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Epic vs. Apple court documents reveal why Sony was against cross-play for so long, and how this changed

New documents unearthed in Epic's trial with Apple have revealed just how averse Sony has been to the prospect of cross-play.

Cross-play is one of those things Sony has long had a hard line on for seemingly no reason. The platform holder initially blocked the ability for PlayStation players to play games with friends on other platforms.

At the start, this affected a small subset of games like Rocket League and several other smaller games, but it all came to a head when Epic Games really pushed for it with Fortnite. Sony eventually allowed cross-play, and many multiplayer games have since launched with the feature across all platforms, including PlayStation.

Thanks to court documents presented in Epic Games' trial with Apple this week, however, we now have a better idea of why Sony was so against it in the first place, what Epic Games was willing to do in order to convince Sony to change its ways, and what ultimately made it all work.

As spotted by The Verge, the documents first show two emails dating back to 2018. One was sent by Epic to try and explain its case for cross-play, and what the developer was willing to give for it to happen. The other is a response from Sony dismissing the idea of cross-play, calling it a feature that doesn't add anything to the experience on PlayStation.

Epic's email included a number of proposals, most notably of which was one whereby Epic would announce cross-play together with Sony on the latter's terms. Epic was also prepared to "go out of its way to make Sony look like heroes." Epic was even happy to co-brand its E3 event at the time with PlayStation, and offer any bonuses to PlayStation Plus members Sony wanted.

The email, written by Epic’s vice president of business development, Joe Kreiner, ultimately stressed that Epic is committed to cross-play no matter what, and that it would be best for the two companies to work together rather against each other.

"Let’s make this a huge win for us all. Epic’s not changing its mind on the issue, so let’s just agree on it now," Kreiner wrote.

Sony's senior director of developer relations at the time, Gio Corsi, responded by saying that while he appreciates all the things Epic is willing to do, he was not convinced that cross-play matters, regardless of how big the game is.

"Cross-platform play is not a slam dunk no matter the size of the title. As you know, many companies are exploring this idea and not a single one can explain how cross-console play improves the PlayStation business," said Corsi.

Court documents also reveal how Sony ended up enabling the feature. Titled 'Cross-Platform Revenue Share', the 2019 PlayStation-branded document details a system whereby Sony would be able to charge royalties in cases where a game's player base is largest on PlayStation, but spending isn't. This essentially allows Sony to charge partners fees for every month where PlayStation player spending falls below a certain percentage in a cross-play game, despite having a majority in player numbers.

The document above illustrates two examples which break down this system fairly well, and it's clear Sony didn't want to potentially miss out on revenue those players would have otherwise spent on its own platform (where it could take a cut). This only goes into effect when a revenue for any given month exceeds $500,000 (gross) on PSN.

Beyond that, the agreement also stipulates that developers of cross-play games share monthly revenue reports with Sony, and that it has the right to audit their books and records.

Though it is unclear whether this policy remains in place today, Epic CEO Tim Sweeny said in his testimony that Epic needed to agree to those terms in order for Fortnite cross-play to be enabled. Sweeny also revealed that Sony is the only partner that requires compensation for cross-play.

"In certain circumstances Epic will have to pay additional revenue to Sony," said Sweeny, as reported by The Verge. "If somebody were primarily playing on PlayStation, but paying on iPhone then this might trigger compensation."

The Epic Games vs. Apple trial kicked off Monday with a torrent of kids screaming 'free Fortnite'. It will continue this week and next.

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