Saying that Fortnite Battle Royale is a gaming phenomenon would be an understatement. Epic Games announced during E3 2018 that more than 125 million people are playing the game. And less than 24 hours after it was released for the Nintendo Switch, another 2 million people downloaded it. Yet many of those players soon faced a sad realization: Not only was there no cross-play with PlayStation 4 owners, but if they had used their Epic account for any game on Sony's console, there was no way for them to sign into it on the Switch. Xbox One players have the same problem.
Not being able to play with PS4 owners is a bit of a bummer. Fortnite offers cross-play between the Switch and Xbox One, yet Sony has prevented the PS4 from joining the game's console ecosystem, which means console players might not be able to play with all their friends. But this doesn't come as much of a surprise: Other games that bridge the gap between consoles, like Paladins, Minecraft, etc., also support Nintendo and Microsoft's consoles but not Sony's. Even if games do support cross-play, like Rocket League, the PS4 is kept apart from the Switch and Xbox.
At this point it seems like Sony is content to offer cross-platform support between PS4 and PC, but not to let its customers fraternize with its console competitors. There could be any number of reasons why: Sony could be worried that PS4 owners will jump ship if they can play with their friends on other consoles. The company could have decided it doesn't want to build the infrastructure/code required to support cross-console play, or it could simply want to keep as many people in the PlayStation Plus ecosystem as possible. Those monthly subscriptions aren't going to sign up for themselves.
Of course, there are other, more reasonable explanations for not supporting cross-platform play on certain devices. Many games don't bridge the gap between the PC and consoles, for example, because of their different input methods. PC gamers could have an edge over console players because they use a mouse instead of having to use a joystick. Or console gamers' aim assist could overcompensate and put the PC players at a disadvantage. That isn't the case here, though, because you can play Fortnite with people on PS4, PC, iOS, and Android devices.
Whatever the reason, it's clear that Sony wants the PS4 to be an island. That's unfortunate for anyone who wanted to play Fortnite with their friends regardless of what console they own. But it's understandable, or at least not unusual for Sony. The bigger problem comes from the fact that once you visit and log in Sony's island you can't leave. (Insert obligatory-yet-dated "Lost" reference here.) Previously using an Epic account for any of the company's games, like the now-defunct Paragon, will apparently prevent you from signing in to the same account on a different platform.
Here's the message shown in Fortnite for Switch:
"This Fortnite account is associated with a platform which does not allow it to operate on Switch. Neither the Fortnite website nor Epic Customer Service are able to change this. To play Fortnite on Switch, please create a new account."
That means people who purchased in-game cosmetic items and linked their Epic accounts to their PS4 can't access those items on their Switch or Xbox. You can link your account to every other platform--and Xbox Live director of programming Larry "Fritz Nelson" Hryb tweeted instructions for how to connect your Xbox Live account to Epic so you can access your items on Switch--but not to the PS4. The same is also true in reverse; a Fortnite account created on or connected to the Switch can't be accessed on the PS4 version of the game. You simply can't access both platforms from the same account.
This leaves us with two major takeaways. The first is that true cross-play remains a dream--and that it only takes one company, like Sony, to exclude its platform from the list of available options to kill that dream. (Unless keeping its console separate from the others becomes a deal-breaker with consumers, in which case even Sony might be persuaded to stop creating artificial boundaries along console lines between players.) Games will remain fragmented. Sure, at least some of the fragments can be put together, but true "play anywhere" capability still doesn't exist.
The other major takeaway is that Sony might have too much power regarding accounts for outside services. Imagine if the company had tried to pull the same with something other than a game. Would you buy a PS4 if watching Netflix on it meant you couldn't watch it on another platform? Or, to leave the realm of game consoles: would you buy an iPhone if it was able to hold your Facebook, Google, or Twitter accounts hostage? Sony's policy is so ludicrously anti-consumer that even long-standing PlayStation fans might be tempted to move to another platform.
It doesn't help that Sony issued a non-response when the BBC asked about backlash surrounding the Fortnite scandal:
”We’re always open to hearing what the PlayStation community is interested in to enhance their gaming experience. Fortnite is already a huge hit with PS4 fans, offering a true free-to-play experience so gamers can jump in and play online. With 79 million PS4s sold around the world and more than 80 million monthly active users on PlayStation Network, we’ve built a huge community of gamers who can play together on Fortnite and all online titles. We also offer Fortnite cross-play support with PC, Mac, iOS, and Android devices, expanding the opportunity for Fortnite fans on PS4 to play with even more gamers on other platforms.”
That's a great response to a question nobody asked. Perhaps the Sony rep who crafted the above statement should consider a second career in politics.