Above is a chart that displays the percentage of games (out of the top 10 console games) that contain couch co-op or split-screen in some form. These stats where gathered from www.vgchartz.com. The full data is here.
While this isn’t exactly scientific, it does show a visible trend worrisome for gamers: the death of split-screen games in AAA titles. Looking at the chart, there is a notable trend. This is an incredibly limited sample size, yes, but most gamers will be able to anecdotally relate.
Some of the biggest local multiplayer franchises have discontinued their split-screen support: Forza, SSX, and even Halo, the champion of split-screen has no split-screen capabilities in Halo 5. The latest Call of Duty entry only supports up to two players in all game modes, whereas COD has usually allowed up to four players in offline multiplayer. Newer entries such as Driveclub, The Crew, Destiny, and The Division are in genres which used to have a close-knit relationship with split-screen but now rarely support it.
The new console generation appears to be the primary culprit. With the launch of the Xbox One in late 2013 and the PS4 early 2014, we can see some correlation on the chart.
There are plenty of reasons we see split-screen supporting dwindling. The first is online gaming. There is no shortage of games with cooperative gameplay, but these are mostly online only. Sales come into play: publishers and developers want players to buy more copies of the games while console manufacturers want to sell more consoles.
But look at Nintendo. What sells their consoles is that players know the system will have great games with local multiplayer. Their proven track record of couch co-op experiences with Super Smash Bros, Mario Kart, Mario Party, and more sells systems. Additionally, split-screen advocates word of mouth marketing. I became a die-hard fan of Smash Bros and Halo after playing the games at friends’ houses. In both these cases I ended up buying entire consoles almost exclusively for these franchises.
Performance is another major issue as well. But the game should not render the scene more than once. Ideally, the only impact is on rendering additional player assets, the game logic, and the additional camera view. Extra views are somewhat offset because these windows run at a lower resolution.
We even have more leeway with performance frame-rate wise. Modern games should be running at 60 frames per second as compared the previous generation’s 30. 60 FPS grants more buffer room. In cases where lower frame rates would not break the game (which is a horrible practice anyway), 60 fps can be sacrificed for 30 in split-screen modes.
Anyone with a childhood playing video games can tell you why splits-screen matters. Online multiplayer is great, but nothing embodies the spirit of comradery in gaming quite like playing in the same room. Split-screen games are a dying breed, even though our TVs are getting bigger. But it’s not all doom and gloom. There are plenty of fantastic indie games on pc that support couch co-op. Some of the bigger developers like 2K Games, The Coalition, and Activision are still releasing games with split-screen. It’s getting increasingly harder for developers and publishers to juggle developing this on top of everything else in the budget so support games with split screen by letting developers know how much you value this feature. It’d be a shame for it to be phased out.