A couple of years ago, Sony found itself in hot water with gamers criticizing it for blocking crossplay even though developers were supporting it across Microsoft and Nintendo consoles as well as PC. This began with Minecraft in 2017, but extended to Rocket League and Fortnite, among other games. The official reasoning was around the lack of curation of online communities and how the PlayStation 4 is simply a superior experience and shouldn't be compromised by other platforms. Sony faced backlash not only from Microsoft but also from a former executive who claimed that the company is only blocking crossplay for money, which is "dumb". At Neowin, we wrote in length about why Sony's strategy should be for the players instead of for the business, but it wasn't until late 2018 that the company finally caved in to public demand and enabled crossplay in Fortnite.
Now, some confidential emails between Epic Games and Sony have confirmed that the reason that the latter was blocking crossplay primarily for financial reasons.
An email (pictured above) - procured by The Verge - from Epic’s vice president of business development Joe Kreiner indicates what Epic Games was offering in return for Sony enabling crossplay in Fortnite. This included a Sony-branded E3 appearance, an offer to make the company "look like heroes", exclusive items for PlayStation Plus, and an extension in Sony's company-wide Unreal Engine 4 license - which was about to expire in a few months -, among other things.
However, Sony refused to budge at all, with its senior director Gio Corsi responding that:
Joe, thanks for the note.
Sorry that you feel things are moving too slowly for Epic with PlayStation and cross platform play. I was under the impression that there was no movement with Microsoft on cross-platform. Has that changed? Also as mobile is important to you, our tournament API's (sic) are important to us thus the ask.
I appreciate the points you've listed in the email, there are lots of great ideas in there for continued partnership however cross-platform play is not a slam dunk no matter the size of the title. As you know, many companies are exploring this idea and not a single one can explain how cross-play improves the PlayStation business. Open to your thoughts if Epic has ideas on this since we all last talked.
In the meantime, I will forward your mail to our executives and will get their thoughts and responses ASAP.
It's clear that Sony didn't see a financial and business benefit in enabling crossplay at that time, despite multiple incentives being offered by Epic Games.
While we don't know how the issues discussed in the email exchange progressed, there is another slide that may shed some more light on the matter. It indicates that crossplay partners will be forced to pay Sony a royalty to "offset the reduction in revenue" if their player base meets a certain baseline.
Simply stated, if the percentage of PS4 gamers and the share of total revenue they bring for the game is roughly equal and the latter is above 85%, no royalties need to be paid. But if there is a month where say, 95% of the player base uses PS4 but less than 85% of the total revenue is contributed by them, the developer will have to pay royalties to Sony according to a fixed formula. You can find more details in the slide below:
While this makes sense from a business perspective if you work at Sony, Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney testified yesterday that Sony is the only company that demands this compensation for enabling crossplay. Other demands made by Sony also include a setting to disable all crossplay interactions, and a policy that stipulates that virtual currencies can't be transferred to and from PlayStation.
The case between Epic Games and Apple only kicked off yesterday, and as can be seen from the court documents in this article, it includes multiple other entities as well. It's likely we'll see dirty laundry from other companies being aired as the case progresses too.