Epic accounts that have been used to play Fortnite on the PS4 are blocked from use on other console versions of the game, including the newly released Nintendo Switch version. The move is a seemingly untenable expansion of Sony's long-standing unwillingness to allow cross-platform play between the PS4 and other consoles, and it's drawing widespread ire among players.
"This Fortnite account is associated with a platform which does not allow it to operate on Switch," an error message reads when players attempt to log in with PS4-associated account. "Neither the Fortnite website nor Epic Customer Service are able to change this. To play Fortnite on Switch, please create a new account."
A similar error appears if a PS4-associated account is used on the older Xbox One version of the game, though more players are discovering it this week as they try to take the game portable on the Switch. The incompatibility works in reverse as well—Epic accounts previously associated with the Switch or Xbox One can't be used on the PS4 version. PS4 players are also locked out of playing alongside others using different consoles.
While creating a new Fortnite account is free, using one means giving up any earned skins, sprays, and emotes on your original account, and sacrificing progress on your current Battle Pass.
In a statement to the BBC, Sony highlighted that it offers cross-play support "with PC, Mac, iOS, and Android devices, expanding the opportunity for Fortnite fans on PS4 to play with even more gamers on other platforms."
That's likely of little solace to PS4 players who want to take the game on the go with their Switch and who received no previous warning that playing on Sony's system would effectively hold their account hostage to that console for all time. NPD analyst Mat Piscatella notes on Twitter that 40 percent of Switch owners in the US also own a PS4, meaning this isn't likely to be a small-scale problem among the tens of millions of Fortnite players.
"We're always open to hearing what the PlayStation community is interested in to enhance their gaming experience," Sony added in the statement. "With... more than 80 million monthly active users on PlayStation Network, we've built a huge community of gamers who can play together on Fortnite and all online titles.'
In E3 interviews, representatives for Sony's fellow console makers were relatively diplomatic in expressing their annoyance. "When it comes to other platform holders, as much as you have influence on other platform holders, I don't," Nintendo of America President Reggie Fils-Aime told Polygon. "And that's a decision that each of them are making, and some are supporting cross-play and some are not."
On the other side, Microsoft Head of Xbox Phil Spencer told Giant Bomb that locking players away from each other "doesn't feel like it helps the consumers. If it doesn't help the developers and it doesn't help the consumer then it doesn't feel like it helps grow gaming to me. Gaming is one of the most important art forms this planet has... it can be a space that, in a world where we have way too many things that drive us apart, brings us together. I look at that and I wish people could get to play together."
"I get it," Spencer continued, "I get the business side of it, and I'm not going to judge anybody else making their decisions because they've got to run their business. Our goal is to be relevant and important to every gamer on the planet. If people want to go buy someone else's console and play games there, great, as long as we're all leaning in to how do we make this business for everybody as vibrant as possible."
It has been over two years now since Microsoft threw down the gauntlet and opened Xbox Live to allow cross-compatibility with any other gaming network. Since then, Sony has said it has "no profound philosophical stance" against cross-platform play with other consoles and has indicated a willingness to "have the conversation" on a case-by-case basis. Despite that, there are now numerous reported instances where Sony is the only obstacle to allowing such cross-console gameplay for games ranging from Rocket League and Minecraft to Gwent and ARK: Survival Evolved.
Epic hasn't responded specifically to the Fortnite account situation, but last year, Fortnite Creative Director Donald Mustard said at The Game Awards that "gamers want cross-play, and we are committed to doing whatever it takes to make that happen. Players deserve it." Epic also briefly and inadvertently confirmed that cross-console play was technically possible on the PS4 last year, attributing the brief availability to a "configuration issue."
Sony has thus far been able to hide behind its market-leading sales position and withstand the player and industry ire over its walled-garden approach to online multiplayer. But stopping players from moving with their accounts on what is undoubtedly the biggest free-to-play game in the world right now sure isn't helping matters.
"I'm a PC player, but I've associated my account to a PS4 like maybe just once so i can play at my cousin's house, [so] I have to make a brand new account to play on my switch?" Reddit user Leomc3 writes in a sprawling thread of complaints. "Why? How does my Epic Account gotta do anything with platform 'loyalty'? I'm getting punished for cross playing is that it?"