Up For Debate - Why is splitscreen co-op not as prevalent on PC as it is on consoles?

Written by Chad Norton on Sun, Sep 26, 2021 5:00 PM

If you’ve ever owned a console back in the day, then you probably have fond memories of inviting your friends over and playing some games together via splitscreen. On consoles this has been pretty standard across most games, but PC seems to be lacking the feature most of the time. Why is that?

Granted, the emergence of Steam Remote Play has certainly curbed most of the issues, allowing a friend to play a co-op game with you via streaming, without them ever having to buy the game. Because up until now, most co-op games on PC required more than one player to own a copy in order to play with each other, whereas on consoles that was almost never needed.

So why then does the PC platform get treated differently? In pretty much all aspects, a PC can operate exactly like a console. Have a friend over? Connect that PC to a TV screen, grab a couch, and you should be good to go… at least theoretically. In practice, there’s not a whole lot of games out there that support it.

Thankfully, indie games have largely seen this issue and have allowed for splitscreen co-op on PC. But in terms of AAA games like Call of Duty - which has been infamous for the classic 1v1 splitscreen matches (no peeking at each other’s screens!) - that feature is hard to find. Maybe couch co-op really isn't as prevalent on PC as it is on consoles, and so developers don’t see the need to implement it. But surely it can’t be that hard right?... Right?

What do you think? Why is splitscreen co-op not as prevalent on PC as it is on consoles? Or are we just being dumb and not seeing them? Do you play many co-op games? What has your experience been like on PC? Let’s debate!

How often do you play co-op games?

Do you think PC lacks proper splitscreen co-op games?

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12:21 Sep-28-2021

Every soccer game ever for the PC has co-op, no need for split-screen, and every older racing game has split-screen co-op. Split-screen co-op on the PC never really caught-on because LAN multiplayer and internet-based multiplayer took over very early, and even before that there was play-by-mail and direct connection between computers. Hence, PC games were almost always designed with having only 1 person controlling the game per PC, and having several PCs connect for multiplayer, with the only exceptions being sports games like Pro Evolution Soccer, which was always a console port, including split-screen mode, with several controller options.

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18:36 Sep-27-2021

I messed around with a program that allowed splitscreen/multi monitor for coop with multiple keyboards/mice on one pc. RE5 coop was functional if a bit buggy. If anyone is interested the program was Nucleuscoop off of github. Lots of tinkering but if theres a will theres a way :P

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10:58 Sep-27-2021

I think it's the simple fact that a PC is designed to be used by one person at a time, hence the name Personal Computer. It comes as no surprise, then, that splitscreen options for PC don't exist in abundance like they do for consoles, which are designed to be used by multiple people simultaneously.

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08:46 Sep-27-2021

I think it's because not everyone has an ultra-wide screen or a 40"-odd screen. The aspect ratio would make it a bad experience. At least half the screen looks better on an actual TV using consoles.

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09:48 Sep-27-2021

multiple screens is the answer

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07:52 Sep-27-2021

i and my mates used to play Bonkheads, Need For Speed 2SE, Lego Racers 2 and some racing game i cant get the name of which had 4 player co op support the best part of that was the 10 mins we spent rock paper sisors tyring to figure out who got which set of contols on a single keyboard and who got to sit where. either the chair or the chair handle or stand awkwardly and look down at the screen cause you cant bend either and then was the actual chaos of the whos got which corner of the screen and the random controls glitch it was hilarious . i learnt to play house of the dead and Virtual Cop 2 with keyboard controls as my mate alwasy took the mouse since it was his pc but man thats was some crazy !^%# those days are long gone . but then again i an d my friend do love being able to Co-op from 600KMs apart

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04:47 Sep-27-2021

I miss having fun split screen gaming sessions with my sister and my cousins. We had lots of fun playing Dynasty Warriors, Resident Evil 5/6, Trine. Newer games nowadays don't have that feature and we end up buying less and less games to play together. Even on consoles, big budget games are more about online play now rather than coop.

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03:04 Sep-27-2021

It's in the name: Personal Computer. They're not usually connected to a family TV the way consoles mostly tend to be. THough seeing more options, especially with things like streaming PC games to TVs now being prevalent, would be nice.

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09:29 Sep-27-2021

This argument makes no sense, PC's have always been marketed as something that has a little "something" for everyone in the family. Either it's games or work focused programs.


The personal aspect of it doesn't come to the "individual" but rather as something that you can have for a domestic use without you being a business person.

