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Xbox head rejects Sony’s defense of blocking cross-platform play

Spencer: Player safety is ‘incredibly important to our team’

Minecraft Super Duper Graphics Pack - sunset cows
A shot of Minecraft in 4K with its upcoming Super Duper Graphics Pack.
Mojang/Microsoft Studios
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.

E3’s war of words over cross-platform play in games such as Minecraft and Rocket League continued this evening, with Xbox head Phil Spencer scoffing at Sony’s explanation for why it’s preventing PlayStation users from playing with people on other platforms.

Let’s recap the story so far. Microsoft announced during its press briefing that it is opening up Minecraft to allow for people on Android, iOS, Nintendo Switch, virtual reality headsets and Windows 10 to play the game with each other. And when Psyonix announced a Switch version of Rocket League this week, the company said that the game will support multiplayer action across Linux, Mac, Switch, Windows and Xbox One.

In both cases, PlayStation is the odd man out — and both Microsoft, which owns Minecraft, and Psyonix have pointed the finger at Sony as the company that’s keeping its customers from joining the cross-platform party. “We would love to work with Sony to bring players on PlayStation 4 into our united ecosystem as well,” a Microsoft spokesperson said in a statement to Polygon, when asked about Minecraft. Psyonix told Polygon that cross-network play in Rocket League “would be up and running in less than an hour all over the world” if Sony were to give the go-ahead.

Jim Ryan, head of global sales and marketing for PlayStation, attempted to defend Sony’s position in an interview with Eurogamer. Ryan said Sony doesn’t have a “profound philosophical stance” against allowing cross-platform play, but claimed that the company’s primary concern is the inability to guarantee its users’ safety on non-PlayStation platforms, especially for a game with as young an audience as Minecraft has.

“We have a contract with the people who go online with us, that we look after them and they are within the PlayStation curated universe,” Ryan told Eurogamer. “Exposing what in many cases are children to external influences we have no ability to manage or look after, it’s something we have to think about very carefully.”

This explanation holds little water when you consider that Nintendo — a family-oriented company that is arguably overprotective of its users when it comes to online play — is on board with cross-platform gaming in both Minecraft and Rocket League. And in an interview with Giant Bomb this evening, on the second night of the site’s E3 livestreams, Spencer was having none of it.

Referring obliquely to Ryan’s answer, Spencer said, “The fact that somebody would kind of make an assertion that somehow we’re not keeping Minecraft players safe, I found — not only from a Microsoft perspective, but from a game industry perspective — like, I don’t know why that has to become the dialogue. Like, that doesn’t seem healthy for anyone.”

Spencer clearly inferred from Ryan’s comments that the Sony executive was casting aspersions on Microsoft’s efforts to safeguard young Minecraft players. Choosing his words carefully, Spencer remained diplomatic and professional. But it seemed from his demeanor that he found Ryan’s implicit attack insulting, and his reasoning absurd.

“We take the safety of Xbox Live, of our players across all of our games — inside of Minecraft, obviously an incredibly important part of that — it’s incredibly important to our team,” Spencer told Giant Bomb. “We would never put Minecraft in a place where we felt like [...] we weren’t keeping our players safe.”

There’s always a chance that things could change. While Ryan told Eurogamer that “there is no live conversation ongoing at the moment,” he seemed to take a never-say-never attitude. For his part, Spencer told Giant Bomb that “the door is open.”

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