Exclusivity has always been a big thing in gaming. The 90s console wars were driven as much by the likes of Mario, Zelda, Sonic, and Metal Gear Solid, as they were by cartridge vs CD-ROM or polygon vs sprite.
Arguably, exclusive titles will be even more important to the next generation of consoles. If the PS5 and Xbox Two are going to ship with the same CPU and GPU, then it’s down to content to win over players.
Exclusivity isn’t just about content, though. Format has been a source of tribal identity ever since the Spectrum and C64, or ColecoVision and 2600, kids argued in the playground about whose parents had bought the better machine. In recent years, those tribes have solidified into deciding who you can play with. If all your friends are on Xbox Live, for example, then you’re going to get an Xbox.
Crossplay — that is, multiplayer online gaming where players are on different formats — is changing that.
Crossplay is primarily a technical challenge
Running a closed gaming network has its advantages.
Let’s get the obvious one out of the way first. Switching from Nintendo to Sega in the 90s was a matter of getting used to a different controller and exclusive titles. Switching from a closed Xbox Live to a closed Playstation Network means leaving your friends behind. New games are fun. Losing your friends, not so much.
The main challenge, though, is technical. The advantage of Xbox Live and the Playstation Network is that they offer a controlled environment.
Microsoft, for example, knows what data to expect from an Xbox at each stage of a game. That makes cheating attempts easier to spot. Microsoft’s servers are tuned to handle the load patterns that they have learned over years of running Xbox Live. Rogue players can be banned not just by ID but at the machine level.
Crossplay means giving up some of that control. When you open your game to crossplay, you’re trusting another company to do as good a job as you. And, even if they do, their priorities and ways of working are, naturally, different to yours.
The thing is, crossplay is no longer optional for most games.
Crossplay starts with a solid backend
So, if crossplay is a requirement then how do you make it a success? It all starts with your choice of backend.
Nakama, Heroic Labs’ open-source games server, is built from the ground-up for running cross-platform games at huge scales.
Let’s take the problem of cheating. Nakama’s server-authoritative multiplayer mode means you can verify and weed-out attempts at cheating before they show up for other players and even before they’re presented to the cheater themself.
What about matching player demand? Nakama runs as a distributed cluster, so you can respond to demand by adding or removing nodes as and when you need.
And with client libraries for Unity, Unreal, C/C++, Android, iOS, and more, Nakama has always been multi-platform.
If you’re concerned about how to add crossplay safely to your titles, download Nakama and try it out on your development machine.