Editorial | 7/3/2012 at 9:00 AM

The Co-Op Terminology Guide: 2012 Edition

Taking you to school since 2008.

It was two and a half years ago that we brought your our first Co-Op Terminology Guide and while most of the terminology and definitions that surround co-op gaming remain, we figured it was a good time to do a refresh.

Let's start wtih the basics.  Where do you find co-op games on Co-Optimus?  All of our games are located in our handy-dandy database.  This database is both searchable and listable by system.  Eventually you'll find something within that piques your interest and you'll land at a database page - something like this.  And it's here where you might be initially overwhelmed by the terminology used on the page - so lets take a look.

But first, how does Co-Optimus define co-op gaming? Many people have different perceptions and ideas of what co-op is to them, and honestly, that's perfectly fine. Ours is more the classic view of co-op gaming.

"A co-op game is a game where two or more players work together to accomplish a goal against AI opponents. Ideally the game will feature a strong story in which both players take part of. Co-Op can be online over the internet, offline on the same console, or via a LAN or Wireless Network. We do not consider team based games as co-op where players face off against another team of human players."

This means most racing games, including Blur, offering split-screen play are not co-op.  Call of Duty (while it does have a co-op mode) isn't an 8 or 16 player co-op game because the mode that those player counts are available in are a team based versus mode.  Basically, if the game requires you to compete against another human being, it is not co-op.

Alright, onto the terminology.

  Couch Co-Op

Couch Co-Op is often called Local Co-Op, and allows two or more players to play on the same television, game console or computer, and couch...or multiple chairs, or couch and floor...or standing if that makes you happy. The screen can either be split to accommodate the players, or as a shared screen with the players on the same point of view.

Examples:  Lego Batman 2: DC Super Heroes, Halo Reach, Minecraft: Xbox 360 Edition



Splitscreen is a specific form of local co-op that will partition the screen in one of a few ways giving each player their own viewpoint. The screen is often split vertically or horizontally depending on the aspect ratio of the game or the developers preference. Some games get a bit more creative and will have partial-screen splits.  There's always plenty of argument over which way the screen is split is most effective, the recent StarHawk game utilized the entire screen while still holding a widescreen aspect ratio and filling in the gaps with a radar.  

Examples: Left 4 Dead 2, StarHawk,  Splinter Cell: Conviction


  Combo Co-Op (Local with Online Play)

Combo Co-Op is a newer term we've been using around here.  We used to refer to it as "Local with Online Play" but that term just didn't seem catchy enough.   Hey - Randy Pitchford liked it, so why not?  This style of co-op allows for two or more local players to play with one or more online players. The set up doesn't necessarily mean the screen is split, but rather local players can play with online players at the same time. This set-up is ideal for co-op playing spouses, significant others, local friends, or siblings to play with their long distance friends at the same time.

Examples:  Borderlands 2, Ratchet and Clank: All 4 One, Shoot Many Robots

  LAN/System Link/AD-HOC

LAN or System Link games are handy for multiple console homes, dorms, or the classic LAN Party.  The advantage of LAN play is each player gets their own system and or screen with the added social benefit of a couch co-op like atmosphere.  LAN play is most common with PCs, while the term System Link was made famous by consoles - that said - they are virtually identical in how they function.  Another advantage LAN play has is that an internet connection is not required.  

Examples:  Civilization V, Halo Reach, Gears of War 3




Drop-in/Drop-out co-op is a handy little feature which allows players to jump in or out of a game as they see fit. While there are many implementations of this, the best is when the host player(s) don't need to stop their game in progress to allow the person to join.  Some games allow players to join between levels, or wait until the player(s) hit a checkpoint.  If a player needs to leave, he can drop out of the game without penalizing the other players while players that arrive late to the party can fill an empty slot up to the maximum amount of players.

Examples:   Left 4 Dead 2, Diablo 3, LEGO Batman 2: DC Super Heroes


  Co-op Specific Content

Co-op specific content is a specific mode devoted to co-op which does not apply to the single-player or storyline of the game. These modes are often: Survival based, where your team is set up against wave after wave of enemies. Also growing in popularity are Co-op only campaigns, where you'll play with some friends through scenarios unrelated to the main storyline or campaign.  

Examples:  Uncharted 3, Gears of War 3, The Darkness II, Syndicate


  Co-Op Campaign or Single Player Available in Co-Op

A game that supports co-op play through the story or main campaign that's identical to the single player experience falls into this category.  While the addition of players may alter how the story plays out, the bulk of the content is identical to if you were playing on your own.  Obviously it's a huge bonus if all players involved get the bonuses for player (gear, achievements, saves, etc) - but it's not required.  If the game doesn't offer a story mode, this option could still be check, say if it was a strategy game like Civlization.

Examples:  Borderlands 2, Halo Reach, Diablo 3, Rayman Origins


Co-Op games have come a long way since our first terminology guide.  We've seen hundreds of new titles appear offering unique ways to share the gaming experience in a non-competitive way.  We thought it was a good time for a refresher and a good time to tweak some of the terminology used around the site to avoid confusion.  With a database of over 2000 cooperative video games, there's something for everyone.  Whether you use our Games Database or Search Functionality, or simply browse our Co-Op Tables for something to play - there's something for everyone.