Playing a video game on a network and giving each player his own computer, monitor, keyboard, and mouse is fine and dandy for some kinds of games, such as a first-person shooter or a real-time war simulator. In these games, keeping your screen hidden from the other players is part of the strategy. But other games, such as fighting games, show the entire arena to all players at all times. The best way to play these is in person, on one PC, with a big screen and four gamepads.
Single-screen is a common mode of operation for console games but not for PC games. Why is that?
- Why not buy four PCs and four monitors?
- That's expensive. Having multiple identical stationary gaming devices in a single household, be they consoles or gaming PCs, "is a luxury option", not something expected of families, though some PC fans disagree. It's even more expensive if lack of spawn installation support makes you buy a separate copy of each game for each PC, which Cracked columnist David Wong has called a cheap revenue-enhancing scheme for game publishers in "The 7 Commandments All Video Games Should Obey". One can buy four basic gaming PCs and 19" monitors for $2400 ($600 for each set), but a single PC, a 32" HDTV monitor, and four gamepads cost only $1,000. True, multiple PCs offer a separate view for each player, but not all games need this; consider games such as Gauntlet, Bomberman, Street Fighter II, Secret of Mana, and NBA Jam, where the camera shows all players at once.
- Why not have a LAN party? Each player brings a PC, monitor, and copy of the game from home.
- LAN parties share one desirable attribute with single-screen multiplayer: players share pizza, conversations, music, and a video game with friends. However, LAN parties are a hassle for several reasons. First, not everybody has the same games; you can't play Counter-Strike against Unreal. It's also far more effort and far more weight to dismantle and pack a computer, monitor, keyboard, mouse, and speakers, than to unplug a USB controller and stick it in your bag. Your friends might already be at your place and happen to want to play video games, but they didn't bring PCs because they came for a reason other than video games. (Sending them home, as someone suggests, is probably impractical.) This means a LAN party has to be planned in advance, and setting up is likely to take half the allotted time. Being together is what makes it fun; group cohesion in a cooperative campaign is better when players are next to each other than when they are in separate rooms. Finally, someone at home might still want to use the computer. Single-screen multiplayer gaming in front of a TV has a higher "wife acceptance factor" than a LAN party because nobody has to move furniture, run power strips, etc.
- Why not play online?
- This has several drawbacks. Online solves the problem of dismantling the PC, but it keeps the problem of needing to own a PC and a copy of each game for each player. Online gaming often adds monthly fees payable to the game's publisher, which can add up if you want to accommodate house guests who don't game often. Gamers may have to pay an additional monthly fee for a faster connection to the Internet, which in some cases even requires moving house to a place where cable, DSL, or fiber is even available. Publishers often reserve the exclusive right to run the matchmaking server. This server often gets overloaded, and after one or more years, a publisher will shut off an older game's server to get people to upgrade to the publisher's newer titles. Nor does online work so well on certain twitch genres highly sensitive to latency. Online multiplayer in FPS, RTS, and MMORPG works for the most part because the game can cover up double-digit pings by dead reckoning game object trajectories. Fighting games and other games relying on fast reactions, on the other hand, may use techniques like those of the GGPO library, which hides lag by timestamping all actions as they're sent over the wire and delaying input by 3-5 frames (just over half a ping time) before it takes effect locally, so that it takes effect right after the remote player's actions for the same timestamp arrive. When a player's action during a ping spike over 150 ms causes the game states on both ends to lose sync, both sides recalculate the last few frames, and this can cause an occasional disorienting jump cut. Finally, the trend of relying on "social" pickup games with strangers to the exclusion of campaigns with real life friends encourages developers to make game design decisions resulting in 'annoyances that need to die'. These include not allowing pausing and allowing strangers to intrude on your game even in an ostensibly single-player mode.
- Why not play on a game console?
- Not all titles are on the consoles. Especially titles from smaller developers tend to be underrepresented on consoles due to the console makers' historic policies of locking out smaller developers in favor of the major game publishers (though this may change soon). Console makers tend not to serve developers with nontraditional business structures, such as a family business operating out of a home or a company that relies on telecommuting. They tend to commit the genetic fallacy of appeal to accomplishment: if the entity that produced a game doesn't have a dedicated office and a prior track record in the mainstream video game industry, it must not be good enough to publish (sources: Nintendo policy; wikipedia:Bob's Game). Microsoft has taken a commendable step forward with XNA, but as of 2010, Xbox Live Indie Games are still too new to have had much of an effect on the industry, and porting to XNA generally requires a complete rewrite of not only the graphics engine but also the game logic, violating the Don't Repeat Yourself principle.
- Why not just let everyone bring a laptop or phone and play a different game in single-player mode?
