[Read our Portal 2 review here.]
At last year’s E3 event, Valve made a public about-face on the subject of the PS3. Gabe Newell, Valve’s Chief Executive and Mogul King, span his mind through 180 degrees and decided that the system wasn’t “a waste of everybody’s time” after all. A revised opinion is fine if that change of heart can be sensibly backed up, and Newell took to the stage at E3 to announce he’d been wrong. In fact, he said, the PS3 was “the most open platform of all the current generation consoles.”
As a result, Portal 2 comes to the system complete with Steamworks integration.

I’m not sure whether the cross-platform implications of this move where made explicit at the time. If they were, I simply missed them. A lot of early reporting focused on the auto-update function Steam would bring to the title on the PS3 (providing a contrast to Microsoft’s notoriously picky certification process for Xbox LIVE), but there wasn’t so much about playing Portal 2 with your PC buddies. Again, this may just have passed me by, lost in the blaze of the usual E3 newsplosion.
By January 2011, just how cross-platform multiplayer support would work had been made abundantly clear. And just last week, Valve detailed the specifics of the PS3-Steamworks matchup in full.

The concept of cross-platform multiplayer isn’t a new one. Lost Planet: Extreme Condition Colonies Edition provided it for PC and Xbox 360 players back in 2008, for example. The point is, Valve has the credibility and clout to popularise the idea. More importantly, it can use the Steamworks software (both a digital download service and social platform) to propagate the concept.

With Portal 2, PS3 owners can play co-op games with those who own it on the PC (and vice-versa). Cross-platform multiplayer gaming of this kind is an absolutely terrific idea; it vastly expands the field from which players can be drawn and means that platform is no longer a barrier to playing with friends who happen to own different systems. How often have you wished for a wider pool of players, or lamented the fact that you can’t play something like Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood with your friends because they happen to have the 360 version while you’re on PS3?
Granted, if this concept were expanded to more games it wouldn’t all be sweetness and roses. We’d be guaranteed a tedious series of dick-waving contests between systems, and there’d be an endless rekindling of the pad-vs-keyboard control scheme debate (here’s a clue everyone: it depends what type of game you’re playing and what control system you’re used to.) Overall though, the benefits would outweigh these petty issues.

Cross-platform features are interesting enough, but Portal 2’s real breakthrough may be to legitimise the idea that if you buy a copy of a game, that game should be playable on any of the compatible systems you own. Valve already pioneered this ideal with PC/Mac compatible games, launching Steam for Macs in May of last year and subsequently providing access to both PC and Mac versions (where compatible) of purchased games. That was an interesting move, but perhaps didn’t raise as much attention as it should because Mac gaming (probably incorrectly) is still regarded as a bit of a second class citizen.

Now, though, Valve has taken the idea further. PS3 owners who buy Portal 2 get a PC/Mac compatible version too, thanks to an in-box code that can be used on Steam. Sadly, this doesn’t work in reverse (PC buyers don’t get a PS3 copy,) but introducing the idea of platform-agnostic game ownership to the console market is an important first step. Marketing types love buzz phrases, so let’s call this ‘single-purchase gaming.’
Obviously, Valve has a vested interest in all of this. Linking cross-platform gaming and single-purchase game ownership to its Steam software (especially through the requirement for games to be linked to Steam accounts) will give the company even more influence and control. That methodology may not be ideal, and will bring further cries of monopoly, but the ideal behind the move is exceptional news for players.

Being able to buy one copy of a game and play it on all the compatible systems you own would potentially move videogames away from the film model (system-restricted, depending on whether it’s a standard DVD or Blu-Ray) and closer to something like a music CD. With CDs, you purchase them once and are then able to play them on any stereo system, as well as a PC or any other device that can read them. It’s an imperfect analogy, but reinforces the point that having to buy exactly the same gaming experience twice just to circumnavigate platform restrictions is a little silly.

Think about how magnificent single-purchase gaming would be for a title like Super Meat Boy. At home, you could play it on the 360, complete with comfy couch and pad controls. But you’d also be able to take the game with you on a laptop, without needing to buy an extra copy.
Publishers (and even some developers) won’t like it, of course. They’ll see the potential for lost sales, assuming that every person who plays a game on multiple systems would otherwise have bought two copies (unlikely). The other side of this argument is that cross-platform, single-purchase gaming could massively increase the popularity and reach of a title. By opening up multiplayer to as wide, united an audience as possible, groundwork would be laid for a followup, or for the next title from that developer.

Portal 2 represents only the first, tentative steps for single-purchase gaming, but it may erode the artificial barriers between platforms just enough to encourage other games to try a similar approach. Thanks to Valve’s bold move, we may someday see videogames decoupled from the concept of a single platform.

Paul Younger
Founder and Editor of PC Invasion. Founder of the world's first gaming cafe and Veteran PC gamer of over 22 years.

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