The move is the latest sign of Microsoft’s transition to a company more open to other platforms from one pushing users to buy and use Microsoft’s technology exclusively.
Microsoft is cracking open the door to a world where video-gamers can play together regardless of the hardware they happen to own.
The Redmond company Monday said “Rocket League,” the hit game featuring soccer-playing rocket cars, would support online gameplay between players on Microsoft’s Xbox One and personal computers, with an “open invitation” to other online gaming networks, including Sony’s PlayStation.
That invitation represents a shift for video gaming, a medium that has historically been broken up into a world of walled sandboxes.
It is also the latest sign of a transition in Microsoft corporate strategy from trying to push users to buy and use its technology exclusively, to becoming a more open participant in technologies ranging from productivity software to developer tools, and now video games.
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“The holy grail that everyone would like to see is that all three systems would be able to play against each other,” said Jeremy Dunham, a vice president with Psyonix, the developer behind “Rocket League.” He was referring to Xbox, PlayStation and the PC.
That would be a landmark moment for video gaming, which has long fractured along hardware lines among expensive living-room consoles, handheld devices and computers.
People playing a “Madden NFL” game on an Xbox, for example, can’t play in online matches against gamers using a PlayStation or a PC. Gamers interested in joining their friends in the digital realm have to get the same hardware.
Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo each spend tremendous amounts of time and energy to court developers to put games first or exclusively on their hardware, and much of the message to consumers from each company focuses on those exclusive games.
Microsoft, badly lagging Sony in current-generation console sales, has recently tried to broaden its pool of potential gamers.
As part of the pitch for its Windows 10, Microsoft has touted the operating system’s support for play between PCs and Xbox. Meanwhile, the company has pushed its own game studios to make titles highlighting that crossplay.
The company took a step further Monday, in an announcement timed to line up with the kickoff of the weeklong Game Developers Conference trade show in San Francisco.
Chris Charla, who leads Microsoft’s outreach to independent game developers, said in a blog post that in addition to Xbox One-to-Windows 10 crossplay, Microsoft is “enabling developers to support cross-network play,” including with other console and PC gaming networks.
A test case is arriving in “Rocket League.”
While developing the game, Psyonix had designed “Rocket League” “with the hope that one day the political climate would allow us to build cross-platform play,” Dunham said.
The game debuted on PlayStation and Windows last year. In February, it launched on Xbox, and the company started talks with Microsoft to add “Rocket League” to the list of Xbox-to-PC crossplay titles.
With that announcement finalized, Psyonix reached out to Sony on Monday morning to see if the Japanese conglomerate would be interested in that final link, Dunham said.
“We’re waiting to see if Sony is good with this,” he said. “It’s never been done before.”
A Sony representative didn’t immediately comment. Nintendo, which also hosts an online gaming hub, didn’t reply to a request for comment.
Some have questioned Microsoft’s motives as a platform for video gaming, accusing the company of trying to strong-arm studios who want to make games for the PC.
Tim Sweeney, co-founder of Epic Games, wrote a column in The Guardian this month arguing that Microsoft’s “Universal Windows Platform,” a programming application for Windows 10 developers, was an effort to control and impose restrictions on the traditionally wide-open PC game market.
Phil Spencer, who runs Microsoft’s Xbox unit, defended Microsoft’s approach in a series of posts on Twitter, saying the Universal Windows Platform was an open platform.
Gamers “want to play games where they want to play, they want to see innovation in gaming,” Spencer said at a media event last month. “They want to see gaming coming together” to put their experience first, he said.