There was once a time where so-called 'couch co-op' split-screen games were ubiquitous, and arguably the most popular type of gameplay on the market. Halo, Medal of Honor, Portal 2, and Resident Evil 5 are just a few examples of co-op offline games that managed to push the medium into the mainstream and popularize a uniquely social form of gaming.

However, that all seems like a bygone era today. In 2020, there are hardly any games that feature split-screen co-op, while the ones that do tend to restrict it to a minigame away from the main story, i.e. Call of Duty Zombies. So what happened? Will split-screen co-op ever make a comeback? Read on to find out. 


Split-Screen, Multiplayer Games


Games Got Too Complex

One of the most oft-cited reasons for the decline of split-screen co-op games is that games and gaming software simply became too complex to support a dual-player mode. With the new generation of consoles like the PS4 and Xbox One, vastly increased hardware capabilities encouraged developers to create ever-more complex and detailed in-game environments.

Split-screen gaming was a casualty of this simply because it became too logistically complicated for developers to create multiple in-sync gaming environments on a single interface. One example of the challenges of split-screen in the modern technological environment is the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare split-screen mode, which quickly became notorious for its bugs and lack of synchronization. 


Online Multiplayer Won

The other perhaps more obvious reason why split-screen entered a rapid decline a few years ago is the rise of online gaming. Sure, online combat games such as Unreal Tournament were popular at the height of the split-screen era, but online gaming has taken on a completely new dimension since then. The advent of immensely popular free-to-play online games such as the world's most successful game, Fortniteas well as PUBG, and Call of Duty: Warzone, has revolutionized how we play games, which has, in turn, revolutionized how developers create games.

When multiplayer games that allow for hundreds of people from around the world to enter a single lobby and interact with each other, the appeal of couch co-ops starts to fade. In addition, developers know that these kinds of mass online multiplayer are the most profitable enterprises in the gaming industry now, and have shifted their priorities accordingly. 


New Forms of Social Gaming 

Another factor in the fall of the split-screen game is the rise of new forms of social gaming that arguably have more appeal. One of these is live-stream gaming, popularized by platforms like Twitch and Youtube, that allow thousands or even millions of people to share a single gaming experience. This same live-stream technology has also entered the realm of real-money online casino gaming, which millions of people around the world partake in.

Many of the biggest online casinos on the planet right now offer live-stream blackjack and roulette, where players can play real-time casino games with a professional dealer and several other players via an interactive live-stream interface.  These 'live dealer' games allow for the kind of sociability offered by split-screen, without forcing you to share the couch with someone else.


Split-Screen, Multiplayer Games


Split-Screen Was Just Not Profitable Enough

We have already touched upon the apparent unprofitability of the split-screen co-op model, but this really does bear repeating. Beyond the added profitability of alternative forms of social gaming, developers and console giants have applied a more crude economic logic when deciding to cease the production of split-screen games.

Put simply, a split-screen title means that two customers are getting a game for the price of one. Rather than forcing two people to buy a game, split-screen means that only one has to buy it for both to enjoy it. It's the same logic that has led to the decline of disc games, as companies find it much more profitable to sell games via their exclusive online stores, where they can't be sold or passed on after a customer has finished playing. 

Although it looks like split-screen has lost the battle, fans of the genre should not lose hope. There are a number of potentially promising split-screen games in the pipeline right now, which could revive interest. Watch this space to find out more.

 

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Platform(s): Xbox One, PS4, Switch, PC, Mobile
Publisher(s): Epic Games, Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Developer(s): Darren Sugg, Epic Games, People Can Fly
Genres: Action, Adventure
Themes: Survival
Release Date: 2017-07-21

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