The Decline of Split-screen Multiplayer

Split-screen multiplayer is remembered fondly for a reason. Being able to play against your friends was a major reason for their success. Many of the games we now herald as “classics” were built on this idea. Games like Super Mario Kart, Goldeneye, Perfect Dark, Smash TV and Halo are all fantastic examples. But recently I’ve been noticing a sharp decline in the number of games (AAA mostly) including any way to play locally. And to me, that’s a real shame. Local play has been a cornerstone of console gaming since its inception and the industry is poorer for simply dismissing it.1_mpu_goldeneye_splitscreenmpu_id1379321681_343178

I myself have happy memories of playing the old Call of Duty’s in split-screen. Even as someone who never touched the game otherwise, running and gunning alongside my friends was some of the most fun I had ever had. But if I wanted to do the same thing now? If I wanted to invite some friends over and have some stupid fun in four-player split screen on a shiny new COD? I couldn’t do it, Plain and simple. None of the recent games have supported more than two players on the same machine. And this isn’t something exclusive to Call of Duty. Halo 5 lacks split-screen, as do Uncharted 4 and Star Wars : Battlefront. 

So why have developers started to ignore split-screen? The answer we are usually given is that incorporating split screen means that the graphics have to take a hit. Having to process two cameras and two players in today’s games is a lot to ask of the hardware. As graphics continue to advance consoles have struggled to keep up. Split-screen is apparently an unavoidable casualty on the path to graphical perfection. Many developers have also cited the extra cost and amount of QA as potential hurdles.

And while all this may be true I don’t think it justifies neglecting local play altogether. Games can do many things, but I think we can all agree that we still sometimes need a game that is just fun. Games can tell compelling stories or make us think about the world around us, but sometimes all they have to do is be pure, unadulterated fun. To my mind the modern games industry has an unhealthy obsession with graphical capability. I feel that actually making an enjoyable game, that delivers the most fun possible is more important. I’m sure there are many others who would agree. Developers need to realise that local play can make a game more fun, and that including it is worth it to make the game better. I might be asking a lot but I really believe that split-screen still has a place in modern gaming. It offers something that even online play simply can’t.split-screen

On the more cynical side of things, there are claims that the real reason we are seeing a shift away from local play is the extra revenue generated by online multiplayer. People believe that developers are dropping split-screen in an effort to force consumers into buying multiple copies of a game if they want to play it with friends. I’m not really convinced though. There may be one or two publishers out to make a quick buck but the majority probably aren’t quite that evil.

So is there no hope? Of course not. The rise of indie gaming has given smaller developers a chance to create games that don’t need cutting edge tech, allowing room for experimentation. Gang Beasts, Broforce and Castle Crashers are all currently available to satisfy your need to play with actual human beings. While this is a very positive thing I’m still worried that local play is teetering on the brink. If games like Halo are starting to abandon it then who knows where it’ll be five years down the line? Honestly I really couldn’t tell you. In an ideal world people will begin to remember how much fun they used to have in split-screen, and games will start to reflect that. But with the internet becoming ever more ubiquitous I fear this may not come to pass.

Local play is fading, lets hope that changes.




Rob Webb

I was born in Oxford in 1998 and have been gaming for almost my entire life. I want to see this industry evolve as a storytelling medium and deliver experiences that stay with people. Interactivity is a narrative device that only games can employ, and I'm looking forward to seeing where it can take us.

So what do you think?

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