One of the most talked about stories of the last year has been Fortnite's cross-platform compatibility, specifically regarding Sony's initial unwillingness to allow that cross-platform compatibility to be used. However, after a lot of irritation from the community the company relented, and now that cross-platform play is available in Fortnite. Epic Games wants to spread the love.
Over on the official Unreal Engine website, there's a post by the Epic Games staff detailing how the company wants to help other developers grow their projects by gaining access to cross-platform design tools.
The post notes that the cross-platform services will be free for all developers across all compatible game engines and platforms.
This will be accomplished with a C SDK for the online services, allowing developers to utilize cross-platform login, friends list, presence, profile, and entitlements. This core software development kit will be available for developers working on PC, Mac, iOS, Android, PlayStation, Xbox, and the Nintendo Switch. There are plans to make the SDK available between the second quarter and third quarter of 2019. So this means that you likely shouldn't expect to see games making full use of this free SDK until around 2020 or 2021 at the earliest. On average, we hopefully can expect most multiplayer games releasing in 2022 to have full cross-platform compatibility, assuming they aren't competitive games that require distinct control separation between platforms, such as Counter-Strike or Unreal, where keyboard and mouse players would very easily whoop gamepad users.
PC and Mac developers will be able to utilize a special overlay API that will be available in the kit in the third quarter of 2019. This will also be accompanied by cross-platform voice communication services allowing players from different platforms to chat with one another, and cross-platform party and matchmaking, which would be really cool to see take place. Can you imagine half a party of PS4 players and the other half being Xbox One players going against a bunch of PC users in Call of Duty: Black Ops 4?
The voice comms, parties, and matchmaking features won't be available until sometime between the third and fourth quarter of 2019, along with achievements and trophies.
One of the big issues that might stand in the way of this becoming a reality in a bunch of other games is one of security. While Sony may have received a lot of flak for initially denying cross-platform play due to security concerns, it's not an unreasonable fear. Keep in mind that Sony did suffer data breaches in 2011 and again in 2014, and hackers making use of comms services, matchmaking, or any other network vulnerability to hack into the systems could spell major trouble for the home console makers due to the fact that a large part of their appeal is being a secure, walled off garden from easy hacks. Nintendo is dealing with that right now with hacked Nintendo Switch devices.
So, we'll have to wait and see how well developers make use of the new cross-platform SDK, which will be freely available, and how well the platform holders will deal with any potential security concerns.