As I enjoyed some braised chicken and a Golden Road brown ale at the PlayStation media briefing after party prior to the Electronic Entertainment Expo on Monday night, I realized I was in the middle of Sony’s victory lap. PlayStation boss Shawn Layden was walking among the crowd to meet-and-greet media influencers, and he never stopped smiling as he moved between the faux Spider-Man-themed New York City as a powerful projector beamed PlayStation trailers onto a nearby hotel building.
The messaging of that event was clear: Sony’s PlayStation brand is the video game market leader, and it is confident that games like Spider-Man, Ghosts of Tsushima, Death Stranding, and The Last of Us: Part II will keep us on top.
But less than 24 hours later, fewer people were talking about those game. Instead, the conversation had turned from Sony’s confidence to indictments of its hubris. And as usual, you can thank Fortnite for changing the conversation.
The morning after Sony’s PlayStation event, Nintendo held its own video Direct livestream where it launched Epic Games battle royale shooter Fortnite for its hybrid Switch handheld/home console. Fortnite is one of the biggest games in the world with more than 125 million players (!), so many people have already started playing it on other platforms prior to the Switch release. If you’ve played and started an Epic account on PC, mobile, or Xbox One, you can log into that account on the Switch without issue. But if you’re coming from PlayStation 4 … well, it doesn’t work, and you see this.
Here’s the text of the error message:
“This Fortnite account is associated with a platform which does not allow it to operate on Switch. Neither the Fortnite website nor Epic Customer Service are able to change this. To play Fortnite on Switch, please create a new account.”
Let me translate that for you: Sony won’t let accounts or games that are associated with PlayStation work with other consoles.
You can read the frustration in Epic’s language. This is an issue that only exists because Sony doesn’t want to play nice with the other platform holders. It’s the same reason that the universal Bedrock version of Minecraft isn’t coming to PlayStation because that enables crossplatform purchases and multiplayer. And Sony is strictly against cross-platform multiplayer, even if Epic only has to flip a switch to enable it — something it accidentally did in the early days of Fortnite’s multiplayer mode.
Last E3, I asked Layden why Sony feels the need to do this, and his explanation was that he thinks PlayStation has enough players that people don’t really feel the need for crossplatform support on PS4. That answer was absurd then because of course people feel the need to play with a friend who owns an Xbox instead, but now it looks completely disconnected now that we understand the effect it has on something like an Epic account.
And Sony has put itself in a rough position here with its indefensible policy. Epic has built a system where your purchases from one platform carry over to another, and that is a bold, consumer-friendly advancement in the gaming space. Microsoft does the exact same thing with Minecraft. I can buy content on the Minecraft Marketplace on Switch when it launches later this month, and then use that content without having to pay again on Xbox, PC, or mobile.
Even big Sony fans are looking at this and calling the publisher out for an anti-consumer policy that doesn’t make any sense. And Microsoft is trying to capitalize.
We’re five years on from the launch of this console generation. A half-decade ago, Microsoft blundered the launch of the Xbox One with systems like always-online digital-rights management that many people considered anti-consumer. Sony came out swinging and defined this generation through its motto “for the players.”
Now, we are witnessing an obvious role reversal. Sony is blundering, and Microsoft is capitalizing. But the difference is that we’re not in a generational transition, and everyone is already so entrenched in their platform of choice. And Sony knows this. It has won, and even the most furious fans over this Fortnite debacle aren’t going to abandon their library of games and their friends list to start over on the Xbox One.
So Sony can continue its victory lap because even if everyone is mad at them, they’re probably going to buy Red Dead Redemption 2 for the PS4 and not the Xbox One.