- Sure, a lot of the shared-screen multiplayer game concepts are arcade-ish, and the single-player environment enables genres that wouldn't have worked in a 1980s arcade environment. But some people still like the lighter fare reminiscent of the arcade era, and they like to share the experience. Playing together is more fun than playing alone.
- Why not do something other than a video game, such as play a board game or card game or go to a nightclub?
- Some people recommend playing tabletop games or other non-electronic activities instead (see this and replies to this), but they're (Score:-1, Offtopic) in a discussion about video games.
Opponents of single-screen multiplayer tout these advantages of networked multiplayer:
- In genres using a separate view for each player, each player has an entire 720p to 1080p monitor to himself rather than one 360p quadrant of a 720p split screen or (worse) the 240p in one quadrant of a Wii split screen.
- In games that are not cooperative, players can conceal their location from opponents who would screen-peek, in those genres where screen-peeking is considered cheating (especially first-person shooters and real-time strategy).
- PC games supporting network multiplayer tend to be so much cheaper than console games that mom can afford to buy two copies.
- Concentrating on LAN multiplayer leads to better support for Internet multiplayer, which works even if your friends are A. unavailable for play dates or B. so far away that the airfare to play a local multiplayer game with them would be cost prohibitive.
- Multiplayer gaming habits have changed. When single-screen multiplayer was the only way, people planned their lives around play dates. But nowadays, gamers who don't have other hardcore gamers living with them don't need to coordinate their play schedules with those of other people in their circle of friends. (Case in point: Chris Bucholz refers to same-screen multiplayer in the past tense when discussing pause etiquette.) Instead, they tolerate racial or sexual harassment from adolescents who have been disinhibited by anonymity in order to play in pickup groups with strangers and find friends through the game to keep playing with, and pretty much every online game not on a Nintendo platform is designed around play with strangers. Some console fans think consoles are the only way to do that without rampant cheating and that punk-busting and reporting features on PC games are ineffective.
Some critics have hinted that single-screen multiplayer is for gamers still in K-12 school, and online multiplayer is for grown-up gamers, who make up the majority of the gamer population. In fact, some people insinuate that grown-ups who play offline multiplayer might be considered child molesters by neighbors. So if you are developing a PC game that you expect to be rated M or above by the ESRB or foreign counterpart, or you believe that parents who have not already bought a laptop for each of their children are doing their children a disservice, feel free to use online multiplayer exclusively. Otherwise, you are targeting the market of children and their parents at least in part, and the Entertainment Software Association estimated in 2014 that though the average age of a gamer is 31, children were still 29 percent of gamers. So if you plan a multiplayer mode for your E, E10+, or T-rated PC game, you should provide a way for multiple players to plug gamepads into one PC, such as a husband and wife, father and daughter, or a child and his play date, or even friends or relatives who showed up and happened not to bring a gaming PC.
Some critics say it's fine to move a PC and monitor to a LAN party but not to move a PC next to the TV. The difference is that LAN parties are planned in advance and last multiple hours, unlike the shorter and more spontaneous sessions of single-screen multiplayer.
Some people claim consoles are so much more common than home theater PCs that the latter are statistically (and economically) insignificant due in part to a mental set against connecting PCs to TVs. Because nobody is interested in playing video games made by people who still live where they grew up, indie developers unable to move across the country for an apprenticeship should stick to genres suitable for single-player and online play, even if it means completely reimagining a game's design in some unspecified way into something that will sell on PC or mobile. It appears many people aren't technically inclined enough to set up a DVD player, let alone a PC, especially when the PC and TV are in separate rooms. Very few people would cut a hole through the wall for HDMI, and one would need an expensive powered extender for a cable run over 15 m (50 ft). People who set up a home theater PC for watching movies often use a hand-me-down PC with an older CPU and a non-gaming GPU, which may not meet the system requirements of newer AAA games. And people who game on a TV are likely not to have the time to research every available product, instead remaining rationally ignorant and letting a device manufacturer do the research for them. Many are among the class of technophobes for whom identical, locked-down appliances may represent the best compromise between flexibility and ease of use.
Others disagree, claiming that people who are geeky enough to set up a home theater PC are a market by themselves, video games help parents spend time with their children or boyfriends with their girlfriends, it may be worthwhile to buy ad space on the many web sites for HTPC enthusiasts, smart publishers could bundle an inexpensive controller with a game disc, people who see an HTPC in action are likely to want one for themselves, newer desktop PCs come with monitors as big as bedroom TVs used to be and even bigger than living room TVs used to be, there may be less of a barrier to hooking up a gaming laptop (not always though), a sufficiently good game may be worth hauling in a PC  or even a system seller, and proofs of concept are still nice to have even if they're non-commercial prototypes.
