For the past few weeks, the Battlefield 4 team has offered a nice option to players who wanted to grab BF4 when it shipped, but not miss out on the enhanced visuals in the Xbox One or PS4 versions. Everyone who bought the game at launch got a coupon to upgrade to the next-gen version for just $ 9.99. All your stats, game progress, and account information travel along for the ride, making it a no-brainer for someone planning to pick up a new console for the holiday season.
Turns out there’s a snag. While the upgrade process apparently works flawlessly, it’s a one-way, one-time deal. If you return to playing on the Xbox 360 or PS3, none of that progress will migrate to the other system. Potentially more frustrating is the console lockout. Because the Xbox One and PS4 versions apparently run on their own versions of Xbox Live or the PlayStation Network, you can’t play with your old friends or teammates until they buy the next-gen version of the game, too.
Cross-gen multiplayer is a missed opportunity
This is a new problem that previous console generations haven’t really had to address; there were only a handful of multiplayer games for the Xbox and PS2. Today, people who play games online often have a significant friends lists. If you play BF4 because you enjoy doing it with a specific group of people, upgrading is going to leave you sitting on your hands with an empty friends list.
It’s been well established that the importance of backwards compatibility for previous-generation games wanes fairly quickly — buyers who want it are willing to pay for it, but the Xbox 360 and PS3 both reduced their efforts in this vein and didn’t suffer much for doing so. Cross-platform multiplayer compatibility, however, is something more players might want — and want for a longer period of time. While console and PC gamers can’t typically play against each other, it’s less clear why BF4 can’t match Xbox 360 players up against their Xbox One counterparts.
The best way to deal with this situation would be to allow next-gen players to choose current-gen servers. Doing so would limit the number of available players and maps, but remember, we’re talking about versions of maps and playing conditions that the customer has already purchased when they bought the game. Allowing cross-platform play doesn’t hand an advantage to PC gamers with a mouse and keyboard rather than a console. Players on both sides of the gap could hypothetically opt in or out of gaming against those on different systems.
Right now, Sony and Microsoft are essentially running two different versions of Xbox Live or the PSN. And while that may make sense in aggregate, there’s no reason for games to intrinsically obey that gap in multiplayer. For now, we’re glad that upgrade option is there, but be aware of the hiccups with multiplayer if you primarily want to game with a specific group of friends.