A newsletter landed in my inbox recently from Konvoy Ventures titled “can gaming be a healthier social media?’. It came off the back of the U.S. Surgeon General’s new advisory report around the impact of social media on the mental health of younger generations. When looking at the statistics, Konvoy noticed an interesting comparison – “Gen Z engages with video games at a similar frequency to their interaction with social media”.
“Roughly 90% of Gen Z play video games or enter virtual worlds, and they average 12.19 hours per week on these platforms (vs 13.92 hours per week spent on social media and video-sharing platforms)”, stated the newsletter.
It got me thinking about how gaming has evolved from being relatively insular to a much more expansive world. We don’t just play with a small group of mates anymore; we can play with thousands if not millions of other people around the world. And when we’re not playing, we can catch up on the latest news through multiple channels or watch others play. I would argue that watching gamers play through platforms like Twitch is more popular than gaming itself. League of Legends streaming has racked up a huge 42.55 billion hours on Twitch.
Gaming content has gone beyond the console. It’s now popular across non-gaming media platforms, with podcasts on Spotify, film adaptations of games on the big screen and streamers on YouTube, Facebook, Kick and more.
Today, many of the largest multiplayer video games are social experiences. However, that sociability for many games is limited to one device. Players of a PC-based game aren’t always able to play together with console gamers. It’s why voices around the topic of cross-platform games are getting louder. So, what are they saying?
Earlier this year, Unity released the results of its 2023 Gaming Report, and it had some standout statistics around cross-platform games. The first being that large studios are increasing the number of cross-platform games. In 2022, large studios released 16% more cross-platform games than in 2021.
There are a few of reasons for this.
Firstly – and this was brought up at Unity’s 2023 Gaming Trends roundtable at GDC – it’s getting more and more expensive to acquire users, so studios need to find alternative ways than user acquisition to grow. Cross-platform is a more effective growth factor – users want it, it’s cheaper to grow user bases and it’s more social.
In its current form, gaming is fragmented across different platforms. Cross-platform gaming can bring those different factions together. This is great from a social perspective, but it also gives developers and publishers “a more comprehensive understanding of players and greater coherency for advertising, promotions and analytics. Ad campaigns, brand and franchise crossovers, and high-profile events can reach and monetize larger audiences”.
In the same Deloitte article that this quote came from – which gives recommendations to executives around reaping the benefits of cross-platform gaming – it highlights the opportunities for “better matchmaking when users join multiplayer games, putting them into instances with more players at a similar level”.
It also promotes cross-platform games as “a step toward more seamless movement of players, avatars, and virtual goods across game experiences. This could support retention within a publisher’s portfolio and enable a broader marketplace of goods”. In short, it makes business sense.
Chris Hewish, president at Xsolla told VentureBeat that “the company’s mobile partners that are adding new platforms are seeing anywhere from 20 to 40 percent of the revenue that they’re generating on mobile now on PC and web”.
Which is a great segue into the second reason for rising cross-platform interest amongst developers.
The line between console and mobile is blurring thanks mainly to huge advances in the mobile market – both from a hardware capability perspective but also its increasing prevalence in developing countries/regions. Because of this, mobile plays a vital part in cross-platform gaming with more than 44% of cross-platform gamers playing on both mobile and console and 29% on mobile only.
And of course, we can’t forget that there is also demand from the players themselves who want to be able to play with their friends on any platform, with very little friction.
All of this said, the industry’s reaction to the idea of cross-platform is mixed.
CEO of Xbox Game Studios told Bloomberg that video games made exclusively for one game console is “something we’re just going to see less and less of…we really love to be able to bring more players in reducing friction, making people feel safe, secure when they’re playing, allowing them to find their friends, play with their friends, regardless of what device – I think in the long run that is good for this industry”.
He also admitted, however, that this wasn’t everyone’s view – “in the short run, there’s some people in some companies that don’t love it”.
The console makers surely must be one. For years, they’ve used exclusive releases of highly anticipated AAA games to drive sales of their hardware. But business models are shifting – “more titles are free-to-play, trading a one-time game purchase for regular sales of new game content and digital goods that personalize and outfit players”.
Developing a cross-platform game also has its challenges. The infrastructure that sits behind the different consoles isn’t necessarily the same, meaning it can be tricky to implement cross-platform capability on certain titles. Developers need to manage different code bases and environments to reach different audiences.
That said, cross-platform gaming does make managing game instances slightly easier and more cost effective (from a game server point of view) for game developers. Rather than needing different game instances for PC, Playstation and Xbox for example - plus multiple different game modes for each platform, which could be 100s of different game instance types - developers can group them all together. It reduces the amount of required game instance types by 3x in this case, which is much easier and better for matchmaking.
Developers also have to think about the compliance and certification needs, and QA processes of each device. And once launched, there are multiple steps involved when updates are required; supporting cross-platform can get complicated.
But not developing a game with cross-platform in mind can make it very difficult to port the game over to a new device or platform after launch. Pyre developers Supergiant learnt this the hard way. “It’s one of those things where, if it weren’t extraordinarily difficult for our team, we probably would have already done it”, said Supergiant Games creative director Greg Kasavin during an AMA on Reddit.
So, that’s the industry’s take. What about the players?
When it comes to actually playing a cross-platform game there is a popular view that PC players have the advantage over console and mobile players, particularly in FPS games. It’s much quicker to manoeuvre using a mouse and keyboard (with 180o spins) compared to a controller and thumb stick.
On the flip side, keyboard and mouse players complain that controller players benefit from having the added benefit of aim assist. An argument that will spill into the next generation of players and continue for decades to come.
In a recent Reddit thread titled ‘thoughts on cross-play now that it’s everywhere?’ respondents backed up this view saying, “I don’t mind cross-play between the consoles but I have absolutely zero interest in playing against PC for obvious reasons” and “in a competitive FPS, no, I don’t want to play against an entirely different input device that has its own pros and cons. I want to be on equal ground”.
As I was diving deeper into this topic, I came across an article about Fortnite, which is perhaps one of the most well-known cross-platform games. Titled “Fortnite player explains why turning off cross-play is the best thing you can do” it follows that player’s posts on Reddit about their improved gameplay after switching off cross-play. The last couple of lines of his post said “I wish they would just have a console-only option in joining lobbies. I get it there are plenty of great console players, but it would be nice to have the options to play without computer players if you want”.
I’ve experienced a similar situation when playing Call of Duty (CoD). I know a lot of players who turned off cross play because they found it ‘too difficult’ playing against PC players.
A respondent in the previous Reddit thread summarised where I think gamers seem to be on the subject of cross-platform games – “It depends on the games you play. I don’t play any competitive FPS games, so cross-platform is awesome…I can play games with friends on all platforms”.
To be able to answer that, I took a look at which cross-platform games are most popular today. General consensus is that they include Fortnite, Minecraft, Dauntless, CoD and Apex Legends. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. There are many, many more.
To give that popularity some context, consider that Fortnight alone saw an average of 233 million monthly players in April 2023, with the peak player number in a single day reaching 15 million.
I believe that with the gaming industry becoming more expansive and greater numbers of people around the world using it as a platform to socialise, the demand for cross-platform games will grow. There is a caveat to that though - I’m an FPS controller player and I agree with the commentators on Reddit that cross-platform lends itself much better to games where the disparity between devices isn’t as important.
I also believe that the complexities around development could limit new cross-platform game development to larger AAA studios which have the resource to take on the increased workload.
What does excite me about cross-platform gaming, though, is its ability to bring more people together and that’s ultimately what gaming is about. If it wasn’t for cross-platform gaming, I wouldn’t have re-connected and stayed in touch with many of my friends from back home that play on Xbox.
Jarrod Palmer is our gaming industry specialist. He knows the issues our customers face and how best
to help them. He's also a great Warzone player and is the UK office FIFA champion.