Back in my day, when a new round of consoles came out, you’d huddle with your friends and deliberate — are we going Sega Genesis or Super Nintendo? Xbox or PlayStation?

That’s largely because once you chose a console, you couldn’t play with friends who had a different machine. Microsoft set out to change that this week.

Well, sort of.

Chris Charla, director of the Xbox developers’ program, announced that the Xbox One version of “Rocket League,” a soccer arcade game where the players are miniature cars, will be compatible online with PC versions of the game.

This may not sound like much, but keep in mind that as recently as 2013, a major consideration for gamers deciding between the then-new Xbox One or PlayStation 4 was the the difference in their current consoles’ online communities.

Let’s say you had an Xbox 360 and a copy of “Call of Duty: Black Ops.” Your neighbor had a PlayStation 3 and a copy of the same game. You couldn’t play together.

Why? Because the console and network infrastructure were too different. (That, and both Microsoft and Sony had an incentive to keep you on their respective networks so you don’t buy the other guy’s machine.)

So, what changed? Well, a few things:

First off, Sony’s PlayStation 4 is ahead of the Xbox One in sales. That gives Microsoft an incentive to negate the “but then you can’t play with your friends” argument to folks who don’t own either current-gen console.

The PS4 has also supported cross-platform play. Sony had “Rocket League” last year, and players with that version of the game could compete with others on Steam, Valve’s digital distribution platform/marketplace.

Probably most importantly, though, is that Microsoft has begun to unify the infrastructure for Xbox and Windows and its mobile devices.

That move isn’t without its critics, largely because games developed on Microsoft’s new proprietary platform could be locked into the Xbox/Windows marketplaces, which would ban their sales on the PlayStation Store or Steam.

So, even though Microsoft’s move may look like an effort to break the shackles of online console gaming, it might very well be a development decision made to further wall off the Xbox ecosystem and bring Windows with it.

–Eder Campuzano

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