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Bethesda says situation could be "fairly dire" if Sony disallows The Elder Scrolls Legends cross-play

"It's absolutely critical."

Bethesda could be heading towards a standoff with Sony over cross-platform play. Not over Fallout 76, which does, as a multi-platform online multiplayer game, fall squarely into the 'wouldn't it be nice if PlayStation and Xbox and PC audiences could play together?' debate, but over The Elder Scrolls: Legends, a card game.

"It's way more pertinent to Legends," Pete Hines, Bethesda's senior vice president of marketing and communication, told me at QuakeCon 2018.

"Fallout 76, sure: it would be nice if I could play on my Xbox and my kid is playing on his PC and we can play together, but if we can't, OK. There's lots of games - I play Overwatch on Xbox and he plays on PC separately and has a whole separate account. It's not critical.

"But for Legends it's absolutely critical," he said, "both cross-play, which is how Legends works right now on every device - you're playing against somebody who could be on any device - and, more importantly, cross-platform progression, which means no matter what you do on any platform, you load up the game and so long as you're logged in, here is all your progression, here is everything you had, everything you were doing.

"I am aware of the conflict that arises given that statement..."-Pete Hines

"If you were in the middle of a match on PC and I flipped that [he gestures at my laptop] closed while you're in the middle of a match and you load it up on your phone, you would be right back in the match where you were. That is a must for us on any platform. If we have to start segmenting our audience to say 'folks on this platform can only play folks on that platform', or 'any progress you make on that platform can't be there', then man, that's a bad situation."

It's a situation Epic has found itself in. Fortnite not only prevents PlayStation 4 and other console audiences playing together, it also prevents PS4 Fortnite accounts being used on other consoles. It means all your Battle Pass progress - and all the skins and emotes and sprays you've collected during your time playing the game - are inaccessible on another console if you've ever logged into Fortnite on PS4. If you want to play on Switch or Xbox - platforms which support cross-play with one another - you need to create a new account.

It's not the first time Sony has been singled out as the cross-play party pooper. A year ago it was Rocket League and Minecraft highlighting the issue, and Sony wouldn't budge, and now it's Fortnite and still Sony won't budge, although Shawn Layden told me earlier this summer Sony was "looking at a lot of the possibilities".

If Fortnite, the biggest game in the world, cannot change Sony's mind, what hope will The Elder Scrolls Legends have?

"To be determined," Hines told me. "We continue to make our case for 'this is how it needs to work' and 'this is how it needs to function'. But we are moving ahead with the assumption that any platform we release it on must support cross-progression and cross-play.

"I am aware of the conflict that arises given that statement but we are continuing to work on it."

He said Bethesda is "always" talking to Sony about the issue. "But in fairness not just with Sony - with everybody. We need everybody to be on board and understand - Nintendo, Microsoft - this is how we're proceeding. I don't want anybody to think I'm trying to single Sony out because I'm not," he said. "These conversations we have, we have with everybody, including Apple and Google."

But what if Sony says no - would Bethesda go as far as not to launch The Elder Scrolls Legends on PS4?

"This is a really good question," Hines said. "I imagine the answer is fairly dire but I don't want to jump to conclusions yet because there's a lot of space between 'yes' and 'no'. What if they so 'no' to this but 'yes' to this?" It could present an unforeseen and workable solution.

"It remains to be seen," he said. "Whatever they say, we will continue to have a conversation with any platform directly. I don't want to play this out in the court of public opinion. We respect Sony, we respect Microsoft, we respect Nintendo. If I or my company has an issue, we will bring it up with them directly; we know who to call, we know who to email - we'll talk to them and see if we can figure it out."

The revamped Elder Scrolls Legends.Watch on YouTube

The Elder Scrolls Legends is currently undergoing an overhaul at the hands of a new developer, Sparkypants. The card game will still play and work in the same way but the game's client, and all of the code underpinning it, is being rebuilt, meaning it can come to console - PS4, Xbox One and Switch - among other things (it will enable a 'thin' version of the client which can be downloaded for phones when WiFi isn't available, which is neat).

When the relaunch will happen, however, is unknown. "That's a damn good question," said Hines. "When's it coming to console? Also a damn good question. I can't give you an exact date for the new client, but we need that to be in place before we can start all of the other stuff the new client is going to allow us to do, including to work on Xbox, Switch and PS4." But it's this year. "That is our goal."

Once the new client is in pace, the future for The Elder Scrolls Legends can begin, and a raft of new features - in-game tournament support, private tournaments, better streaming support, better deck building, more customisation - can begin rolling out. As, too, can new content, in the form of the newly announced expansion Isle of Madness, which adds Sheogorath, the Daedric Prince of Madness.

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