It Takes Way Too Much to Play Games Together

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

I've been looking at a second TV and console setup for our living room lately. My wife and I love to plat games together, but it has become increasingly difficult to manage that seemingly simple joy. So many console games, especially AAA games have abandoned the idea of split-screen play. I've covered this issue before, but after more than two months of disappointing releases that lack any local multiplayer whatsoever, I'm brimming with frustration over the lengths I've been brought to in order to play one game with another person in my own home.

There are Co-op games out there; we gobble them up as often as we can. Towerfall, Borderlands, and most recently Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime sated us for a bit, but we want so much more than that. For the first time in the history of the franchise, my wife and I can't play Halo together, and even Rainbow 6 Siege offers no local play whatsoever (not even for offline modes). It seems that many publishers are content to ignore the statistics showing an average of two gamers in each game-playing household in the USA. Consider as well that 55% of Americans play video games and you've got a serious number of people left out of their development plans.

So often, publishers will trot out the same old excuse for not including split screen in their game. You may recall, in the case of Halo 5, we were told that the plan was to focus instead on the frame rate and graphical detail. Despite a large movement to bring it back and numerous articles enumerating the importance of it in the success of the series, on October 27th, 343 studios released the game without split screen of any kind.

I'm not going to rant again about the ridiculousness of the graphics argument rolled out by so may publishers. It is bullshit, and we all know it's bullshit.

Instead, let's talk alternatives. We showed our displeasure by simply not buying the game, but two fans isn't even a drop in the bucket for 343 Studios. If you can't live without playing, you could buy another TV, console and a second copy of Halo 5 an set them up side by side. Of course, that would require somewhere around $800 just to get started, not to mention that you'd have to buy two copies (about $120 total) of any game you want to play together. It sounds ludicrous, but this seems to be what many publishers would expect us to do. The only other alternative I've seen is the clever skreens device, but the total cost would end up the same.

I understand that it takes time to develop workable split-screen in any game, especially those with higher graphical demands, but there is nothing that suggests that it isn't possible given time and attention. Hell, Star Wars Battlefront has some of the most impressive graphics I've seen on a console but it still supports a two-player local play. Most players out there would rather wait a bit longer and/or deal with lower frame rate than go through the hoops I mentioned above.

No matter how I approach this issue, I can't get around why more AAA titles seem to be abandoning local play. Is it really that much cheaper to develop without it? As a developer, how do you weigh the potential profits against the cost of split-screen. Is there just a statistical gap in the development cycle of games and the demographics of the average gaming household? How much longer will we force gaming couples, roommates and parents to go to extreme lengths just to play together?