Last week, Sony added support for an audio chat via Discord on PlayStation 5 consoles, making it the first platform to provide a third-party OS-wide game voice call option.
PlayStation 5 gamers have always been able to update their Discord accounts to show what they’re playing. Still, they’ve had to utilize mobile devices or laptops to chat with other players.
The release is identical to one that happened last fall on Xbox consoles made by Microsoft. Discord audio calls have always been accessible on desktop computers, mobile devices, and consoles. There is just one central gaming platform that is different: Nintendo Switch.
Discord, which works on PC, Xbox, and PlayStation, is quickly becoming the de facto voice-over-IP service for the increasingly commonplace phenomenon of cross-platform multiplayer gaming. Of course, this is fantastic news for Discord as a platform and business, and it would be much better if rival services followed suit.
Nonetheless, this success by even a single service is a huge victory for proponents of cross-play and an indication that the landscape for multiplayer gaming has changed significantly from the last generation of consoles.
The Cross-Play Dream
While cross-platform play has been a desired feature for the online gaming community for at least two decades, getting to this position has taken a lot of hard work.
Indeed, there have been exceptional cases throughout history. Games like Quake 3 Arena and Phantasy Star Online, released for the Sega Dreamcast in 1998, attempted cross-play between the console and Microsoft’s Windows PC platform. Just after that, in 2002, Final Fantasy XI created waves by allowing players on the PlayStation 2 and PC to interact with one another.
During Sony’s E3 press conference, Valve president Gabe Newell famously announced that Portal 2 would be coming to the PlayStation 3 and would support cross-play with PC. That’s how I played the co-op mode of Portal 2: I used my PS3, and my friend used Steam on his gaming PC.
Over several years, Microsoft has steadily increased the number of titles that support cross-play across Xbox consoles and Windows Computers. Yet, platform-hopping between consoles was quite limited until recently. Several factors hindered support for the generation’s best-selling game system.
By allowing PS4 owners to play alongside Xbox One, Sony might dampen the PS4’s market dominance by reducing the social pressure to buy a PS4 instead of an Xbox One. Similarly, Sony’s underachieving PS3 was in the same boat as Microsoft’s (at least initially) dominant Xbox 360.
Epic Games’ Fortnite was the game that finally broke Sony’s stranglehold. The game is so massive, ubiquitous, and ridiculously zeitgeisty that even in its uber-dominant position for the past few years, Sony had no choice but to cave.
Microsoft’s strategic efforts to weaken Sony’s position through consumer-oriented marketing and policies, combined with the game’s popularity, Epic chief Tim Sweeney’s aggressive, outspoken advocacy, and overall success pressured Sony into changing its tune. At that point, not everything was settled for developers and gamers. It was later revealed that Epic had to pay Sony to enable cross-play in Fortnite.
While not the first or only game to support cross-play, Fortnite certainly paved the way for others. Sony didn’t give every developer simple tools and APIs to make cross-play possible. Still, it started getting along with the growing list of developers who could insist on it, most notably Activision with Call of Duty.
More titles than ever before, both large and small, support cross-play between the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. Although it’s not yet the norm for newly released games, this is an encouraging sign of the times.
We’ve already covered various PlayStation-related topics, so if you want to learn more, you can review those articles as well-
- Free Playstation Plus Game is Ineligible for the PS5 Upgrade
- Playstation Dualsense Edge Review: Sony Expensive Yet Powerful PS5 Companion
- Sony Playstation 5 Pre-Orders Launch on February 7, 2023
The Voice Chat Dilemma
While having multiple choices is excellent for strangers in random lobbies, friends who want to hang out on voice chat while playing are usually better off sticking to one platform due to the lack of universal voice-over-IP service.
Amid the quarantine for the 2020 pandemic, my wife and I established a weekly gaming night with her brother and three of our friends. Because only a select few titles supported genuine cross-play across PC, PlayStation, and Xbox, we began by exclusively playing Minecraft: Bedrock Edition.
We branched out to more of them when more games gained cross-play support. Nevertheless, those of us playing on a console had to call Discord on our mobile devices, crank the game volume down extremely (so it wouldn’t bleed through), and have a conversation.
It functioned, but only after a great deal of bother. It was incredibly subpar when we moved on to playing competitive games like Overwatch 2, in which audio cues play a significant role.
Most of the time, I play games with the weekly group on my gaming PC, but sometimes I would rather play on a console or have already purchased the game for another platform before agreeing to play it with the group.
I remember having to carefully consider how to express a stupidly intricate solution that I would be understood: wearing phone-connected earbuds inside my over-ear PlayStation headset while speaking into the phone microphone to receive the entire width of sounds.
Our six-person weekly gaming group can finally end this nonsense now that Discord is available on all three devices our members utilize. I do not doubt that we are not the only group of our kind. The PlayStation and Final Fantasy XIV PC players can join the same guild, but the game has no voice chat feature.
Players on the PlayStation platform have opted for configurations just as crazy as the one I just described for years since the game demands precise communication between teams, and frequently at a rate that typing on a keyboard won’t cut it.
And yet, it’s not ideal if Discord is the only game in town with this kind of customer base. I hope a competing option succeeds because healthy competition leads to higher-quality goods and puts shoppers in a stronger position.
But, any newcomer will face an uphill battle against Discord, the de facto leader in gaming communications, given that console voice chat is the exact definition of a closed platform.