18 April 2011

Xbox Live + Portal 2 = Cross-platform Saddness

So, on the eve of Portal 2's launch - and 2 months after purchasing my pre-order for the game - I found out that I'm going to be out of luck when it comes to being able to play Co-Op over Xbox Live with non-Xbox Live players. Apparently its been known for quite some time, but PlayStation 3 owners will be able to purchase and link up their Steam PC accounts and be able to play with their friends over steam cross-platform. This means that PS3 players will be able to play with their PC cohorts and vice versa.
Unfortunately, I do not own a PS3 or a PC capable of playing any games such as Portal 2, and rely on my Xbox 360 and Xbox Live to get my multiplayer gaming fix. So I'm now faced, the day before the game is available, with the crushing reality that I will not be able to play with my cross-platform friends thanks to Microsoft's insistence on locking down multiplayer gaming to only those who use their service. I am now very upset at Microsoft's draconian stance, compounded by the fact that my brother wants to get the PC copy to play with his friends, my Portal-playing coworkers do not own an Xbox 360 and use either their PC or PS3, and my best friend abandoned the Xbox 360 platform to a PS3 due to red-ringing issues leaving a bad taste in his mouth.
As a computer programmer, I am aware that there are sometimes technical reasons why a particular system or service may not support access to external services for security reasons or there are compatibility issues, but I see no non-monetary reason why Portal 2 for the Xbox 360 is locked into just the Xbox Live service. Assuming that the social applications currently available on the 360 access their respective services directly, I see no good technical reason why Xbox 360 owners shouldn't be able to do the same as their PS3 and PC counterparts. It seems to me that the only reason for locking Xbox Live users to play only against other Xbox Live users is to ensure tie-in between users and increase brand dependency a la Apple and their i-products. To play a friend, both need an Xbox 360 (thus forcing both parties to own their product) and Xbox Live (again, forcing both parties to subscribe to their service). Granted, there is the fantastic party system that Xbox Live employs, but if the capability to play with everyone on any platform is incompatible with the party system (which I would assume is true), then Microsoft should give the developers the option to implement their own party system and switch off Microsoft's implementation when the user wants to. I can understand incompatibility between platforms and believe other gamers would be willing to trade the party system for being able to play with anyone they want, but I don't believe that the developers at Microsoft will actually ever do this instead of brand lock-in. I guess, as console gamers we'll never have the opportunity to experience true seemless gameplay across platforms and will, it seems, be stuck in this antiquated lock-in pattern for quite a lot longer still.
So, in playing Portal 2 with my friends, I am - for lack of a better phrase - forever alone...

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