Two of the world’s most influential PC games studios want Sony, Nintendo and Microsoft to break down the barricades to their consoles’ online services.
Gabe Newell and Frank Pearce, the co-founders of Valve Software and Blizzard Entertainment, both believe that online unification between consoles would be a progressive step for the industry.
Pearce told Develop that it would be “ideal to have a unified online community regardless of the platform that gamers are playing on”.
Newell told Develop that he’d prefer to see the industry “figure out how to make the internet better instead of figuring out how to keep customers off the internet”.
“One way is a dead end, the other creates more value,” he added.
Freedom offered by online platforms such as Facebook and iOS is widely regarded as key to their success.
Developers can rapidly adapt new revenue models, such as free-to-play and cross-game promotions, and have access to near-instant analytical data.
And the seemingly unstoppable growth of mobile and social gaming suggests that tightly guarded online platforms, such as with the Wii and Xbox 360, have lost their appeal with developers.
Demands for online console ubiquity are common within the games indsutry. UK studio Jagex wanted to host its MMO Runescape across Xbox 360, Wii and PS3 – a bid which was denied by some, or all, of the three platform holders.
But the extra pressure applied by Valve and Blizzard, both of which make several billion dollars in revenue each year, may be a foretoken to a wider shift in industry policy.
Sony has already begun to open its network by incorporating Valve’s Steam service on PS3. The company has allowed Icelandic studio CCP Games to unify PlayStation and PC via the upcoming online title Dust 514 – a game which communicates significant data between both platforms.
Newell said it is important that Sony finds financial reward for breaking old habits and opening the network for Valve and CCP.
But if Sony does find success, that could spur other platform holders on.
For Nintendo’s upcoming Wii U online service, the company said it is “creating a much more flexible system that will allow the best approaches by independent publishers”.
But whether any will allow rival consoles to share an online space remains to be seen. Newell said such as process is “certainly technically feasible. That’s a solved problem.”
Pearce said it was “hard to say” if total online agnosticism would become reality, but he remained hopeful that the industry would see more partnerships like Sony’s with Valve and CCP.
“One of the things I look at when it comes to the modern games business, is that gamers today want to play whatever game experience they want, whenever they want with whomever they want,” Pearce said.
“So I think you’re going to see a lot of games experiences that get platform agnostic. Blizzard has to contemplate that.”
He added that, from a design perspective, there are legitimate hurdles to overcome.
“If you have a gaming experience on the PC that you want people to enjoy on the console you may have to adapt components of that experience to different platforms,” he said.
“So maybe that isn’t a level playing-field. Maybe some games are best as a shared community rather than a shared gameplay experience. It really is completely dependent on the game itself.”
Blizzard has “a lot of guys in the office who are passionate about the console space; people who have a lot of great ideas for interactive ideas in the console space. It’s definitely something we’ll revisit," Pearce said.