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13:23 Sep-27-2021

I understand that you wanted to cling on the outdated/original meaning of "personal" computer, but everything makes perfect sense in 2021 - PCs are generally not connected to family TVs and the concept of a "family computer" is long-gone as well, since tech became much cheaper. That's why PCs are, in fact, more personal than ever - everyone's got one of their own nowdays (be it a laptop or a full-blown workstation/gaming rig). This atomization is why it makes far less sense to implement couch co-op and split-screen options for people on PC vs doing that on consoles (where I see plenty of parents reviewing consoles and console games focusing on how they work for the kids, as family entertainment).


I am all up for more options for people - 100%. But I'm not blind either and I see why that is not always the case, as happens to be here. And this is before we even start the discussion on couch co-op/split-screen disappearing from the consoles as well (those are becoming more personal too + everyone's got online access nowdays), bar the likes of Nintendo who still focus on this market.

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16:19 Sep-27-2021

Even if today you could attach the literal aspect of personal to computer i can't see how it undermine any developer to invest in co-op, Nowadays not really everyone can afford more than one computer per household, We may live under this perception but in the majority of Latam and even parts of europe the normal thing is to have one per household unless someone is a student and even then things are not easy to get more than one desktop.


Today whenever i have gone with friends to buy a prebuilt the main selling point is "you can do about anything and everybody can fulfill their task on this machine", The "a bit of everything for everyone imho still there and is very present. I can't see a game developer not doing co-op because it's not attached to a TV anymore? It's obvious that there is market for people asking to co-op, just need to see how programs like parsec, remote-play together is well received.


I could get the argument of th e new generation mainly knowing about multiplayer rather than co-op, Even in consoles it's way more usual the multiplayer aspect of it, A lot of the couch culture has been dying while multiplayer rises, it's just not as popular as it used to be (when people didnt have the speeds they have today nor the means to get console or even proper internet in their area). As these things have gotten more affordable and internet wider and wider no wonder why multiplayer has got to this point while co-op starts to be seen as something of the past.


Coop today is a nice touch rather than a must have thinking of people not being able to purchase another system and thus always going to a friend's house. Specially this last part is what i think makes devs don't pay attention to this "little" detail and going more often to MP formulas where they can actually make more profit out of it.


I say it's rather something generational and proper of "tech evolution (cant word it better) rather than for the "personal" term

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13:03 Sep-28-2021

Most people in my country don't see PCs as a necessity, they see it as a work tool, an occasional gaming platform, a multimedia (music or video) player and some people see it simple tool for taking care of some important business (for taking care of taxes for example). That's only part of the picture. I see it as an all-in-one tool, and I've owned one since around the 2000s. Because they don't see it as a necessity, most households only have like 1 per household, and it's usually a cheap one. For gaming, kids usually prefer consoles over PCs. There are indeed families that do own several, but it's usually cheap laptops for each person, a trend that came and stayed. If this trend is worldwide, then PC game devs have to design games around it, low system demanding games with network-based multiplayer.

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13:05 Sep-28-2021

And also, nowadays, document-based work can be co-op. Office 360 and Google Drive/Google Docs were designed around having several people work in the same document at the same time.

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15:51 Sep-28-2021

I think this has derailed a bit from couch co-op / split-screen to just co-op somehow. Word documents??? That stuff is not LOCAL co-op, it's made to work from REMOTE systems!


Anyway, I think co-op in games will remain important, but they can be done multiple ways. What we're talking about here is multiplayer on a SINGLE system, not co-op itself! This is where I still stand by what I said - most people who are into PC gaming will have their own these days, be it a laptop or a dedicated PC. That + the broadband availability and speeds throughout the developed world (AKA the countries with plenty of customers; AKA the countries that drive that demand) means that the focus can shift from supporting the feature that 5 people use (same system multiplayer - be it co-op, deathmatch or other, via split-screen) to supporting something that almost anyone can use (multiplayer via internet).


Back when I was a kid in Eastern Europe - sure, we had a fake FamiCon and a PC for the whole family, but this changed over time when I bought myself a laptop as a teenager and then my sister also got one for herself some years later. My friends also all started having laptops and PCs of their own. We weren't rich or anything like that either - quite poor, in fact, but it's the TECH that got cheap!


These days it is just FAR less likely that 2 or more kids will sit crammed at a PC vs on a sofa in front of a console in the living room, so it also makes sense to shift that feature over to consoles, especially for exclusives.


