An ode to split screen

February 10, 2010

In-person multiplayer is more fun than playing online. You know it, I know it, everybody knows it. On consoles, playing online is mixed bag that never compares to just sharing a couch with your friends. So why are so many console games nowadays shipping with online-only multiplayer?

  1. It’s not a priority for publishers. ((Split screen support often gets punted late in the development cycle when there’s frame rate or lag issues. At least, this happens when publishers put the priority on graphics and online play over in-person multiplayer.))

  2. Everybody has to buy a copy.

Everybody’s favourite console shooter games have great split-screen multiplayer. Halo and Goldeneye are two huge examples. However, for everybody to play split-screen Halo at Tim’s house, he only needs to buy $50 worth of Halo. To fill one battleground of the new PS3 game MAG, you’d need $13,000 worth of MAG copies. Now, you probably weren’t playing 256-player split screen Halo, but still.

Yes, 256 players. What the fuck. At 256, you’re not even pretending that an individual effort can turn the tides, nor is playing with friends reasonable. The MAG article on Wired discusses just some of the reasons adults don’t have much fun getting the shit kicked out of them by 14 year olds online, let alone 255 of them.

So I bought Resistance 2 because it’s the only split-screen PS3 shooter anybody could recommend. It turns out it only has co-op multiplayer. This would be passable, but the game is designed around large online teams, so without at least somebody playing each of the three classes, you’re screwed. Nice.

Despite this attitude, most of the huge titles this generation have been shared-screen multiplayer:

  • Music games (Guitar Hero and Rock Band, but not the failed DJ Hero)

  • Platformers (Super Mario Wii and LittleBigPlanet)

  • Shooters (Halo and Modern Warfare 2)

  • Fighters (Street Fighter IV and Super Smash Bros.)

  • Sports (Wii Sports, NHL, MLB)

Do they actually think people are buying Rock Band so they can play online against randoms? Playing games with people who are actually there is what’s fun. Getting your ass kicked by Korean teenagers isn’t fun. So this is my message to game publishers. Either make split screen a bigger priority than online in your games, or I’ll personally force you to play MAG online without the ability to mute the kids on your team. To death.

© Allen Pike. See also Twitter and Steamclock.