Couch Co-op – Is It Dying?

The question is simple, are the days of sitting in the same room as a friend or family member and playing a game cooperatively via split-screen gone?  I personally don’t believe they are completely gone, but on the other hand it’s hard to not admit they are on their way out.  There are many game developers out there who are trying to keep it alive, but many of the major devs are shifting their focus away from “couch co-op”.

Eleven years ago when I first started playing games split-screen was the only way I knew how to play.  Sure, I played some games by myself but when it came to going through the Flood infested hallways of the original Halo I wanted to experience that with my dad after he got home from work.  I did that all the way through Halo 3 until I finally got Xbox Live; so you could sort of say I grew up playing couch co-op.

As the years progressed, I noticed that I’d be playing either less split-screen with my dad or needing to have a second copy of the game in order to play it with him.  This made me wonder if I was changing and not wanting to play games with him much anymore, but taking a longer look into it; it wasn’t me who was changing, the games were.

Sniper Elite was a game I enjoyed playing a lot back in the day, so when I found out there was going to be a new one released on the 360 in the form of Sniper Elite V2 I was rather excited.  They had a new Horde/Firefight themed mode I was interested in giving a try with my dad, but I found out that V2 didn’t have a split-screen feature.  In order to play it with him, I had to buy another copy of the game.

This can bring up the question as to whether or not developers leave out split-screen features to sell more copies or cut down on production costs.  Am I saying developers are being “cheap and greedy” by not including split-screen in their games?  No, as there are other things that I imagine factor into that decision.  Developers aren’t entirely to blame for it either as publishers sometimes set goals to reach for total sales.  This might cause a developer to leave out this feature in order to hopefully sell more copies and reach their sales goal.  It’s a longshot theory I know, but a sale is a sale.

Considering how technology has changed over the years, it’s also relatively easy to get connected to something like Xbox Live or PlayStation Network and play your games online.  As this has happened, a lot of people have bought their own systems to play online with their friends.  While it is convenient to play a game with your friends this way, it’s also part of the reason that split-screen is fading out.  Game developers are also realizing this and giving us different features instead.

While I have no problem with getting new and different features for games; there are just some games that wouldn’t be the same without the ability for split-screen play.  Think of where Halo would be without being able to play split-screen.  Would it have caught on had it not been for the LAN parties (which also utilized split-screen) that were held back in the day?  Meanwhile, there are some games that you should naturally be able to play with more than one person on the same system.  I mean, how else would you be able to brag to your friends on game night that you’re the better Madden or Mario Kart player?

There are a few developers out there that are still trying to keep split-screen alive.  I see mostly indie devs are the ones trying to keep it alive, but there are a few larger developers that haven’t given up on it yet.  Gearbox Software, the creators of the Borderlands series and Valve with Left 4 Dead are just a couple that come to mind.

Perhaps I am someone who wants to live in the nostalgia of playing a game split-screen with friends and family, but I see the days of “couch co-op” not entirely dead but slowly dwindling.  In short, with as easy as it is to play games online, more games are not including a split-screen feature.  However, there are some developers that are trying to keep it alive with the games they release, but there are just as many essentially “killing” it off by not including it.

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