The Problem with Episodic Gaming Content

by Harry Hughes Featured 13 Comments 36 Votes 4870 Views 22/04/2011 Back to Articles

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.

Sam and Max

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).

Back to the Future

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?

Link to us http://pc.mmgn.com/Articles/The-Problem-with-Episodic-Gami
Tags: Books episodic games gaming multimedia pc Steam Telltale
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The Problem with Episodic Gaming Content Comments

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I don't really see why you compare episodic content specifically to books. I get where you are coming from, episodic games are similar to series of books, but I think that they are just as similar to any other media that is released in instalments.

Krycek said: I don't really see why you compare episodic content specifically to books. I get where you are coming from, episodic games are similar to series of books, but I think that they are just as similar to any other media that is released in instalments.


I used books for the simple reason that many book sequels are used not only to begin a new journey for the characters, but also conclude and provide the finer details about the last adventure.

The amount of time waited to find out the outcomes is also considered.

I guess you could say it's like tv shows but to find out the next series events you generally only have to wait one night or one week.

I also don't think books (and episodic content) have the long-lasting impact that films (and full-feature games) have.. For example, I remember every single thing about I, Robot which I saw at release and haven't seen since. Similarly, I played through Borderlands only once and remember basically everything.

On the other hand, I've forgotten the finer details of episode one of a series called A.R.E.S and will have to play again before episode two eventually comes out. Likewise, I don't remember anything bar the basic plot of the last James Patterson book I read.

Basically, I find books to be the best comparison based on:
- Impact
- Length
- Time between (in that it's too unpredictable to work)
Nice article Harry. Episodic content only works if they adhere to a certain way of doing things, and Telltale are a master of cliffhangers. I prefer to play it all in one go, so I usually wait until the whole series is out before I start it :)
If it wasn't for the last paragraph, you'd have a very unhappy Hellarphant rampaging around your kitchen.

If you ask me, the only reason TellTale get away with it is simply because they are TellTale. It's widely accepted that episodic content is "their thing", and fans are happy to wait the two months for each installment.

From what I've seen, new fans are introduced through already completed series, where they experience X episodes of TellTale charm in a short amount of time. Those who enjoy it will go through the catalogue until they catch up to the latest series, and many of them will happily wait for the next episode.

Silence said: If you ask me, the only reason TellTale get away with it is simply because they are TellTale. It's widely accepted that episodic content is "their thing", and fans are happy to wait the two months for each installment.


I think you might find a lot of people probably wouldn't care who the developer is. I think the fact that they use a two month gap (which for me is borderline too long) but stick to it like bees to honey is great. Whereas some adventures I have seen advertised a gap of 'a week' where it takes up to a month for the next episode, or ambiguous terms like 'a short while' or 'a few weeks' which don't explain anything.

Take for example the Winter Voices series on Steam.. From the website:
"Winter Voices is the first Role-Playing Game Series on PC and Mac, available in 7 downloadable episodes at 4.49 € each. Each new episode will be available approximately two weeks apart at www.wintervoices.com and Steam, the leading platform for digital content with over 30 million accounts around the world."

And on Steam:
store.steampowered.com/...

Check out the release dates.

These sorts of games are why episodic content is yet to become part of the average gamer's library/

Harry said: I think the fact that they use a two month gap (which for me is borderline too long) but stick to it like bees to honey is great.


Definitely don't disagree with you there. Like you said, they are reliable and will get that content out on time without exceptions. I was being vague, but the point I was tying to make when I said it was their thing was that they do it, and they do it well.

Because of TellTale's track record, you can be confident that the episodes will come out on time. Any other developer can say that they'll keep to their schedule, but it's up to them to complete this promise, and build a trust like TellTale has over the years
Indeed, I guess I mistook your intentions with "If you ask me, the only reason TellTale get away with it is simply because they are TellTale."

Agree with you 100%

Harry said:
Basically, I find books to be the best comparison based on:
- Impact
- Length
- Time between (in that it's too unpredictable to work)



I can't say I agree with you on books having a lesser impact. I can watch films multiples times but I don't really re-read books because they are too familiar, so I guess books have a bigger impact on me than film. I do agree though that if there is like ten years between books in a series then some of the finer details will have escaped me. Maybe that's the thing - books and episodic games (which are typically adventure games) usually rely on the finer details so it is harder to remember everything that is important than it would be with a film. So I guess I agree, at least that adventure games are similar to books in that respect.

I'd also add that episodic content, if properly spaced, will have only a month or two between episodes. A book series on the other hand can have years between releases. I think that episodic content is more comparable to comics which have a shorter time between release.

I'm with you when you say that people prefer to have all the content at once though. Even with tv shows I find it hard to wait a week to find out what happens next so I usually wait until everything is released before watching it. I haven't really got into the whole episodic thing games - I was waiting for all the episodes of Sonic 4 and Back to the Future (two episodic games I was interested in) to be released before playing them. This was partially because I would rather play it all at once and also because I suspect I can buy all of the episodes in a bundle for cheaper than I could if I got them separately. The same goes for comics actually, I rarely buy a single issue but instead wait for the trade paperbacks to be released.

Krycek said: I'd also add that episodic content, if properly spaced, will have only a month or two between episodes. A book series on the other hand can have years between releases. I think that episodic content is more comparable to comics which have a shorter time between release.


An interesting point. I can't say I'm much of a comic book guy myself so I'm afraid I'm not all too aware of release patterns.

I guess what I was really trying (and failed) to get at there is not the time between released, but the sometimes spontaneous release dates. ie, it's pretty hard for a developer to say: "Right, we're starting ground up on a new episodic action platformer. Game one will be released on 1 Jan, game two on 15 Jan and game three on 22 Jan."

Same way you rarely see a book with the leaflet at back saying "Johnny Noob is writing 'The death of a 1337 haxx0r' for a December 13 release".

But I definitely understand where you're coming from.

Perhaps it differs for each person in terms of impact (of books, games, movies etc.).. Someone such as yourself may have great ability to memorise a passage of text but I prefer my visuals - they just leave the image on my brain a bit longer.
You have a point
I think the other challenge episodic content has to face is that the us gamers are simply not used to playing games handed out in regular parcels. We are greedy and want the whole meal in one serving, and so unless there is an incentive (price, more content, easter eggs) there isn't really a reason to change our play habits. :P

Polakau said: I think the other challenge episodic content has to face is that the us gamers are simply not used to playing games handed out in regular parcels. We are greedy and want the whole meal in one serving, and so unless there is an incentive (price, more content, easter eggs) there isn't really a reason to change our play habits.


Indeed. This would be why so many people prefer to buy the whole package at once, after every chapter has been released.
Agreed mate, continuity and the ability to control the pace that you explore the story makes having the whole lot at your disposal in one hit hard to resist. It is why I like to wait for box set dvds as well. ;-)

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