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Why crossplay between PC and Xbox One may not be fair to everyone

Xbox One X
Xbox One X (Image credit: Matt Brown | Windows Central)

The ability to play with other gamers who are on a different platform than your own was something of a myth prior to the last several years of the gaming industry. Now, Xbox Play Anywhere titles like Gears of War 4 and the recent Aragami give Xbox and Windows 10 users an opportunity to enjoy their games together.

However, while this may seem like a fantastic feature, it doesn't come without its flaws. Crossplay has both pros and cons, so let's take a look at each and determine if it's truly a good thing to have.

Read: Xbox Play Anywhere game list

The pros of crossplay

One of the best things about cross-platform play between Xbox One and Windows 10 is that games like Halo Wars 2, which have relatively low populations on both systems, can pool these two communities together in order to create a fairly strong base of players. This takes a lot of stress off of matchmaking systems, and helps ensure that players won't be left waiting for extremely long periods of time in order to find matches.

Another great aspect of crossplay that many people don't mention is portability. Xbox gamers who happen to own a competent gaming laptop can take their computer with them on the go and play it with other Xbox users just as they would at home. Lastly, crossplay gives people the freedom to choose. People who potentially want an Xbox game and have a PC but either don't want or can't afford an Xbox can purchase the title via Play Anywhere and enjoy it just like console players can.

The cons of crossplay

A large problem with Xbox/PC crossplay is that it potentially opens the door for hackers to make their way into Xbox One games. While games sold through the Universal Windows Platform (UWP) on Windows 10 are supposed to be more secure in theory, this isn't always the case. This is an issue that Sea of Thieves faced recently, and though Microsoft has done a good job of bringing down the banhammer since, the risk of running into cheaters is still present.

Another issue present with the concept of crossplay is the inherent advantage that a mouse and keyboard usually has over a handheld controller. Admittedly, mouse and keyboard aren't always better — racing and fighting games are typically easier with a controller — but for the vast majority of game genres, it is. This is especially true with first-person shooters like Overwatch, where aim and movement play a large role when it comes to winning or losing.

So, is crossplay good or bad?

Ultimately, I think that crossplay is a good thing overall, but should be omitted in some scenarios. Multiplayer titles with shooting mechanics like Sea of Thieves should never have crossplay because of both hacking threats and mouse and keyboard advantages, but games that have an emphasis on cooperative play or simpler control schemes that work equally well with both controller and mouse and keyboard can largely mitigate the problems with crossplay and should definitely have it.

Your thoughts

What do you think about crossplay between Xbox One and PC? Let me know what you think in the comments.

Brendan Lowry is a Windows Central writer and Oakland University graduate with a burning passion for video games, of which he's been an avid fan since childhood. You'll find him doing reviews, editorials, and general coverage on everything Xbox and PC. Follow him on Twitter.

