Valve has added a new capability to Steam that should make it much easier to find other people to play local cooperative multiplayer games with. If it works, it might encourage more developers to invest in this capability in the first place. The new feature, dubbed Remote Play Together, allows non-local players to play games that typically require two or more players in the same physical location.
Local multiplayer has become a rare capability in many titles. It’s a little odd when you think about it. In the early days of gaming, local multiplayer was just called “multiplayer.” Dividing a CRT into two or four panels might leave everyone playing on a postage stamp, but we managed to have fun anyway. Local co-op hung on as a common feature for years after the internet became available, but as the quality of online matches improved, developers began to put less emphasis on local play (cooperative or competitive) as a whole. While certain genres, like fighting games, still offer a local mode, many games that used to have retired the option.
Steam’s Remote Play Together feature is designed to allow two gamers who aren’t local to each other to play games as if they are. We don’t know much about how the capability will work yet. Remote Play Together will allow “two or more players to enjoy local multiplayer games over the internet, together.” The feature will launch for all local multiplayer, local co-op, and split-screen games. Once the beta goes live, players will launch a game with support for local multiplayer, then invite a friend to join them using the Steam Overlay. If your friend accepts the invitation to play, they’ll be joined to your system. Your computer is responsible for running the game, but the experience is shared with a friend.
Keyboards and mice plugged into Player #2’s computer will behave as if they are plugged into Player #1’s machine, and the game host can choose to block or allow inputs to the shared keyboard and mouse. The feature was constructed using Steam’s existing remote play technologies and supports up to four players streaming in 1080p at 60fps. Connection speed required varies by title, but Valve recommends between 10-30Mbps for smooth gameplay. Only the host needs to own a copy of a game in order to play it.
Steam isn’t the first company to offer a product like this, but it’s not clear how well the alternatives work. There’s a company called Parsec with a cloud gaming service that claims to allow you to jump into single-player games that don’t have online multiplayer, but player experience and reviews of the software seem to be mixed. Steam’s Remote Play Together beta begins on October 21 and is open to anyone who has chosen to participate in Steam beta tests. Managing split-screen latency is going to be tricky, especially if the host and guest computers are separated by a lot of physical distance — many split-screen games are explicitly designed not to have any latency at all, which raises questions of how Valve will keep everything synchronized.
If this feature works well, however, it could lead to renewed interest in local multiplayer as a feature, which would only be a good thing. Playing with a friend on the couch may not be the most common way to game, but there are still plenty of people who look forward to this kind of multiplayer. Making it more accessible to a wider audience would encourage developers to adopt it in the first place.