Epic Games is rolling out a new set of cross-play tools in its Online Services SDK that will let developers build connections between Steam and the Epic Game Store's multiplayer infrastructure. Once developers implement these tools, players who own either the Steam or Epic Game Store version of their game will be able to play together and interact online.
A spokesperson said that development on tools to allow connections with other PC game store services is "underway," along with MacOS and Linux support for desktop. Tools to allow cross-play for PC, console, and mobile games are also in development.
In a blog post, Epic Games explained that developers will now be able to allow players to merge their Steam and Epic Games friend lists into a single browsable list, create an in-game invite system that lets players seamlessly invite players from both platforms, and easily let players link accounts.
New cross-play features will be delivered via an in-game overlay, without requiring players to manually install any updates.
It's not surprising that Epic Games is rolling out such tools to Unreal Engine developers—CEO Tim Sweeney has been a vocal advocate for opening up the walled gardens of different platforms. It is notable to see the developer make Steam its first priority for cross-platform tools in Unreal Engine.
Steam is obviously Epic Games' biggest competitor in the storefront marketplace, and many developers use Unreal Engine with Steam as their target market. Implementing cross-play in their titles would also easily allow multiplayer developers to sell their games on the Epic Game Store without fear of splitting their PC player populations.
Epic Games senior director of online services Simon Allaeys argued that cross-play can also be a tool to drive industry growth. "We believe that connecting friends and communities will take the gaming industry to its next major growth spurt and its next billion players," he said in a statement.
Allaeys and Epic seem to be making the argument that more would-be players could be converted to regular players if it was easier to jump into lobbies with their friends using in-game interfaces, regardless of what platform they're playing on.