For all the negatives that have been thrown around about Microsoft lately, one huge aspect of console gaming – and really, gaming in general – that the silicon giant has kept a vice-like grip around is the online multiplayer experience.
No one, and I mean no one can argue that any other system, or PC software for that matter, has been able to touch the ease of access and downright dependability associated with Xbox Live. Let’s be honest with ourselves for a minute. Playing online multiplayer games on consoles before the seventh generation was not only a royal pain in the ass to figure out but also incredibly unstable. This was long before Steam was a even a twinkle in Gabe Newell’s eye, and the PC was like consoles in that every game had its own clunky online interface and separate publisher account information.
In the time since its launch, the Xbox 360 has set the internet ablaze with some really great genre-defining multiplayer experiences, sending every single one of Microsoft’s competitors scrambling to find parity in any way possible. I remember getting the first Gears of War for Christmas the month after it was released (from my mother-in-law of all people), and I was outright stunned at how easy, not to mention functional, my first real online experience with the new Xbox Live and the Xbox 360 was. All of my friends that I showed Gears to had to have the game and made up their minds almost immediately to purchase the 360. Even a few people holding out for the PS3 gave up their Sony banner and converted.
Since that time Xbox Live has evolved even more and streamlined many of its core functions to the point that older friends and tech-challenged family members were easily able to jump in on the fun. Xbox Live’s party system alone has shown the world just how simple playing with friends online can be and has been the envy of every Sony executive and PlaysStation fanboy since the PSN stumbled into existence.
Not to say the PSN hasn’t come a long way, but it still pales in comparison to the access level and stability of Xbox Live. On Sony’s current iteration of the PlayStation, games still have their own clunky online interfaces just like the ones I mentioned from the previous gen with no unified party structure. And sure, you can invite people into the game you’re currently in, but if someone gets disconnected, which happens way more often than it should, you’re back at square one.
While we are on the subject of how lackluster the PSN’s features are in comparison to Xbox Live, let’s talk about cross-game chat for second. How in the hell did Sony fail to figure out how to implement this feature over the course of the last seven years? Cross-game or party chat’s value can’t be undersold when it comes to playing online. Oh, and don’t say, “You can mute everybody but your friends and it’s the same thing,” because I assure you it definitely is not. Even if you go through the trouble of doing this, as soon as the match is over and the server resets, time to mute everybody again (see multiplayer in Killzone 2 and 3). This is far from optimal, and to be frank, Sony should be embarrassed at this point.
As we head into the new generation of consoles, there is a lot of positive buzz about the PS4, and there have been many negative statements made about how Microsoft handled the Xbox One’s announcement. It’s definitely popular on the internet to hate on Microsoft, and Sony has made a lot of promises about how the PSN of the future will function. But listen up people, no one has seen the new PSN, and no one will until there are PS4′s in the wild, and until I experience it myself, I won’t believe the hype for a second. Especially since playing games on PSN will now cost money.
In closing, the PS4 seems like a great gaming machine from what I have seen so far, but to be on par with Xbox Live, even in its current state, Sony has a long way to go. It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement and forget who the current king of online is (Xbox 360). If multiplayer gaming is important to you, be a savvy consumer and wait a couple of weeks after release before you make that big purchase to see how the new system’s online features really compare.