“Contrary to stereotypes, the average gamer is not a socially isolated, inept nerd. … over 70% of gamers play their games with a friend, either cooperatively or competitively.” Granic et al.
The state of multiplayer and co-operative gaming has shifted radically as more games force players to go online rather than duke it out on the same couch (couch co-op/local multiplayer). But is online the best way to go, or do we lose something to the experience?
The local multiplayer market is shrinking. The memories of seeing our friend and family’s face contort in hatred or joy during games of Streets of Rage or Mario Party are dying. While games like Left 4 Dead are still being tailored for co-operative play, many of these multiplayer titles only allow a player to connect with others through online sessions. So, what is the social trade-off associated with the decline of couch co-op?
Playing games leads to prosocial “helping” behaviors. Two recent studies have shown that playing games leads to cooperative behaviors outside of the gaming context (Ewoldsen et al., 2012). Apparently, “even the most violent video games on the market (Grand Theft Auto IV, Call of Duty) fail to diminish subsequent prosocial behavior.” However, online multiplayer lacks a certain intimacy or proximity factor with not gaming with other people in the room. When you have break through a particularly tough wave of enemies, there is a less physical pay-off. Online is a good substitute if you can't get together and play something, but when you "can" it's a real drag to realize a game is only multiplayer online. It’s the reason why gamers still go to arcades, when most of us own the games at home anyways.
But why do we see the current trend of online exclusivity? Much of it comes down to economics. The videogame industry is a hungry market. If you and a buddy play a co-op game only with each other, then you either both put in for the game, or one of you is eating for free. That's something you don't get with online co-op, where you pay for the game itself and the additional Xbox Live Gold or PSN subscription.
Many of today’s games are multiplayer games that require interacting with other players. However, the local multiplayer market is sorely under-represented in today’s gaming industry, hopefully this trend reverses as more data is made available around the added benefits of same couch gaming.
Ewoldsen, D. R., Eno, C. A., Okdie, B. M., Velez, J. A., Guadagno, R. E., & DeCoster, J. (2012). Effect of playing violent video games cooperatively or competitively on subsequent cooperative behavior. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking