The Problem with Episodic Game Adventures
Video games at long last are being given the attention they deserve in the multimedia industry, and indeed are now being put in the same category as movies and television. While modern blockbuster titles are being likened to the latest box office hits, episodic game adventures -- a growing sub-section of the games industry -- are beginning to resemble books more and more. This is not a good thing for a concept with so much potential.
The thought behind episodic content is simple: by releasing a single adventure in separate segments at a lower price, the potential playtime for the adventure grows while the cost stays considerably lower than a retail title. In addition, any feedback from players has far more potential to change and improve the game. This generally means a far more polished experience for players.
It’s clear that the very idea which drives episodic content aims to satisfy both developers and players, but for a few reasons, this just doesn’t work out. This is a method of distribution which can be incredibly successful, especially as the industry begins to place more importance on digital distribution. Alas, very few developers seem to work the system efficiently.
In order to work well, episodic series should adhere to strict deadlines. If they do not do so, then the whole series becomes a mess and players lose interest. Even if deadlines are met, games still feel a bit like books in that you get through one book (or video game chapter) and you have to wait for the next one, potentially losing track of where the story is at when the next chapter in the series arrives. Hence, motivation to buy the next installment is lost.
This means that people who wait for the whole series to be finished before making a purchase are at advantage. This is unfair for loyal players who dedicate time and money to helping their favourite developer improve their product, and unfair for developers who are potentially missing out on thousands of sales.
Thankfully, the low price of each chapter allows prospective players to get a taste for a new series and see whether they enjoy it. This results in a great number of players buying the series who wouldn’t originally pay $50 for the adventure in one piece. A large number of one-time sales would also be expected (from the people who don’t enjoy the game so much).
Yet still, there’s little reason for developers to choose this unusual method of distribution. Sure, there’s the odd boost in sales here and there but the small benefits seem to take a lot of extra hard work to gain: deadlines must be incredibly strict (which is not something which can easily be controlled in this industry) and there must always be motivation for the player to buy the next chapter. This would not be necessary with a ‘normal’ release.
All things considered, I can think of only developer who are able to remain consistently successful with part-by-part releases of their video games, and that is TellTale games. Recently we detailed how they single-handedly revived the point-and-click genre, so who knows, maybe they can reinvent the wheel and restore popularity to this fading method of distribution. Only time will tell.
By Harry Hughes
What motivates you to buy (or pass up on) episodic gaming adventures?