talk a lot about episodic games, and every time I do I encounter a wide
range of opinions on what “episodic” actually means. I recently wrote
an opinion piece that promulgated GameTap’s perspective on what it
takes to call a game episodic and it boils down to this:
- Each episode stands alone but is part of a larger whole.
- Each episode has a relatively short duration of play.
- Episodes are delivered on a regular schedule over a defined, and relatively brief, period of time that makes up a season.
is in contrast to the approach taken by Ritual and Valve with their
titles, which I would describe as more like installments in a single
game rather than episodes in a series.
If you can
buy into these three tenets as defining rules for an episodic game
series, it begs the question: why bother making episodic games at all?
answer is not an obvious one when you consider that this content model
presents a lot of challenges for an industry that, historically, has
not been good at producing quality content in the studio-like TV show
model that episodic game development would demand. The fact that the
development model for episodic games probably requires the industry to
re-educate consumers on how long games should last, or even what level
of visual quality to expect, is another burden. Traditional boxed
software still sells, so, again, why bother with episodic games?
For now, I will give you just three reasons, although there are dozens more:
- Changing consumer behaviors as a result of digital delivery
- The opportunity for innovation in game design
- The increasingly challenging model for traditional shrinkwrapped PC content
Ritual's Sin Episodes - episodic content, or single-game installments?
The Digital Consumer
Digital distribution has been around in some form for decades. Anyone remember downloading Doom
on a 14.4 modem? Or getting files from BBS services like CompuServe?
The culmination of the consumer shift to digital content, and the thing
that really changed consumer behavior, wasn’t the ability to get movies
or music or games digitally. It was the ability to cherry pick.
and products like TiVo and the iTunes Store, made it easy for consumers
to get only the tracks on an album, or the episodes in a TV series,
that they wanted to experience. Coupled with an entertainment landscape
that spawns new cable and online networks almost daily, and media
consumption habits start looking pretty ADD-induced.
Layer on top of all of this media glut a boom in games designed to be played during downtime, like a round of Bejeweled on your laptop between meetings or Doom RPG
on your phone while you commute to work, and the end result is a
consumer with a predisposition to experience smaller chunks of content
with more entertainment options than at any time in history.
lesson here for game developers is that a growing percentage of your
potential audience might be more inclined to buy your product if they
know the commitment is smaller, and if they like it, there is more
where that came from. This may seem simplistic, but it can actually
have a meaningful impact on the way people think about your games.
time and money commitment by the game player for a single episode in a
series is small, so the hurdle to purchase is much lower than a $60
SKU. Build into your game the release schedule for future episodes or
teasers for previously released episodes, and after you sell one
episode to a consumer, you have a built in viral marketing tool and a
shot at getting them to buy again.
trained the consumer to focus on tracks instead of albums, and that
trend ultimately led the consumer to focus on TV episodes rather than
seasons. It isn’t a huge leap to turn that trend around and get people
to focus on buying additional episodes in a game series if we provide
them the opportunity. You never have a gamer more excited to buy more
of your games than after he or she has just finished one.
Consumer demands for content are changing and episodic games present an opportunity to take advantage of that change.