In September 2017, Epic Games accidentally enabled players on Xbox One and PlayStation 4 to play Fortnite together. At that time, the developer noted that turning on its cross-platform support was as easy as flipping a switch. Now, Epic wants to provide that technology to other developers.
Beginning in 2019, the studio plans to launch its cross-platform online services toolkit for free. This enables developers to run parties, matchmaking, voice chat, and more that work across PC, Mac, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, iOS, and Android. It also works as a plugin with both Epic’s own Unreal Engine and the popular Unity software-development kit.
“Successfully launching and operating a live, online game requires a suite of services that go far beyond the functionality of a traditional game engine,” reads an Epic blog. “These services are expensive to build, test, and harden in real-world conditions, but once operational, are relatively inexpensive to scale to more games and more users. At Epic, our goal is to help game developers succeed.”
The key here is that Epic wants to help developers succeed independent from platform gatekeepers like Sony’s PlayStation, Microsoft’s Xbox, or Valve’s Steam. Epic built these tools for Fortnite, which is like a platform unto itself with 200 million players across seven distinct devices. If Epic can help more developers turn their games into similar platforms, it could weaken the appeal of platforms like Xbox Live. At the same time, it fully integrates with those services as well.
A cross-platform services roadmap
Epic is going to launch an early version of its cross-platform SDK in the first half of 2019. Then, throughout the year, it plans to add new features. Here’s what developers can expect:
In Q2, Epic plans to add platform-agnostic cloud saves to its toolkit. This would enable players to start a game on their console and pick it up on a phone.
Login, entitlements, and social features
In Q2 or Q3, Epic is adding support for creating a game-specific login. This provides developers a way to track players across platforms. That enables platform-independent friends lists, profiles, and more. It also provides studios with a way of seeing whether you purchased a digital item on one platform and should have access to it on another. Finally, this also enables tracking of achievements and trophies — although that specific feature could come after logins.
Epic says it is building a new in-game voice-chat tool. It will work across all platforms and game engines for free. But it is not coming until at least Q3 2019.
Parties and matchmaking
In Q3 or Q4 2019, Epic will add the option to run parties and matchmaking. This frees up developers from using the built-in parties and matchmaking on something like Xbox Live or Steam.
Finally, Epic is also pointing to Fortnite as to what to expect from its cross-platform services.
“As you can see from our game and engine efforts, we’re also working on further support for user-generated content, enhanced social features, anti-cheat, and more,” reads the Epic blog. “Besides these existing account and service integrations, we’re eager to work with partners on further efforts to connect accounts, gaming services, and cloud services for a more seamless experience.”
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