Features that not a lot of people use die over time (looking at my beloved SLI, damn it) and it does not surprise me that local multiplayer on PC is not really a thing anymore. There will be some games still supporting it, mostly fighting games like Mortal Kombat, but that's about it. Split-screen is uncomfortable for racing and shooting (and let's be honest - not everyone will invest in multiple displays just for that), so the more elegant solution is network-based multiplayer, which seems to dominate the landscape, for obvious reasons.

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18:45 Sep-26-2021

Yeah, PC would need more split screen. The whole thing why it is so prevalent on consoles is pretty much due to PC being generally more personal device, while console being more like living room device. And living room is more of environment where you would want to have guests than PC, which you more often have in smaller room. Plus bigger nature of TV is better to have two players on same screen than one display, which is more common on PC. Yeah, multi monitor setup can be sweet, if you have it though. Not to mention that on consoles you more often can have two gamepads, while on PC, most only have mouse and keyboard and that has to be shared between two players. And of course, I am not saying there aren't exceptions and that PC is bad for split screen, but if we look at most common usage, you can see why developers would consider split screen being more of a thing for consoles, than PC. Regardless of even when it is clumsy, like Serious Sam split screen with just one keyboard, that often still didn't prevent it to be fun. Or when we were playing Lotus on MS-DS, racing game, with one player basically playing it with mouse... at least I think it was Lotus, could be wrong. :-D So playing online just became more convenient and usually way to play it on PC, while perception of split screen stuck bit more with consoles. Though even on consoles it feels like it is considered bit less than it used to.

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13:09 Sep-28-2021

Pro Evolution Soccer on the PC has always had co-op due to it always being a console port. You can have several gamepads connected to the PC. Up to 8 players could play on the same computer at the same time, but yeah, that's something only PES fans like myself would know or do. I do own several gamepads for this reason alone.

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18:04 Sep-26-2021

I'd say it is not prevalent as it used to be in consoles as well, ever since the beginning of 8th gen.


Split-screen co-op is my favorite way to play with friends, and on PC it's even better where you can have two screens.


For me it's Split-screen co-op > LAN Co-op(in one room - lan party) > Online Co-op.


And in general I prefer Co-op to PVP. Particularly Co-op progressive > Co-op match based > PVP progressive(rare) > PVP match based.

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13:35 Sep-27-2021

I personally rate LAN as the highest option, since everyone has their own screen and there's no "cheating" by looking over to the opponent's side if playing a competitive game of some sort.


I put my gf's PC right next to mine, so when we play games together, regardless of whether it's LAN or over the internet - we're in the same room, right next to each other. Works fantastically when playing something co-op, like Minecraft, Monster Hunter, Diablo 2, Valheim, etc.

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13:54 Sep-27-2021

When I do split-screen I use two screens and we don't look at each other's screens either if it's a PVP where you musn't look at the screen.


Some games don't split the screen in co-op, others are co-op split-screen so it doesn't matter.

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14:52 Sep-27-2021

I wasn't aware that some games can split two players to separate displays... Though I'd still go with the separate system option, personally - it's just the way we're used to playing games :D

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13:14 Sep-28-2021

@xquatrox Technically, Borderlands, Diablo and others are co-op even if either on LAN or the internet, and they are played on different screens. On the other hand, soccer games like Pro Evolution Soccer can be played by more than 1 player on the same PC on the same screen.

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21:13 Sep-27-2021

Well you extend the game to the two displays at 2x 1080p either 3840x1080 or 1920x2160 and you split-screen it vertically for the former and horizontally for the later, depending on how the game splits the screen.


Two systems are great, but people can't carry their entire setup along with furniture just for a night of local co-op. My brother could though, but that's an exception and now that I'm not even at home anymore, that's not an option either.

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23:13 Sep-27-2021

Ah, see, this is where laptops rule :D


When I was a student, it was great to just grab a laptop and throw together a quick LAN party at a friend's place. Nowdays that I game on a huge desktop - I could only really effectively do a LAN party playing older games on a regular laptop...

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06:27 Sep-28-2021

True and in the past 2 years laptops finally became really good. But you have to own one. :D


Also for some funny reason I can reply ot myself, but not to you.

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13:20 Sep-28-2021

When I was in the navy I got an Asus ROG G73Jh, and we actually got some LAN parties on a ship in Modern Warfare 1 and CS1.6 . Great fun. Yeah, I think the way game-debate works now, we can only have three levels of replies maximum.

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