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GR Showdown: Is Episodic Content A Good Trend?

Posted on Saturday, March 9 @ 06:23:00 PST by GR_Staff

GR Showdown pits the Game Revolution staff against each other in a passionate debate on a particular hot-button gaming topic. Our self-imposed rules? There is no middle groundall must take a side. All debates will have an equal number of representative on both sides: either 1-on-1 or 2-on-2 . And all our arguments must be made in 350 words or fewer; 500 or fewer, if it's 1-on-1. Which side are YOU on?

This Week's Topic: Is Episodic Content A Good Trend?

Alex Osborn: Of all the trends that have run rampant this generation—most of which are absolutely terrible—episodic gaming is undoubtedly the diamond in the rough. While I'm sure a few crafty publishers (EA, I'm looking at you) may find a way to exploit this model in the future, what we've seen Telltale Games accomplish with The Walking Dead has me sold on this form of game delivery

I remember watching the final season of Lost, and how every week following the release of a new episode, I couldn't wait to discuss it with friends and family, analyzing what we had seen and predicting what might come next. Games released as episodes in a similar spaced-out manner foster the very same sort of water cooler moments, and I love that. It's something that gaming has lacked for far too long

To those who don't like having to wait patiently for each chapter and would rather blow through the whole thing in one go, simply waiting until the entire season has been released is a perfectly acceptable option. After all, it's not like you'd be getting the game any sooner if it weren't released in chunks, as series like these are often developed on the fly. That way, those who like it in chunks will get it parceled out along the way, and the developers will be able to take into account gamer feedback when working on future episodes.

Let's also not forget that since the game is being released in chapters, the consumer is free to pick and choose how much of the game they want to experience. Instead of shelling out $60 and committing to a 10-20 hour game experience, dropping $5-10 for just a piece of the package is an awfully tempting proposition. If you decide you like it and want more, then keep paying. In the end, it's a great model that provides flexibility to the consumer, adaptability to the developer, and a low barrier to entry for those interested in giving it a test drive.

Daniel Bischoff - NO: I don't want games to imitate TV. Episodic content works great when you can deliver as quickly as television shows do, but waiting for months just to progress further in the game? No thanks, I'd rather just move on to something else. How many gamers are going to have the attention span to remember not just one release date, but several, not considering that one of those episodes could be delayed or the next installment can land on the same day as a hotly anticipated AAA release?

In that way, the episodic model can be detrimental to publishers both big and small. In addition to the messy calendar and the repeated chances to lose the consumer's attention, publishers have to market every time a new episode comes out, meaning the marketing team might detract from the game's budget with each new episode.

I'd rather games imitate books. You can still release a series of books, but releasing a large game at once allows readers (in this case, gamers) to dive in and completely envelop themselves in the experience. Episodic content feels cheap and meager by comparison. Can you imagine if you had to wait a few months just to explore beyond White Run in Skyrim?

Yes, it's true that consumers can choose how much of an episodic game they want to play, but any smart consumer in this industry is reading reviews or paying attention to pre-release demos and gameplay videos. They know what to expect for their $60 and they don't need to hedge their bets by picking up a single episode. What you're really advocating for is a demo. I like the variation in pricing that episodic content allows for, but it's simply not a good way to experience a video game.

Anthony Severino - YES: See, I do want games to imitate TV… and movies… and literature. Not all games, but some. I want games to be respected and taken seriously. That means there needs to be a variety in themes, genre, and even delivery of the content.

I don’t think it’s the right fit for every game or series, but if it can be done properly, meanwhile keeping fans on the edge of their seats, yearning for more, then it can be an excellent tool for developers and engaging and exciting for consumers.

I can’t imagine that larger, AAA games will be delivered in this format. It’s more appropriate for digital titles, so I don’t feel the Skyrim comparison works here. Besides, I’m the motherfucking Thane of Whiterun, and episodes come out when I say they do.

Simply put, as long as the final product is of quality, and can leave you on the edge of your seat awaiting the next episode, then it’s done correctly and it’s a success for both gamers and the dev/publisher. That’s exactly what happened with The Walking Dead last year, and it took home a number of awards. I personally did not play it, so I can’t speak to it myself, but it’s obviously a good example of episodic content being put to good use.

Proper planning is a must, and they can’t be scrambling to finish episodes in between releases, that’s just asking for delays and unhappy customers. But that’s the publisher at fault, really, not the way the content is being delivered.

Nick Tan - NO: Sorry, but I can't shake the feeling that the real purpose behind episodic content is for developers to fill their financial sheets over all four quarters. That's one reason for the existence of DLC in the first place: to tell investors that their company is doing fine throughout the year. And the cost of episodic distribution is placed on us, the consumer.

Telltale Games has alone revived the episodic form with consistent content and strict deadlines, but I believe the other reason for this is due to their focus on generally point-and-click adventures, a genre in which asking for $60+ upfront for all five episodes at once would still be terribly high, especially in the PC space with Steam sales and free-to-play titles everywhere.

But as a gamer, the episodic form thoroughly interrupts my experience. There's no question in my mind that the full game, at least its story, is already done before it's severed into separated pieces. If I had all five episodes together at once, there would be no need to splice the full game with multiple credit rolls and recaps. Telltale would also be able to explore more depth in story-branching without having to railroad everything together by the end of an episode.

Players would also not need to wait for weeks, perhaps months, just to get to the next episode. By the time the next episode arrives, interest wanes, cliffhangers numb, and players might already be captivated by another title and not care about finishing the next episode at all.

Besides, "episodic content" is just a word that publishers use to justify and obscure the fact that they're making players pay more in total than if they simply purchased the whole package at once. It's just an elaborate "nickel and dime" scheme. At best, let's hope that this trend stays with Telltale Games and other notably rare publishers.

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