Game Studios director Todd Howard said recently. “We’d really love that but right now we can’t. Sony is not as helpful as everyone would like.”

The PlayStation 4 doesn’t need any more of this is the sort of high-profile shaming, especially after Microsoft and Nintendo came together for a groundbreaking ad that showed Xbox and Nintendo Switch players enjoying Minecraft together — something obviously not possible on PS4. The commercial made Minecraft seem like a big, friendly party where everyone is invited ... unless you bought a PlayStation 4.

As we’ve said before, the cross-platform play itself isn’t the reason that Sony is loathe to open up its platform; the question is one of user accounts. Sony really doesn’t seem to want you to be able to buy items on one platform and then use them on the PlayStation 4. By preventing you from using accounts or in-game items that have been used on PS4 on any other platform, Sony can make sure it gets a cut of every in-game currency or item sale.

Which may give us a hint about how Sony could shut down Fallout 76 cross-platform play for everyone; it’s very possible that Bethesda wants to make sure the first online Fallout title has unique player accounts, and Bethesda can’t be sure it won’t be blamed if those accounts get locked down after being used on the PlayStation 4. After the Fortnite controversy, it may have seemed best to scrap the whole thing.

Or maybe Bethesda had never planned to offer cross-platform play, and Sony’s grumpiness about the practice gives them a convenient scapegoat.

Either way, Sony doesn’t come out of this looking great, and it’s becoming increasingly clear that Sony’s lack of movement on this issue has started to hurt the forward momentum of cross-platform play as a whole.

But players are getting used to taking their items and progress from system to system, and it’s unlikely that toothpaste can be pushed back into the tube despite Sony dragging its feet. The likely scenario is that Sony will continue to get dragged by players and the industry as more and more franchises move online, and Fortnite’s cross-platform nature becomes the rule and not the exception.

The question Sony has to be asking itself is how long it will take before the PlayStation 4 or PlayStation 5 are seen as consoles to avoid even risking playing your games on if you want to play on other platforms in the future. That’s the tipping point where this decision does serious, long-term damage to the PlayStation brand, and it’s up to Sony to make sure this limitation is removed before that damage is done.

Let’s see if the company can move fast enough.