What's Happening with Local Multiplayer?
Local multiplayer was an essential part of gaming, even before the first video games came out. We used to play chess, cards, and board games with our friends and family. Later came the hustle and bustle of arcades and the cabinets within. Then, the first consoles came out, and the community was pretty excited to play co-op games and competitive games (Mario Brothers, Mortal Kombat, Street Fighter, sports games, and so on).
However, in the past five years, the majority of the AAA titles have shied away from this feature. There is an online multiplayer mode, but as far as local multiplayer goes, it has become a rarity and many gamers are wondering exactly what happened.
Let's talk about some factors that have played into the decline of local multiplayer, from both technical and business perspectives, and see what kind of impact all this has on the gaming community.
When it comes to AAA games, developers and marketers do one hell of job of making them sell. These games may not always live up to their hype and people usually criticize them more heavily, but they certainly do their job when it comes to making a profit. And one thing developers have realized is that by shifting the focus away from local multiplayer, they can earn more money.
If more people have to buy a game in order to play it, they will do so. Customers may not be pleased with such an arrangement, but at the end of the day we unsheathe our credit cards and make the purchase so we can play games with our friends.
However, with games that lack a local multiplayer option, developers also lose a few other marketing perks. For example, someone might be more likely to buy a game once they have played it with a friend through local multiplayer. Or even better, someone who was not initially interested in games might change their opinion on the topic after a few hours of gameplay.
Furthermore, local multiplayer also means local peer pressure, so people are more likely to buy DLCs when they come out if their friends convince them or chip in so that all of them can enjoy the game.
However, since almost everyone has internet connection, maybe local multiplayer seemed like a “bringing sand to the beach” kind of thing. Moreover, to play online, gamers often must also pay additional subscriptions to a particular network -- so in terms of profit, the local multiplayer exclusion was a good move.
Some of the games that could implement a local multiplayer feature are already pushing current platforms to their limits. Playing in splitscreen would only diminish the aesthetic value of the game, and probably interfere with fluent gameplay.
In other words, if the experience is diminished, there’s not much point in introducing the feature if people can already play online. Perhaps this is why Halo 5 decided to scrap local multiplayer altogether?
The impact on the community
Let me just say that even though the points above are valid, I still want more local multiplayer games. This kind of multiplayer online arrangement has some negative side-effects on our psyche.
Before online multiplayer, we had to sit next to each other, exchange information, and in a way acknowledge that there is another person next to us. Nowadays, we play online with people we don’t know and the term “toxic community” pops up all the time. We've lost that sense of empathy for a person who is also a participant in the whole gaming experience.
Gaming has become a catharsis for pent-up anger. Players lash out at one another often. Sure, outbursts of rage existed even in local multiplayer, but they weren’t as severe and hurtful as those that happen today. There are racial slurs, insults that target nationalities, and a lot of negative energy can be accumulated over the course of a single game.
The online gaming community will never quite be a harmonious paradise, but we cannot be taken seriously if such behavior continues. Game design will never get the credit it deserves as an art form, and people will continue to form negative stereotypes about the gaming community.
Of course, you always end up meeting decent people online and you can even become acquaintances, which is a positive thing, but the number of negative experiences can easily trump that argument. Local multiplayer was always able to remind us that we are playing with another human being.
I guess the point is that the gaming community would benefit if more local multiplayer games come out in the future. So far, gamers have stated how they really miss the feature and would like to see it in more AAA titles.