Nicholas DeBlasio ’16 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
A crossroads in gaming has been starting, causing a trend in story-based games being made in a world of action-based ones. One of the leading aspects of this movement is the episodic game format, with games being released in episodes and seasons as opposed to single-package, single release games. Episodes may be released once a month until the season is done, or once every few months depending on the attention given to the project.
Sales for episodic games are often conducted by purchasing individual episodes or by purchasing the full season preemptively (usually at a lower cost than buying each episode individually). This sales model raises some understandable concerns from gamers, as it requires them to invest in content that they will not receive immediately upon the first episode’s release. Unless they’ve already waited several months for each episode to come out, it’s as if they’re buying the DVD box set of a show they haven’t seen yet, or that isn’t even released yet.
Though it raises questions on the consumers’ end, for the developers, the episodic release model can be very beneficial to the game’s quality. Developers of episodic games are able to devote greater effort and attention to projects when those projects are broken up into smaller, more manageable pieces, which allows for greater effort to be given to the story and aesthetics. It’s kind of like the game acts as a Kickstarter campaign for itself: the developer releases trailers, development notes, and other information, then the release of the first episode introduces gamers to the game’s story and general feel, and the initial sales from that can support the development of the rest of the season (although the story should under production by that point, if the developer is reliable).
At least for now, the salability of episodic games relies on reputation. If you want people to invest in content that won’t be released for a while, people need to be willing to bank on you doing a good job. Telltale Games has no problem with this because episodic games are their specialty, and they have consistently delivered quality storylines for years. People are therefore willing to invest in them and buy all the episodes of a game ahead of their release, because Telltale Games has proven itself trustworthy. The Half-Life 2 downloadable content (DLC) episodes are also a good example, since the core game is so highly acclaimed, and since Valve has generally shown its dedication to good content.
This reputation requirement, however, likely means that the episodic format for games will not spread too quickly. Consumers have to be willing to take a risk on the game from the get-go, or else the following episodes might not even be worth making. If the developer isn’t a genre veteran like Telltale, it can be quite the risk.
That doesn’t mean there’s no growth. A prime example of movement outside of Telltale is DONTNOD Entertainment’s new episodic game titled Life is Strange, which was recently released in January to great acclaim on account of its rich story (which is generally a requirement for episodics) and beautiful visuals. The developers, in order to prove the quality of their product, have an excellent release strategy of three release options: consumers can buy the first episode for a cheap five dollars, and then, if they are pleased, they can buy episodes two through five for seventeen dollars, or they can outright buy all five for twenty dollars. The model gives consumers the chance to get a feel for the project before fully investing, at a risk of only two dollars in additional expenses if they choose to buy the rest of the season. A model like that seems to be the ideal for new episodic games to be released from companies new to the episodic format.
Overall, the advent of the episodic game—though it obviously comes with some trepidation—gives a lot of potential to the gaming world. Even in the face of next generation consoles and the demand for higher complexity in graphics and gameplay, story-based episodic games may allow small developers to use simple gameplay and still provide a deep experienc