Recently, I’ve been asking myself if episodic games are worth it and/or the future of gaming. Not too long ago I finished Episode 2 of Telltale’s The Walking Dead and so far, it’s been a fantastic hit. It’s a strong and character driven story and simply more than just a zombie apocalypse. It’s been highly rated as a huge success. But one example can’t define a genre of video games and hope to expect that all games of the same format to follow suit, can it? I’ve read a few articles, watched a few videos, and have speculated on the topic, and here are my findings.
Why episodic gaming is bad:
Essentially, episodic games are presented in pieces to build an audience, and one by one to develop revenue to create future episodes. The first episode/section/part/etc. comes out, and let’s say audiences love it, and video game companies are expected to retain at least half of their audience. So let’s do some math and assume that the first episode attracts one million players.
- Episode 1: 1,000,000
- Episode 2: 500,000
- Episode 3: 250,000
- Episode 4: 125,000
- Episode 5: 62,500
- Episode 6: 31,250
- And so on…
By the sixth episode video game companies have retained just a little over 3% of the original audience, clearly not enough players to generate enough revenue to continue making the game.
Also, players much like myself, don’t like being constrained to a time frame when playing video games. There seems to be complains that episodic games don’t give players enough freedom to really explore and learn the controls. With games in this format, the games themselves are telling players exactly how, when, and how long to play the games. Where once the player had control of the controller, the controller now controls the player. For some who are on a time constraint on a daily basis with work, school, etc. maybe episodic gaming is the way to go, but for hardcore gamers who like and have the time to sit for hours playing games, then obviously this innovative way of formatting video games doesn’t work.
Why episodic gaming is good:
Episodic games are great economically. Players don’t have to commit to such an expense. Going back to reference Telltale’s The Walking Dead, every episode costs $5. If players aren’t satisfied or simply don’t like the game, then they haven’t wasted $60. They’ve only spent maybe $5 or $10. So economically, episodic games are great.
Episodic gaming is a fairly new way to format video games and breaks the old conventional methods that players are used to. It presents a new opportunity to experience video games in a different way. Occasionally when I watch TV or movies, I can’t help but ask myself why a character did such a dumb thing or how I critique them because I felt the story should have moved in a different direction. Episodic games grants players that sense of control, the feeling of taking over and becoming a director/producer to his or her own TV show or movie. This is why I enjoyed Alan Wake. It was presented as a full game ($60), but every chapter acted out like an episode, with closing music and a “last time on Alan Wake“ recap before the next chapter. I felt like I was playing through a television show.
The single most important part of episodic games are their stories. The success of episodic games solely depend on how their stories play out and how they draw players in. I suppose you could say that about any other type of game, but with episodic games, if the first episode doesn’t draw players in, then they won’t continue to play. With other type games like open world or racing or arcade fighting style, the story may not be catchy the first hour or so, but the commitment to spend $60 coerces players to continue playing to see how the story plays out. Sometimes it’s a success; other times it fails.
Episodic gaming is just a new way to experience a video game. Economically it makes sense for the player; maybe not so much for the video game company. There is no commitment to the game, and allows players to decide if they want to continue playing or not, but much like a TV show where viewers have put hours into the experience only to see it cancelled, video game companies face the same risk with declining audiences with every episode. Personally, I like to see video games coming out in new innovative ways. It gives me a new perspective, and a different experience. I may be more confined and constrained to the mechanics of the game, but that doesn’t necessarily always mean a bad thing. As long as the story is compelling and exciting, episodic games will continue to grow and expand. And the same could be said about every other kind of game. Regardless of how players receive this feature, not all games are episodic, and neither will all future games become so.
By Billy Peitz