But in fact, there are only two excuses not to implement both online modes in games of the appropriate genre. One is that the developer is so cash-strapped that it can't afford to implement, test, and balance both online and single-screen multiplayer modes. The other, which is more likely if the online mode cannot be spawn installed, is what Wong mentioned: the publisher wants to squeeze more money out of households with more than one gamer.
And some make me doubt my worth. On the other hand, consider the source: he thinks game mod authors are no better than pirates.
There are six steps to setting up a single-screen multiplayer match:
Connect a large monitor
Single-screen multiplayer needs a big screen so that all the players can fit around it without each other's heads getting in the way. You may be able to use your television as a monitor, as if your PC were a game console. Unlike in the past, high definition isn't just for text anymore. Look at the back of your computer and your TV for video connectors, and visit Cable finder to see how to connect them.
Most computers have a sound card with two or three 3.5 mm (1/8 inch) stereo miniplug connectors. [photo of connectors on both a sound card and integrated sound] Usually, the output jack is colored light green, and the microphone jack is pink. Use a Y-shaped 3.5 mm stereo miniplug to connect the output jack to a stereo RCA cable, and plug this into the back of your TV or stereo system. At this point, you are the proud owner of a home theater PC, which you can use for watching video streamed or downloaded from the Internet.
Most PCs have several rectangular USB ports on the front and back panels. You can plug a keyboard, mouse, printer, memory card reader, or game controller into each USB port. If you have more game controllers than available ports, you can add ports to your system by plugging in a USB hub, which acts like a "splitter" or "multitap". Through hubs, you can add four gamepads, just like on a console.
Need USB game controllers? We've had good results with Logitech controllers. Others may prefer the Xbox 360 wired controller, the Xbox 360 wireless controller bundled with a PC receiver, a PLAYSTATION 3 controller with an appropriate driver, or even a classic console controller through an adapter.
to do: upload photos of USB hub, Logitech Dual Action controller, and Adaptoid N64 to USB adapter taken for the "This is a mouse" video
Yes, gamepads. It's possible to connect multiple keyboards, but there aren't many games that use multiple keyboards because DirectX combines keypress events from all keyboards into one virtual device before passing them to the application. It does the same thing with mouse movements. Some versions of Windows have a "Raw Input API" that distinguishes among multiple keyboards, but Microsoft doesn't promote it nearly to the extent it does DirectInput and XInput.
I've tried to collect a list of some games supporting this mode of operation in Switch to PC gaming.
Unlike controllers for consoles, each make and model of PC game controller has a different layout of buttons. So you have to tell the game which button you want to perform each function in the game; consult your game's manual. A well-made PC game will recognize the most popular makes and models of controller, such as the Xbox 360 Controller or certain Logitech products, and load a default configuration that makes sense. But some games are not programmed to handle game controllers, instead being hard-coded to use only the keyboard. For these, software such as JoyToKey might help.
Invite friends over
Organizing a single-screen multiplayer match should be easier than setting up a LAN party, as your friends don't have to convince others in the household to let them dismantle and borrow the PC. Some families hold annual reunions, allowing even people living hundreds of km apart to join on special occasions.
- The_Netcup. "The importance of split-screen, co-op and basically all offline multiplayer games." IGN Blogs, 2013-03-27. Accessed 2014-02-22.
- Damien McFerran. "Press Start to play: The end of splitscreen gaming". Red Bull Games, 2014-03-20. Accessed 2014-03-21.
- David Wong. "12 Video Game Annoyances That Need to Die (Part 1)". Cracked, 2014-06-12. Accessed 2014-06-12.
- Jason Scgreier. "Nintendo Turns Up Its Nose at ‘Garage Developers’". Wired, 2011-03-18. Accessed 2014-01-18.
- Nick Summers. "Nintendo is turning down every game pitch from indie developers in Japan for its Wii U console". The Next Web, 2013-07-24. Accessed 2014-02-08.
- Ben Kuchera. "Tales from the trenches: how Microsoft is losing the battle for indie developers". The PA Report, 2013-03-27. Accessed 2013-03-29.
- Chris Bucholz. "5 Crucial Rules of Every Game (Not Found in the Rulebook). Cracked, 2014-03-11. Accessed 2014-03-16.
- Luke McKinney. "6 A-holes You Meet in Every Online Game". Cracked, 2013-05-12. Accessed 2013-05-12.
- Meg Wolitzer. "Words With Strangers". The New York Times (metered site), 2011-09-16. Accessed 2013-01-21.
- Entertainment Software Association. Essential Facts About the Computer and Video Game Industry]. Accessed 2013-02-27.
- "And The Nerds Shall Uninstall The Earth". Not Always Right. Accessed 2012-10-29.
Various other web sites have information about using a PC with a TV, as well as adapters for sale.
Sloperama Productions: Catch-23.b summarizes the genetic fallacy of console vendors.