Split-Screen Gaming: What Happened?

Split-screen gaming used to be a core pillar of social gaming that brought people together, but it has been dying out slowly over time…

Split-screen gaming brings people together in a unique way. For generations, it was the best way for teamwork and friendship to blossom at the same time. Sharing a couch with your friends makes video gaming more fun – even mediocre titles turn into something bigger than they probably deserve credit for when played in split-screen.

By playing together with people in the same room, you can create your own rules between your friends and you do not have to endure strangers screaming obscenities into their headsets. There’s no doubt that playing with people next to you is a far richer experience.

Split-screen gaming can be traced back to the mid-1980’s, but Goldeneye 64 for the Nintendo 64 is considered to have started the split-screen craze ten years later. It was a perfect fit for shooter games. Suddenly, you could bring three friends with you to compete in intense deathmatches.

This was later taken to a whole new level with Halo: Combat Evolved on the Xbox in 2001, where the entire campaign was playable in split-screen mode for up to four players.

This became a selling feature that was incorporated into many instalments of the series after it. After the success that was Halo, and specifically the way it handled split-screen coop, many games latched on to the trend, such as Gears of War and Call of Duty.

The dying breed

While split-screen support used to be very popular, that has not been the case for several years now. There are several reasons as to why it is rarely incorporated in video games today.

Money controls everything and, in this case, online gaming has developers creating paid services to access expansion packs and microtransactions to cash in on hooked players that want more out of the game. Additionally, with online gaming, your friends now have to buy their own copies of the game instead of sharing one with you. This equals easier money for the creators.

One other reason is the limitations related to the hardware itself. With today’s advanced graphics, rendering the same image several times takes a huge toll on performance. In order for split screen to work, compromises have to be made, such as in various Call of Duty titles, where the framerate simply cuts in half when split-screen mode is activated.

Compromises like these are risky for developers, because it can lead to a backlash from consumers who do not fully grasp the technicalities behind it and therefore give games a bad reputation for feeling dumbed down in split-screen mode.

In this console generation, a lot of marketing conversations revolve about 4K resolutions or high framerates – something that will not be realistic to retain in split-screen.

Especially for big budget titles, the risk is not something that is taken lightly. If more money can be made from excluding split-screen support and instead, spent on resources somewhere else, why bother?

A comeback?

Split-screen is not dead and buried just yet. There are definitely new games releasing with that split-screen support accommodated for, most notably Nintendo titles. However, in large, it is not in high demand in comparison to online play.

Adding to this are the technical complications of split-screen, which always needs to be carefully considered by big game companies. To get around the technical issues would be a great step in the right direction, but are there other ways to promote couch gaming with friends through split-screen?

Products like MirraViz MultiVire Display System play several video sources at once by the use of several projectors and depending on the angle, it will show you a different picture on the screen. This technique could potentially be used successfully for local multiplayer titles with several people in the same room at once.

It is clear that playing video games together with friends next to you is an important aspect that will need to exist in some form going forward. Regular split-screen support is likely to live on in a limited capacity for now, as there are no signs of a big comeback anytime soon, but couch gaming may very well find other ways to reach out to consumers through new technical advances in the future.

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