Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Episodic Content

Having a custom battle standard  is one way to hook players 
There's a lot that could be said about this system of distribution.  Let's start by looking back on a few of the games that tried it in the recent past.  Probably the first pair of examples that comes to mind is Half-Life 2: Episodes 1 and 2.  The third and final of which has been lost in Xen for a long time.  Similarly Penny Arcade Adventures: On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness had an episode 1 and 2 with only three months of separation between them.  Meanwhile episode 3 still under development four years later.  Several noteworthy franchises were aborted as well such as Sin Episodes.  Then there are episodic games in name only such as Siren: Blood Curse.  In truth the only company that has an established track record for making the system work as intended is Telltale Games.

So where does this leave us?  Kind of in a strange place really.  In interviews with the developers of the planned episodic title The Banner Saga it was suggested that games using this system of distribution need to emulate the TV mini-series format more closely.   In other words the key to making a successful episodic game lies in the the story.  In order to get players coming back for more you need to tell a saga with a mature tone.  I should stop and clarify that by "mature" I don't mean lots of nudity and swearing (although there's nothing wrong with that).  What I mean is having characters in situations that are more than just some teenage power fantasy.  You need the audience to care, relate and identify on a personal level.  Without that connection the sales on each consecutive episode are guaranteed to plummet dramatically.

"So, these kind of video games need to be more like TV" sounds strange, right?  What's even more odd is the whole concept of distributing a game in chunks starts to become confusing when you consider mandatory update patches, DLC and service/subscription based gaming.  At what point does one become the other?  The line is so blurry at times it's difficult to tell.  Regardless, a lot of different systems are being experimented with by various publishers and consumers.  What will the long term results be?  I don't know, but I sincerely hope gaming continues to be a fun and affordable hobby.

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