44 Comments
  • The main cons (k+m vs controller) is not due to cross play itself, you can have a controller on pc and k+m on console.
    I don't get why no studio has ever split its community by controller type instead...
  • Probably because it looks like Xbox doesn't have robust support to keyboard and mouse as input sources in games. Microsoft did promise it'd come, but it's been more than a year, I think, and nothing so far. Perhaps the allure of Age of Empires 4 playable on Xbox can make them finally do it, who knows.
  • This is a bit of a weird restriction on consoles, having limited controller type support, and it needs fixing. I use controller and m+kb on PC and it is fun either way, in all games, so I don't see much of an issue there. Heck, I like a controller in one hand and a mouse in the other for some shooters. Have tech choices fixed for e-sports if you like, but for fun it really has no impact. As far as cheating, it's not exactly a big issue in PC games if the devs are on the ball. Certainly it's not been a barrier to PC gaming and the up side is mods, which are well worth it. Cheating is ultimately a bigger inhibitor for fun for the cheater so cheats tire of games pretty quickly. Just kick them or use a better server. No biggie.
  • anyway, pc players with controllers should be able to play with xbox players
  • Unless it's an e-sports event, players can use whatever they like. PC or otherwise. It's just as much fun.
  • The Adaptive Controller... maybe someone or some maker can make KB+M work through XAC XD
  • The problem with this idea is that it gives console players an unfair advantage against other console players who don’t fork over the cash to get a K&M in non-crossplay games. It’s like a hardware version of pay to win.
  • That can be solved in theory by input locking for player pools so for instance if a keyboard and mouse is detected or set as prefered control method for the game. Then these players will only be able to play online with keyboard + mouse players. For those willing to play in a mixed lobby, a simple warning indicating that in a mixed lobby players with keyboard + mice will have an advantage and press A to continue to mixed lobby. By providing options it addresses this issue somewhat. The main issue I see is code injection at run time on PCs. That can be addressed using the UWP container, checking for such instances when online.
  • KB+M is cheaper by far than an XB1 controller, so your maths does not work out Brendan.
  • Not when you factor in the cost of adapters that make them work with the Xbox. You can’t just plug in a keyboard and mouse and play, dude.
  • Currently, yes, but if Xbox gets sorted so it just works with kb+m which is the concept being discussed here then that's not an issue.
  • Yet that spawns yet another issue, which is the fact that many people prefer console because of the couch gaming aspect. People who play M&K on console takes away the environment of equal footing that console users are used to on their Xbox.
  • I've always maintained that the KBM advantage is neutralised by smart ranking, which any matchmaking system should have anyway. If a KBM makes you a "better" player (or for that matter, any other hardware advantage such as frame rate, resolution, or graphics), then you get matched with other "better" players, and everything evens itself out. That ranking could also be fingerprinted by your current hardware configuration, so if you change things you get re-ranked.
  • Maybe, but obviously there's a lot of factors that come into that. Some people simply might not run into any until they reach the higher rank, then get curbstomped. And also, the highest rank in a game shouldn't be exclusive to players because of hardware, I don't think. IRL pay to win.
  • In that Gears 4 crossplay test i had no problem kicking the butts of PC players or with my team :D. It all depends on the game of course and how players use their instruments, controller or key & mouse. Cross play should be done fair and both sides have to give a little to make crossplay work.
  • I think the pro for cross platform that over shadows all the cons is having more people to play with. I just wish they would implement this for Destiny. Better to be playing with other people and complain about the cons than playing by yourself wishing you had people to play with.
  • I'm really tired of this debate. Usually, people who insist on playing consoles argue it's because the controller is better. I am in the camp that maintains the keyboard/mouse are. And, there's just the preference, regardless of which is actually better. It's this simple: if you prefer to use a controller, USE the controller. Windows now supports a controller, but is that suddenly stopping us from using the keyboard/mouse? Heck, no. The Xbox SHOULD BE NO DIFFERENT. Let the chips fall where they may. We have PERFECTLY good reasons to stick with k/m, and among IS the fact that, for most games, the combination affords a degree of speed, control and accuracy that's impossible for most to achieve on a controller. Personally, I will NEVER use a controller (which is why we do NOT game on our Xbox). Let's stop this silly debate and just open things up. Let people play with whatever mechanisms they prefer, period. As for the hacking, FIX THINGS SO YOU CAN'T HACK IT. We pay ridiculous amounts of money for these games, these consoles, these services. FIX IT.
  • Not impossible to get accuracy and use a controller. Controller in one hand, mouse in the other. That's pretty accurate. You get analogue movement for variable speed and a nice way to aim so you can drop dodgy 'auto-aim' mechanisms. I'm sure cross play will push consoles to catch up soon and get mice working properly. Until then, Steam Controller is excellent for accuracy and the new 'accessible' controller for Xbox looks similar.
  • It’s not that simple. If it was, then hacking would have stopped a long time ago. And also, K&M on console gives console users an unfair advantage vs. other console users in non-crossplay titles.
  • It is pretty simple, hacking has not been an insurmountable obstacle to a great PC gaming experience. Hence the large number of satisfied PC gamers. Some PC gamers use controller. Some use kb+m, some use both (even at the same time like I do sometimes). It is not a problem on PC, so why would it be a problem on Xbox?
  • Because the PC players are choosing to handicap themselves because controller is objectively less useful than a keyboard in most scenarios (bar racing and fighting games). They're making the choice to be less equipped because of their preference. Xbox gamers using keyboard would inversely give them an ADVANTAGE among their peers. Huge difference here. And it isn't that simple. Again, if it was then hackers wouldn't be a thing, and as an experienced and frequent PC gamer I can tell you that they are. Not as bad as they used to be, sure, as anti-hack software has become more and more potent. But the problem is far from being gone.
  • Why not just give players more choice and let them filter matchmaking by Xbox only, PC only, or Crossplay?
  • That’s a good idea but it ultimately defeats the advantage of crossplay to begin with. Nobody on console will realistically want to play vs PC players when they have the option to go solely against Xbox ones.
  • An option is better than no option.
  • Yes, but developers have to make three separate matchmaking services for something like this. Easy to say it should be there but it takes extra resources.
  • Fair point, I understand that from a troubleshooting point of view as well as the resource economy a studio has to contend with. However there has to be give otherwise there won't be much progression at all. There has to be more a efficient way suchas using a filter system and a pipeline-esque system. As creating three individual services seems rather clunky.
