What do cross-play, cross-platform, cross save, cross-progression, and cross-gen really mean?

PS5 vs Xbox Series X
(Image credit: Future)

 Cross-play, cross-platform, cross-save, and cross-progression are features that have become even more necessary in today’s video game landscape. While the demand is there, these features often lack a clear definition and leaves gamers wondering whether they can play with other platforms or access save data on different consoles. 

Not knowing whether the latest title you’re thinking about purchasing supports cross-play or is cross-platform can make or break the experience for any gamer. If you owned Marvel’s Avengers before it came to Xbox Game Pass and wanted to give it a try on that console, you’d find yourself wondering whether or not your progress carried over. The differences between each of these “cross-features” can vary by title, but rest assured, there’s a system in place for all of them.

Cross-Platform and Cross-Generation Support

Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1+2

(Image credit: Activision)

Cross-platform refers to a video game title released across multiple systems, for example, Xbox Series X, PS5, and PC. Cross-generation refers to games that can only be played within the same console family, like PS4 and PS5. 

Marvel’s Avengers, Destiny 2, and Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1 + 2 are examples of games that have all been released cross-platform. While the extent of each game’s support on those different platforms varies, it can still be noted that many of the core features of these titles remain about the same no matter how you choose to play. Before its release, Marvel’s Avengers made headlines when it was announced that Spider-Man would be a PlayStation exclusive roster addition, ruffling the feathers of many PC and Xbox players as a result. 

Destiny 2 was released in September 2017 but only recently announced the inclusion of cross-generational support, which meant that players on Xbox One could finally join fireteams with players on the Series X/S, as well as PlayStation players between PS4 and PS5. While Marvel’s Avengers lacks cross-play, it does include cross-generational support, so players in the same console family could game together regardless of the generation. Though THPS 1 + 2 was cross-platform at release, it still does not support cross-play or cross-generational gaming for players in the same console family. 

A note to add that many cross-generation releases when it comes to PS4 to PS5, will require a small fee to jump up to the PS5 version - although many include the PS5 upgrade for free. It's worth checking this out if you're purchasing a PS4 game that you'd eventually like to also experience on PS5. 

Cross-Play and Cross-Save Support

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(Image credit: Bungie)

Cross-play makes it possible for gamers across all platforms to participate in online play, while cross-save support allows players to access their save progress on any given platform where they own the game.

A title like Destiny 2 added cross-play so that Xbox, PlayStation, and PC players could enjoy gaming together regardless of their system. Bungie also took it a step further with the inclusion of cross-progression, or cross-save, making it possible for Guardians on any system to continue where they left off if they switched platforms. Cross-save only becomes possible when that progress can be saved on its own dedicated server and accessed from different points, and it’s led to many other titles incorporating similar features. 

Animal Crossing: New Horizons added the Island Backup Service last year so that players could save their island data and progress to dedicated Nintendo Servers and still retrieve the data in the event of a lost or stolen Nintendo Switch. While this isn’t true to the cross-save feature itself, it does exist in its orbit and opens the conversation to the importance of cloud storage for saved game data.

The Future of Cross-Engagement Features

The size and scope of AAA titles released today makes access to cross-support features more challenging, but with more studios pushing the envelope, the reality of those features appearing seems well within reach. 

The ability to pursue cross-engagement features rests with the support team behind a given game, as was the case with Call of Duty: Modern Warfare (2019). In 2020, the still wildly successful Call of Duty title introduced cross-play and cross-save for players no matter the system they were on. Xbox One players could now link their profile to an Activision account that housed all their progress and then pick up and play on a PlayStation 5 right where they left off. 

The feature didn’t come without its hiccups, like lobbies crashing with players on different platforms or matches not loading for some players and loading for others in the same party. Despite some of these hurdles, the inclusion of such a necessary feature makes it clear that the possibilities are there, as well as the gamers willing to engage with them.  

Freelance Games Writer