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After six months of exclusivity with Epic Store, Borderlands 3 hit Steam last week with crossplay support, welcoming a whole new cohort of Vault Hunters to bring the mayhem on PC.
And while on Epic and Steam users are now able to play together with a flip of a switch, developers at Gearbox Software have been working on several moving parts behind the scenes for some time to make crossplay a reality. We sat down with Gearbox’s director of platform Comb Hua to find out what it takes to bring a feature like this to life.
“Crossplay is something Borderlands fans have been asking us for ever since we launched in September, and we’re so excited to be able to bring it to you,” said Hua, who has over two decades of experience building distributed systems (and plays a whole lot of video games).
And as he explains, it’s not as simple as you might think to deliver: “We’ve actually been laying the groundwork to deliver this for years. It might only look like one feature to players, but it’s actually made from a large number of components of the platform we’ve built, which is powered by AWS.
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“The things that make up a feature like cross-play take time because of their unexpected complexity. To support it, you need to first support underlying components including player identities and matchmaking. Each online game store like Epic and Steam have their own system to support these features, and they take significant effort to develop on their own.”
Getting independent first-party services to be compatible isn’t an easy feat. Hua said, “Whether as a developer or a player, we all want features like matchmaking, voice chat, and other social features to just work. We’ve built those features into SHiFT, but we also needed to build an intermediary solution to handle the complexities of connecting players from different places so they can focus on having fun.”
Thanks to years of experience on co-op looter shooter gameplay with Borderlands, Gearbox was able to create that intermediary solution in-house. According to Hua, Gearbox has been working for over a decade on the infrastructure that supports millions of players jumping into Pandora however they like and enjoy maximum mayhem. “SHiFT is the platform we’ve built for our games, including Borderlands 3. It provides a common layer between services and supports all online and social features,” he said.
The SHiFT Platform is a collection of online services that Gearbox built to power its games in a way that enables them to provide consistent features no matter where our players want to play. Players will be most familiar with interacting with SHiFT to redeem codes that grant in-game entitlements, participating in beta tests, and using it as a keyring to connect their various accounts for consistent access and perks. However, for the last decade, this platform has also been quietly providing a growing set of features including authentication, delivering hotfixes, and now, powering crossplay.
Getting players across multiple first-party services to play together is one thing, but using the tools we’ve built to listen to players and support them regardless of what they play on is what’s important. Staying on top of the pulse of your player base and being able to give them the content they want when they want it is critical to keeping players engaged in a live game like Borderlands 3. Hua went on to explain how he and his team are able to keep up proactively with players. “Our entire SHiFT Platform is running all in on AWS to give us the scale and flexibility to keep building new and exciting content for our players and give them the best online experience possible.” He continued, “using the cloud helps us to offload the management of our infrastructure, so we can focus on making features like crossplay a reality.”
The focus on the player community and delivering content they want is clear to see. Hua said, “The independence that crossplay brings for our customers has been a value SHiFT has always highly prioritized, so when we heard fans request cross-play, we were very excited to deliver on more of this vision, and we’re grateful that AWS, Epic, and Steam also joined us to listen to the voice of the player.”
And looking to the future, Hua said, “We always keep a close eye on the community and look into developing new ways to engage our players. We plan to patch in support for in-game mail being sent between the Steam and Epic services, and while players will be able transfer save files manually at launch, making that process more automated is something we’re looking at. We’re committed to making crossplay a success.”
Ellie Lawson is the Customer Advocacy Marketing Manager, Games Vertical, for Amazon Web Services.
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