Playing games online is a wonderful experience. There’s a freedom to being able to play at any time, with any people you want.
Getting a group of friends together to play something is nowhere near as much hassle now as it was ten or twenty years ago when friends needed to be in the same geographical location in order to enjoy a game together.
Don’t have any friends nearby to play with? That doesn’t matter! There are plenty of new friends across the entire world that you can battle against in online play, as friendships are forged in the heat of battle.
At the same time, though, as online multiplayer has grown in popularity, gaming has lost a fantastic staple from years past. Local multiplayer, with letterbox-sized split-screen modes that saw as many as four friends eagerly crowding around a tiny tubular television set, is almost extinct.
This is a shame, as larger television real estate means a split-screen mode has never been more inviting.
As fun as playing online can be, there’s a palpably unique joy that comes from taking on a few of your best friends in a local match, as you sit on the same couch and crowd around the same television. Victories seem sweeter, and defeats are all the more heartbreaking, when your opponents are in the same room taunting each other and reacting to everyone else’s performance in real time.
But all is not lost: with the new Switch, Nintendo hopes to revitalize the joy of the local multiplayer.
It’s no secret that screen sharing is among the many gaming elements that Nintendo hopes to emphasize with its new hybrid console. The Switch’s trailer shows several scenes of multiple ways in which gamers can battle against, and alongside, their friends.
Whether this involves splitting up the controller as two players race in Mario Kart or linking two Switches together for a two-on-two match of NBA Jam, Nintendo’s console trailer makes things clear: the Switch is designed to be enjoyed with friends. This is a large part of the reason behind its portability.
This isn’t be any means new territory for Nintendo. The company has always been wary of online gaming, primarily thanks to the reputation that gaming communities have gained for profanity and inappropriate behavior.
This reluctance to trust gamers has led to many play sessions of titles like The Legend of Zelda: Tri Force Heroes devolving into little more than frustrating games of charades, as players use vague icons to try and communicate with one another.
Looking at Nintendo’s recent game releases, it almost seems as if the company has been sniffing out the potential of a local multiplayer revival. Suddenly, the decision to release Pokémon Red, Blue, and Yellow on the eShop without online trading capabilities makes sense – Nintendo wanted to see the way that its audience would react to being compelled to visit together in physical locations to play games.
Another Pokémon title, while not developed by Nintendo, no doubt helped cement the company’s decision to focus on local multiplayer with the Switch. Pokemon GO could almost be described as a Mass Multiplayer Local Online game, as players are only able to associate with other gamers that are physically nearby.
All of this has been slyly testing the water, as Nintendo primes its audience for the Switch, and the idea of taking a Nintendo console to enjoy social experiences together.
Everything about the Switch is designed around this idea. Not only is the console itself designed to be highly portable, but the controls are built to allow a friend to get in on the action without the need to carry around any additional hardware.
Normally, companies like Nintendo relish the chance to charge upwards of $50 for an additional controller for multiplayer. Nintendo is including one as standard with each Switch it sells, as a way to further increase the chances that its customers will turn up at a party with their console in hand, ready to play with friends.
The return of the local multiplayer, coupled with the portability of the Switch, is a smart move on Nintendo’s part. While many game companies thrive by removing local multiplayer in favor of forcing each player to buy their own copy of a game, Nintendo plans to use its legion of eager fans as a viral marketing force.
The scenario plays out as thus: a Switch owner brings their console to a social gathering. Two or more friends gather around the screen, taking half the controller each to play a round of Mario Kart or Splatoon. The friend enjoys the experience, and decides it’s worth getting their own Switch. The cycle then repeats itself.
This is Nintendo’s chief aim with the Switch: do what the Wii U failed to manage, by showing gamers first-hand what the point of the latest gimmick is. With local multiplayer games in the backs of cars or on basketball courts or upon rooftops, potential Nintendo customers are given a clear demonstration of the device’s selling points from a trusted source.
There is no confusion as to why gamers need a Switch – a few laps on a Mario Kart track communicate the game’s strengths perfectly.
It remains to be seen whether this strategy will work. As much as the Switch is making a buzz at the moment, it’s worth noting how quickly the player base for Pokémon GO evaporated once leaving the house to play became a chore. Similarly, the Switch will only be useful as a multiplayer game for as long as the experience can remain a novelty.
With any luck, however, the Switch’s hybrid nature will mean that when gamers stop feeling the need to bring their new device to parties, there will still be plenty to do with the console at home.
For Nintendo’s gambit to pay off, though, the Switch needs to provide more than just a temporary distraction. It needs to lead a full-on revival of local multiplayer that will keep fans wanting more and encourage gamers to take their devices everywhere with them on the off chance that they’ll bump into someone who wants to play.
It will certainly be wonderful if Nintendo manages this.
After all, as much fun as online multiplayer is, there’s nothing quite like sharing a couch with your closest friends as you do your best to peek at each other’s half of the screen.Related: Co-op, Multiplayer, Nintendo, Nintendo Switch