Epic vs. Apple Trial Accidentally Reveals Sony's Hatred of Cross-Play

The company infamously dragged their feet on enabling cross-play for PlayStation owners in 2018. Now, we better understand why.
May 4, 2021, 3:45pm
Artwork from the video game Fortnite
Image courtesy of Epic Games

Epic Games and Apple's trial over the closed nature of Apple's App Store started on Monday, and it's already revealed fascinating and unexpected information, such as how much Sony really, really wanted to avoid turning on cross-play for popular multiplayer games like Fortnite. The documents unearthing Sony's unease were first noticed by The Verge.

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"We love working with PlayStation, and we want this to be a win/win," wrote Epic Games head of business development for Unreal Engine Joe Kreiner in a 2018 email to Sony that became public as part of the trial proceedings. "The longer this drags out, it will be less so. I can't think of a scenario where Epic doesn't get what we want - that possibility went out the door when Fortnite became the biggest game on PlayStation."

The proposal from Epic was pointed but not hostile, with the Fortnite developer trying to find a solution that would "make Sony look like heroes." Epic was open to Sony determining how and when the news was announced, offered up exclusives for the PlayStation version of Fortnite, and even offered to extend the company's Unreal Engine license free of charge.

"Epic's not changing it's [sic] mind on this issue, so let's just agree on it now," said Kreiner, whose aggressive tone falls in line with the same way Epic has tried to push Apple around.

One of the reasons companies try to avoid going to trial is because it frequently requires the disclosure of sensitive internal documents and emails. The scope of this trial is massive, and one of the key sticking points has been Epic criticizing the closed nature of Apple's ecosystem and Apple saying Epic is fine dealing with similar ecosystems on consoles.

The resulting legal investigations by both Epic and Apple have resulted in a trove of information coming to light that helps us better understand previous industry controversies. 

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Sony's response to Epic was not an immediate thumbs up.

"Sorry that you feel things are moving too slowly for Epic with PlayStation and cross platform play," said Sony Interactive Entertainment America director Gio Corsi. "[...] I appreciate the points you've listed in the mail, there are a lot of great ideas in here for continued partnership however cross-platform is not a slam dunk no matter the size of the title."

Corsi pointed to how it wasn't clear cross-play "improves the PlayStation business."

It makes sense PlayStation owners and Xbox owners who are playing the same game should be able to play with or against each other, but for many years, it didn't work that way. It was PlayStation owner against PlayStation owner, Xbox owner against Xbox owner. This remains the case for a great number of video games, but it's now longer always the case.

In 2018, Epic was publicly pushing for Fortnite to be playable across platforms, aka cross-play. Both Microsoft and Nintendo were on board with this idea, but Sony was not. 

The irony, of course, was that Microsoft has previously taken the same position at Sony, back when Microsoft's Xbox platform was the industry leader. In 2018, the positions had reversed, and Microsoft was trying to use public sentiment to pressure Sony into a change. 

Sony was frequently blamed by other developers who wanted to enable cross-play, too.

Eventually, the company relented and in September 2018 announced cross-play support.

"Today, the communities around some games have evolved to the point where cross-platform experiences add significant value to players," said Sony Interactive Entertainment deputy president John Kodera in a blog post at the time.

During the trial, Epic CEO Tim Sweeney revealed Sony charges companies who engage in cross-play, requiring payment if, for example, "somebody were primarily playing on PlayStation, but paying [for microtransactions] on iPhone." Epic had made those payments.


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