As amazing as today’s games are, experienced gamers have a plethora of gripes with the modern gaming landscape: DLC, DRM, always-online, preorder bonuses, season passes… etc. But the worst trend in modern gaming is something I think not enough gamers are upset about: The shift away from local multiplayer.
The New Offenders
Two high profile releases stand out as especially egregious. Halo 5 was released with a campaign that heavily focused on co-operative squad-based play. One would think given Halo’s legacy of split-screen and LAN parties, that at least two player local gameplay could be possible. Nope. The only way for you to play this co-op and PVP-focused game with friends or family is if they are online on a separate machine, with their own copy of the game, and their own Xbox Live account. Halo 5 even lacks LAN options, so if you live with a fellow gamer, you basically can’t play with them unless they go somewhere else. Think about how truly ridiculous that is.
Recently, it has come out that the upcoming Platinum Games Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutants in Manhattan will not feature local co-op. A Ninja Turtles game with no local co-op. Doesn’t that seem wrong? Another game billed as a co-op brawler makes it impossible for people under one roof to play the game together. This one hurts. I understand that Platinum is used to making action games that have the camera function a certain way, but can this no-brainer of a feature really be pushed aside so easily?
Why Only Online is Not Good Enough
I can almost hear your retort: “Online multiplayer isn’t just the future, it’s now! Stop being a Luddite/old guy/crybaby!”
To that, I respond: 1. online multiplayer has many weaknesses. 2. I’m not really that old, but this is about more than nostalgia. 3. I’m only crying because this trend is legitimately is limiting the type of experiences that gamers can have.
Maybe I am showing my age, but when I think of my most memorable gaming experiences, it almost always involves local multiplayer. I think of playing Goldeneye at a soccer teammate’s house. I recall intense games of Smash Bros or split-screen Halo in my friends’ basements. I fondly recall playing as Sonic while my brother controlled Tails and laughing hysterically as we failed miserably to collect all the Chaos Emeralds. I even miss lugging TVs to friends’ houses for pizza and soda-fueled Halo 3 LAN parties.
These memories do seem retro-focused, but I don’t need to go back too far to think of other great gaming moments that required local multiplayer. The Nintendo Wii is the most successful console in recent history and it relied almost exclusively on local multiplayer. A system with games that you can share with more casual gamers not only built bonds, but also built new gamers. Wii Sports suddenly became the centerpiece of many family game nights. Even some of the system’s silly party games led to genuine fun times in the living room.
That’s the thing about local multiplayer; the games that offer it don’t necessarily need to be masterpieces to create memorable moments. In 2013, TMNT: Out of the Shadows was considered mediocre at best, and a total disaster at worst. But this bug-filled brawler did get the local multiplayer right. I distinctly remember playing four player co-op on my birthday with my brother, girlfriend, and friend all in the same room. Even though we ended up hitting a poorly designed difficulty spike that ended our run, it holds a place in my heart as a great birthday experince. Platinum’s upcoming turtles game could very well be infinitely higher quality than that game, but it will never be as fun because it lacks local multiplayer.
Online multiplayer just doesn’t compare to these local experiences. When I try to think of my favorite online gaming moments, I can only recall recent events, and even then, things seem to blur together.
Sure, I fully enjoyed my recent games of Battlefront when I wiped out the whole team as Luke Skywalker, or became the MVP for a match with a narrow victory, but I doubt I’ll recall them in a year or two. I already am not sure what specific matches I’m thinking of.
On the other hand, I vividly remember the Halo LAN parties I went to about 10 years ago. Despite the fact that I played countless more hours of Halo 3 online, I can’t recall any specific standout moments in my online play.
I fully appreciate the way online gaming brings you such a large number of player-controlled characters while allowing you to have a full screen, but there are disadvantages, too. First and foremost, you’re usually playing with strangers. Not only is there a detached lack of camaraderie, but all too often, there’s outright antagonism. There are trolls, griefers, cheaters, and bad teammates. Even when you’re lucky enough to have good and fair players, sometimes lag can hurt the accuracy of online games. Local multiplayer doesn’t really have lag, so that’s why it’s the choice for professional gaming tournaments.
People also seem to overstate the convenience of playing with your friends online. You may be able to game over long distances, but coordinating a game with multiple players needs everyone to choose a time, create a party, get in the party, and have a working copy of the game, the same system, and a good internet connection. In reality, it’d usually be easier to have everyone come to one person’s house and share a game and system. It’d also be more fun.
Even when everything works out and you can play online with your real-life friends, it still feels detached. It’s not as fun as when your friends are actually there. Objectively this makes no sense. You’re still playing with them and usually communicating with them via headsets, so why is it so much less fun? Could it be that human beings actually prefer real human contact over avatars and headsets that represent their friends?
Don’t believe me? Think of the last LAN party you went to. Now think of the last time you played with some friends online. Which one was more fun? I’m willing to bet the LAN party was. It’s just human nature. Like most things in life, the activity is not as important as the people you’re doing it with. Video games are a great way to have fun with others, but they aren’t quite as fun when you’re not really with them.
Why Developers Say They Omit Local Multiplayer
I think most gamers have had legitimate fun with local multiplayer, so why (with the notable exception of Nintendo) do modern publishers and developers seem so intent on killing it? When pressed, game companies will often respond with some political answer like, “We wanted to give players the full screen,” or, “We didn’t have the resources to do it,” or, “We didn’t want to degrade the frame rate or textures by rendering them more than once.” I call BS on all of that.
First of all, splitting the screen should not be an issue. If the N64 could do it, I doubt the current crop of modern consoles can’t handle it. At the very least, splitting the screen in half for two players shouldn’t be a problem for developers. Not not mention, considering the resolution, size, and shape of modern TVs, they’re more suited for split-screen than ever.
Split-screen isn’t the only way to have local multiplayer. Many games just need a pulled back, smarter camera to encompass multiple players. Again, this is not a new concept. Games have been managing to contain at least two players onscreen since the days of the Atari 2600. I understand a modern game’s complexities make this more difficult, especially when developers want to show off their advanced graphics with tight shots of character models, but aesthetics should not come before gameplay.
I concede that modern gamers are used to playing with big screens and having a game run at as many frames as possible on the highest resolution possible, but some of this processing power can be better used to add something that genuinely makes the game more fun. I know that four player split-screen may be a thing of the past, but it is inexcusable for any type of shooter to not support a two player split-screen option at the very least.
Why Companies Really Omit Local Multiplayer
If all these reasons to continue to support local multiplayer exist, why do so few modern companies seem to care? Is it laziness? Perhaps. Publishers and developers spend a lot of time on online multiplayer and often figure that is enough, so they don’t need to worry about local options. But that’s usually only partially the case.
The more nefarious reason why publishers and developers are trying to kill local multiplayer is money. Remember when I mentioned how ridiculous it is that if I wanted to play with someone who lived with me that they needed to move somewhere else with their own system, copy of the game, internet connection, and online console account? That’s a ridiculous amount of money that companies want.
Even some games that allow for local multiplayer require all players to sign in to their paid online profile to access the game. Heaven forbid a non-paying pleb plays a game in a household that has more than one person. Companies want everyone to have their own online profile so everyone needs to pay the subscription fee. For now it’s still problematic if your friends or relatives play on the wrong system’s network, too.
In an effort to get more money, game companies are killing the soul of gaming. If we only can relate to other gamers through online interactions, we really are a step closer to the detached antisocial stereotype that many non-gamers believe us to be. We need to keep the humanity and the community in gaming. Online gameplay has its place and is great for gaming, but if we use it to replace local multiplayer rather than compliment it, we will lose some of what makes gaming great.