  • Most every PC game I play, I play with controller anyway so I don't think there's a lot of difference
  • ME too, almost 100% of games I play with a controller. This is not a real debate. People should all play together, with whatever control scheme they like.
  • "Titles with shooting mechanics like Sea of Thieves should never have Crossplay".
    Have you been drinking too much grog lately Brendan????
    Crossplay is SoT's saving grace. Not everyone has a good PC or Xbox. But most have one or the other. That's the beauty of Crossplay. It allows you to play with a lot more friends. I don't stop playing a game just because someone's better than me, or has an advantage. That just increases the challenge. Stop complaining and look at the positives.
    But for those who absolutely can't handle a challenge they probably should add a checkbox for if you want to join Crossplay or not.
  • Not enough grog, to be honest. And Sea of Thieves’ struggles can be attributed to the game itself being lackluster in several areas. Crossplay has brought the playerbase together, yes, but it also has brought hackers and people who have massive advantage over console players in firefights.
  • Honestly, Brendan. Judging by this article and your subsequent comments, I don't think you should be playing any multiplayer games. Probably no games at all, because even the AI will often hold an unfair advantage over a human player. Unless you have completely identical players, running identical hardware (same screen, keyboard, mouse, controller, headset, chair, desk, etc.) in the same environment (heat, humidity, air circulation, light, noise, ping time, etc.) there will never be a level playing field. Grow up and deal with it!
  • Just because there will never be a perfectly level playing field doesn't mean that the field shouldn't be made as even as possible. I'll never understand this mindset about stuff - "It'll never be PERFECT so why bother?" Why? Because the closer you get to that perfect state = the more chances players have to get better at the game legitimately, through things like practice, instead of needing to throw money at the screen to get hardware to even the field out before they even boot the game up. Why do we have anti-hack software? People will find a way anyway so what's the point? Why do we have laws, criminals break them anyway so what's the point? This logic is extremely flawed, my dude. It's not a good argument at all.
  • You missed the most import thing about crossplay!!!!, it allows friends or family who have different devices to play with each other. I have a pc and alot of my mates are pc players as well, but i also have friends and family who have only Xbox. Crossplay with sea of thieves is pretty much the biggest reason i play it, since it allows me to play games and catch up with people who i can't normally play with.
  • That’s kinda what the “freedom of choice” point establishes.
  • It kinda does, but the article is talking about the ability to choose which platform would like to play on. That is a different point from being able to play with friends who have a different device. It's such a big deal, that it would be the biggest "pro" point. There's an on going problem with non cross platform in the Gaming community, in which you and all your mates and family have to pre arrange to buy the same console and make sure they get the game on the same platform, just so they can play together. Cross platform removes one of the biggest remaining customer un friendly parts of modern gaming.
  • The other thing cross play offers is the removal of dedicated servers for each console / platform. Thus lower running costs and they can focus on bandwidth and reliability.
  • Controller should be with superior performance, because its made just for gaming, while mouse and keys were made to control computer(not just games).
    Seems king of funny it loses. I thing its the best thing, so people think more about point of controller thats made just for gaming. Is it supposed to make them lose to work-based hw?
    Come with something better...
  • Yeah, it's strange irony.
  • Honestly, I am (recently) a big fan of controllers and think it's the better way to play games. And my very unpopular opinion to solve the K+M vs Controller is to implement motion controls in the controller. I played with stick controls to aim and recently got Splatoon 2 and, it forced me to use motion controls to aim. It was uncomfortable and weird, until a few hours in and it felt like second nature. With the recent Steam support for Pro Controllers, Playing Portal with motion felt so, so good! And bonus that I can play on the TV without needing a table for K+M. This, is my unpopular opinion.
  • So the controller vs KB-M in PvP matches plays in two worlds. In a competitive system (Overwatch) this could be a huge issue because KB-M accuracy and timing are faster than most standard console players. Don’t think I’ve ever seen an Esport match in PvP based soley on consoles. If there are I’ve missed them.
    In games like Sea of Thieves, this isn’t a real issue because the PvP isn’t a competitive system. PvP is just an option of how to play.
    Two different aspects of PvP you have to look at in regards to crossplay and if it’s good for a game or not.
  • Sort of, but just because SoT isn't a competitive focused game doesn't mean fairness shouldn't be strived for, in my opinion.
  • I don't buy the whole K&M vs controller argument. Upon getting my Surface Book 2 15", one of the first things i did was install Halo 5:Forge on it and plug in my Xbox One controller for PvP play...let's just say i cooked them easily with my gamepad damn near every match. Some games weren't even close. Skill will always win vs input...almost always anyway...
  • That's true, but when people of equal skill match up and one has controller and the other has KB+M, well...I'd be surprised if you won a ton of games.
  • The key issue, KB+M v. controller, is one that should be relatively simple to solve. Instead of separating by platform (PC and Xbox), separate by control method (controller and KB+M). Could this be hacked? In theory, anything is possible. But that doesn't mean one doesn't try. This article, while highlighting the competitive nature of online play and the competitive difference of control method, overlooks the cooperative side of things. State of Decay 2 for example. Not a racing or fighting game. I don't care what my friends are running when they join my game. There is no competitive element here. Same goes for Minecraft. I don't hear a lot of people complaining because their PC friend has a KB+M. This also, while technically not germane to the topic but connected to this line of thought, overlooks the fact that there are already control differences on each platform. Gears of War 4 runs on PC. There's no separate matchmaking there for if I'm using a controller or KB+M (at least last I checked). Forza on Xbox doesn't have separate lobbies for people running a controller or a racing wheel (again, at least last I checked). Further still, there's no separate lobby if one is running an Xbox Elite controller and in some competitive games, I know that thing has given me a small, but very real, edge. So without even bringing cross-platform into the discussion, control type automatically becomes part of the discussion of multi-player. Because of that, while it should be considered by developers, the whole KB+M v. controller debate shouldn't be the end of the discussion when it comes to cross-platform play. At the end of the day, I trust the developer to do what's right on this front. Implement cross-play when possible. When there are differences that give unfair advantages, work to mitigate them.