Steam to enable online multiplayer for all local multiplayer games via 'Remote Play'

A new feature, Remote Play Together, will automatically turn local multiplayer games into online games, with no additional work from developers needed.

In business, competition is a good thing. It often compels companies to step up their game, and in turn, that usually benefits consumers. With the rise of the Epic Games store and its attractive 88/12 revenue split and guaranteed minimum for developers, Valve’s dominant Steam platform has been challenged, and the company has been responding. Sales on Steam have declined significantly year-over-year, but Valve has been looking to address concerns over discoverability and bias towards popular games with its recent storefront overhaul. And this week, Valve took another step to save developers time and money by revealing a new feature, Remote Play Together. 

The feature, as spotted by PC Gamer, will be introduced into a forthcoming Steam beta, and it will allow players of any local multiplayer or co-op games on Steam to play online multiplayer. The news came via the Steamworks website, which only developers can access, and it stated: “All local multiplayer, local co-op and split-screen games will be automatically included in the Remote Play Together beta, which we plan to launch the week of October 21."

Steam’s Alden Kroll, a product designer working for Valve, explained on Twitter that the new feature will basically combine screen streaming and input capture to make online multiplayer feel like people playing in the same room together. “The tech is streaming your screen to your friend and capturing their input and sending it back to the game, so you are both playing the same game, looking at the same thing,” he said, clarifying that only one person needs to own a copy of the game to host multiplayer.

Nvidia used to do something similar with its GeForce Experience product, and a number of developers quickly pointed out that online services like Parsec have already been offering this kind of functionality for years, but the news from Steam was definitely given a big thumbs up from developers who have wanted to make online games but haven’t had the time or resources available.

“People have wanted to play my game online for years now, and it's been somewhat beyond my capacity to make that happen. So I'm really super excited for this,” said Adam Spragg, developer of Hidden in Plain Sight.

SMG Studio, an Australian developer behind a game called Moving Out, called it a “game changer,” adding that it “removes a huge barrier for so many games. The fact they only need to have 1 copy [means it] just works like a free trial.”

Kris Antoni, founder of Toge Productions (Infectonator 3), remarked that he’s hoping the new Steam feature will “make the saying ‘local multiplayer games are only good at events and not actually sell’ become obsolete.”

For many indies, it’s no small feat to create an online multiplayer game. The additional time required and the added costs can be quite prohibitive, as Joost "Oogst" van Dongen (who spent several years at Awesomenauts studio Romino Games) explained on his blog a few years ago.

“Most gamers and reviewers these days expect almost any game to have online multiplayer. What they might not realise (or not care about), is that adding online multiplayer makes a game twice as much work to program. Most programmers who build this for the first time hugely underestimate how much work it really is,” he stated. [emphasis his]

In a feature on the ups and downs of adding online multiplayer as an indie, Gun Monkeys developer Dan Marshall (Sive Five Games) commented to Gamasutra, "I love my job, it's fun. I am exceptionally lucky to be doing this as my job. But making and launching a multiplayer game was arguably the most stressful thing I've done as an indie developer, and I enjoy my job and my life too much to mess around with all that sort of stuff again."

Until Remote Play Together is available on Steam in a couple weeks, it’s hard to say exactly what the impact on the development community will be at large, but it’s certainly looking like a valuable addition for any small studios seeking to release an online title at lower cost. 

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Editor-in-Chief

James has been covering the games industry since the early 2000s and was previously the editor of GamesIndustry.biz. He loves Zelda, Metroidvania-style games, action adventure and single-player narratives. He's also the proud father of twin boys and is obsessed with good coffee and Yankees baseball. You can reach him @bright_pixels on Twitter or you can email him at james.brightman@gamedaily.biz.

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