Local co-op is all too often the first feature to get the axe. Battleborn, Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, Halo 5: Guardians… The list of offenders goes on and on. The move away from the couch and towards the cloud has even affected consoles, once bastions of local multiplayer.
Couch co-op’s PC revival is due in large to the accessibility of the Steam Store’s user-defined tag system. For all of the Steam Store’s quirks, Valve gets tags exactly right. It takes one click to organize search results by whether or not they have local multiplayer. It works well enough. Of course, it’s by no means a perfect system; just ask anyone who purchased Hunted: The Demon’s Forge expecting anything other than a single-player experience. Needless to say, there are many other uses for a user-defined tag system. The Windows Store needs a similar system if Microsoft wants to win over Valve loyalists.
Currently, in terms of product organization, the Windows Store has more in common with Amazon than with Steam. The top result of a search for “local co-op”, last-last-gen’s Call of Duty: World at War, does not even officially support local co-op on PC. I doubt the Amazon algorithm is referring to an unofficial and cumbersome workaround. Meanwhile, on the Windows Store, a search for “local co-op” brings up an incomplete list of games. Notably absent? Gears of War 4, what should be the flagship title for local co-op on the PC. This might seem like small potatoes but it can make or break a sale. A significant percentage of the games in my Steam Library ended up there because I was looking for a game with the “Local Co-Op” tag.
Gears of War 4 for PC features the same two-player local co-op you find in the console version. Digital versions of Gears of War 4 for PC must go through the Windows Store, via direct sale or activation code. There’s no DRM-free version for sale on GOG. Gears of War 4 is not on Steam or its copycats (Origin, Uplay, et cetera). It’s the era of DRM, I get that. But there’s a reason why Steam is the go-to digital distribution service, and it starts with user-defined tags such as “Local Co-op” and “Local Multiplayer”.
Microsoft’s Xbox Wireless Adapter for Windows and the ubiquity of XInput indicate Microsoft’s dedication to local multiplayer on the PC. With the Steam controller, Steam Machines, and the Steamlink, Valve has shown how PC gaming and couch co-op can coexist in a symbiotic relationship. AAA developers and indie developers alike have put in the effort to include couch co-op in PC games. Online marketplaces should keep up their end of the bargain by making those games easy to find. Everyone would benefit.