The last ten years of gaming have seen two things rise: portable gaming and multiplayer gaming. It’s easy to forget, then, that the fusion of the two has had a really, REALLY rough time of it. The original Game Boy had an awful multiplayer scheme; it required one copy of the software for each player and a link cable. In theory, this sounds reasonable.
In practice, a family wouldn’t buy multiple copies of the same game, friends wouldn’t either when they could just trade amongst themselves, and because of both of those the link cable would get lost within a couple of weeks. I think I managed, what, three linked Tetris games on my original GB, and I traded Pokemon with my sister twice. Obviously, once the Game Boy Advance came along and permitted single-cartridge multiplayer (what we call “Download Play” now), the only problem was that the link cables weren’t included anymore and were $20. Only once the DS came along and provided built-in, easy-to-use wireless capabilities, did portable multiplayer really take off. Even then, single-card multiplayer is relatively rare, for reasons that are usually green. Even the PSP’s game sharing feature doesn’t see a lot of use.
What should be noted, though, is that smartphone gaming is really taking off in terms of solving the other problem with portable multiplayer– finding someone near you who’s set up for and receptive to playing with you. Yeah, asynchronous play is a great innovation, especially because it makes long-form games like Ticket to Ride, Scrabble, Risk, etc. more convenient to play. But linking with folks across the world to get your game on helps far more. Case in point, I’ve been having the hardest time getting some friends together to run a campaign of Risk Legacy as that requires a very long, consistent time investment. On the flip side, whenever I want to play Ascension, I just have to fire up my iPad.
As great as it is to play games together, it could be a lot easier to play the games I want to play with people.