What Happened to Couch Co-Op Games?

Couch co-op games are getting harder to find. Will these games be obsolete in the future?
Image Credit: Humphrey Muleba/Unsplash

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It seems like video game publishers don’t think people game with each other anymore. Not everyone likes to game in separate houses, miles away from each other.

There’s just something nice about playing a split-screen game with someone in the same room. Before consoles had any connectivity to the internet, games gave you the option of letting your friends join in by simply plugging in some extra controllers. Now, it’s hard to find couch co-op games worth playing—why is this?

Why Are Couch Co-Ops Disappearing?

Couch co-op games have been on a sad decline in recent years. Remember when almost every game had a two-player option? You could join in on a friend’s adventure in Secrets of Mana, Pocky & Rocky, Streets of Rage, and much more. As time passed, you played Halo side-by-side with one of your friends, and fought against one another in Super Smash Bros.

Aside from newer fighting games, the current state of couch co-op games is looking bleak. Nowadays, it’s rare for AAA developers to even think about releasing a couch co-op game. There are some exceptions, like Diablo and Borderlands 3, but these are two examples out of a very small roster of newer AAA couch co-op games.

The couch co-op games you see on console stores or on Steam are likely from an indie developer. There’s nothing wrong with indie couch co-op games, but they’re sometimes hit or miss.

The real question is: why did the big names in gaming give up on couch co-op? The following reasons might have something to do with it.

1. Couch Co-Op Games Take Too Much Effort and Money to Make

Every problem with AAA gaming can usually be traced back to money. With the amount of time and money put into a game’s graphics, why make the game even more complicated by adding local co-op?

A split-screen view makes the console work twice as hard to display images for each player. Split-screen gameplay coupled with high-end graphics results in a severe drop in performance.

Even if the couch co-op game isn’t split-screen, this creates a host of other problems. In Diablo, two players using the same screen works fine, but it could limit gameplay in other games.

AAA developers don’t want to deal with all of this complexity when they can simply make it an online multiplayer game. In the past, games needed couch co-op because there wasn’t the technology to create online multiplayer games. Now that developers have a choice of either/or, they’ll almost always go with online multiplayer.

2. Online Multiplayer Is More Convenient

Maybe the AAA industry isn’t the only party at fault—gamers are also partially responsible for the disappearance of couch co-op. There are plenty of advantages when it comes to playing online multiplayers, which can make it even more attractive than local co-op.

For some gamers, online multiplayer is a gateway to meeting new friends. It’s also a solution for gamers who have no one to play with. When your friends are busy, it’s easy to turn on a game, go online, and team up with a group of strangers. This makes gamers more likely to purchase an online multiplayer game, rather than a game that’s only couch co-op.

3. Couch Co-Op Isn’t Profitable in the Long Run

A console, two controllers, a game, and another player is just about all you need to play couch co-op. To the greedy eyes of a AAA developer, this just isn’t enough profit.

On the other hand, online multiplayer requires a subscription to the console’s online service. It also means that if you want to play with a friend, they have to buy the same game and a console that you have. This way, publishers can completely milk the cash from you and your friend’s wallet.

Plus, with the new generation of young gamers focused more on online multiplayer anyway, there’s no need to revive couch co-op.

What Will Happen to Couch Co-Op In the Future?

Unfortunately, the future doesn’t look too bright for local multiplayer games. While I can definitely foresee more indie couch co-op games hitting the market, I just can’t see AAA developers incorporating it into new games. We can only hope that indie developers can keep this beloved genre alive.

Despite the popularity of couch co-ops dwindling, there are still some standout local co-op games. These indie and AAA couch co-op games are perfect to play with friends and family.

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