God, I hope not. I really hope it isn’t. However, it has become evident in recent times that more games are being released without local multiplayer capability and to me that trend is a little alarming. Although I am extremely thankful for the ease and convenience of connecting with far away friends using services such as PSN and Xbox Live, I still have very fond memories of my past split-screen and local co-op adventures. In fact, I’m going to ask you to humor me as I describe why I believe that local co-op games can provide a pretty incredible experience.
Picture this. You have just had a long day, but thankfully it’s now a Friday night. Luckily, you and your friends have no plans for tomorrow. So, you invite them over to come play a few video games, hang out, and just relax after the ton of work that you just finished. The night turns out to be a success. Everyone comes over and they’re having a blast playing games like Halo, Castle Crashers, Super Smash Bros., Portal, Golden Eye, Gears of War, Borderlands, etc. It is a fun night where everyone is staying up to make jokes, goof around, tell stories, and of course play some video games. You may even decide to play a little Mario Party later and destroy some of those friendships but you guys can still have a great time along the way. Either way, you’ll cherish these memories for a long time and perhaps you feel like your friendship has gotten a little stronger. I know I felt that way, but maybe that’s because I’m nostalgic for a long time ago where me and my friends gathered at each other’s house and spent hours playing games.
Now, imagine a day where this is all gone... In reality, losing local multiplayer is not the end of the world since a lot of the things can be simulated and be just as fun with online gameplay, but it definitely is a unique experience that many people really enjoy. This article is not at all meant to discredit or ridicule online gameplay, but rather to bring to attention the fact that people can still want local multiplayer games and why they are slowly starting to fall out of favor.
Online gameplay has a lot of benefits such as not having to worry as much about if someone can travel to your house to play games or not having to share a screen with someone else. In addition, you can play with more friends with online play and still communicate effectively through headsets. So, I really value that service but I am still disappointed when at times my friends are over and there aren’t many new games to play besides Smash and Diablo (not to say these are the only ones). Anyway, my point is why not include local multiplayer functionality alongside network gameplay for more games like they did in the past? Well let’s take a look at why.
One of the reasons that local co-ops have lost a bit of their popularity with video game companies is because of the cost-benefit analysis of including that feature. For example, if Halo keeps its split screen co-op, then 2 people can play on one copy of the game. That sounds like a win for the consumer, but the company makes no money of off that. Instead, what if Halo became online gameplay only? Then, if someone wanted to play Halo with their friends then their friends need a copy of the game too and that doubles, triples, or maybe even quadruples their profit. Most game companies have realized this and have decided to scrap this feature because of the profit that it can bring to the company. Also, Microsoft and Playstation can make a lot of money by requiring paid membership services in order to play online. Speaking of Halo, it is actually a prime example of what I mean. In the past, one of Halo’s main selling points besides its story was the amazing split-screen gameplay but in the most recent Halo they removed it. This had led to a lot of people being really upset over the loss of such a well-praised feature. However, Halo isn’t the only one. Games like Need for Speed and Burnout have also lost their split-screen features.
Another reason that split-screen is not as popular with game companies is because of the fact that it costs money to develop it. So not only does split-screen prohibit the developer from earning extra money from more sales, the developer actually must invest more money and time to make local co-op a reality. Now some of you may be saying, “Well, it costs them money to make online gameplay too.” You’d be correct, but online gameplay has become a necessity in the industry and a standard that companies usually find essential to include unlike split-screen or other local co-op features. So, why would the developer go out of the way to include split screen or co-op gameplay?
The last reason is that a lot of developers are under tight time constraints. Features that developers find unnecessary start to get scrapped and local multiplayer is starting to become one of those “unnecessary” features and that makes me sad. So, is local multiplayer still worth it? Well, I think so because it improves customer satisfaction and can help people build long-lasting memories with friends that they will associate with that game. This may inspire consumers to continue to buy future releases. However, from a monetary perspective maybe we can understand (but probably not agree) why local multiplayer is fading away.
So, is couch co-op dead? Not exactly. Perhaps, the future of local multiplayer simply lies in other outlets besides traditional AAA titles. There are a few AAA titles that still have it like Street Fighter, Smash Bros., and Mario Party but a positive trend is the inclusion of local multiplayer functionality in more and more indie games. For example, games like Nidhogg, Gang Beasts, Towerfall, Nuclear Throne, Brawlhalla, Rocket League, and Gang Beasts all are great local multiplayer games. There are many more indie games like this and that is phenomenal. I just simply wish that more AAA developers will potentially include co-op capabilities to appease their fanbase as well, but hey... a man can dream.
On a side note: I didn't get to address the following points due to length constraints, but Nintendo is doing a great job of keeping local multiplayer alive with AAA titles like Mario Kart, Nintendoland, Smash, etc. It's mostly AAA Playstation and Microsoft titles that are losing their local multiplayer, but not all games are losing it. So, local-multiplayer is not dead in all outlets, but is fading away with some major AAA titles.