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DICE 2012: EA's Galda says TV's episodic model is the future of game narrative
DICE 2012: EA's Galda says TV's episodic model is the future of game narrative
February 10, 2012 | By Brandon Sheffield

February 10, 2012 | By Brandon Sheffield
More: Console/PC, Art, Design, Business/Marketing

TJ Galda, senior CG supervisor at EA, believes that the future of storytelling is episodic.

Call of Duty literally earned a billion dollars a day faster than Avatar,” he said. “Maybe we shouldn't always be trying to aim for the film [with our stories]. And I'm a film guy saying that.”

The model we should look at, Galda believes, is television. We should learn from the framework of television, and figure out how to leverage that to make games, Galda proposed. Successful television creates a world, he says, and plants the seeds to make viewers want to come back. Successful games, he hinted, also create a compelling world. You also need staff writers and a writer room, he says.

“What I'm really talking about is episodic content,” he said, arguing that instead of selling people DLC like a new sword or a hat, “let's sell stuff that people want.” Developers should sell players the next story, and the next, he says.

“It could be even a subscription model - there's some serious money here.”

Television and games can work together if you know what you're doing, Galda asserts. “Arguably if you could create a world that makes sense you've got something people want to come back to," he says.

Galda stresses the importance of story arcs. “This is what television uses as their compulsion loop,” he said. One story in one episode is the A arc, but television shows will also place a B arc, which will take place over several episodes. This compels people to stick with the series. But in games, “we don't plant arcs!” he says. “We just say 'here's a story, do you like it? Cool!' but we don't plant arcs to bring people back.”

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Bob Johnson
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Well if you want to do it like tv then you also have to settle for lesser production values like tv does.

Valve tried to do episodes. But I think development cycles for AAA games are too long.

And the other problem is games also have to satisfy with gameplay not just story arc so you have to successfully satisfy 2 distinct beasts all the time. If you don't have the gameplay then why make a game?

Remember CoD is highly successful because of multiplayer which has no story.

It might make more sense to leverage the world and assets and create separately packaged narrative content.

Much like novels are created around these worlds and sold to fans.

Last the mentality to treat games as movies or tv seems well intentioned but misguided.

Tiago Raposo
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I agree. To me, one of the best examples of "episodic" story is Mass Effect, which, incidentally, uses the A and B arcs. Now the third will close the story, but not the world.

However, it took them a movie-like time frame to make each one, so to make things episodic, the entire game would have to happen at the same place, with similar "actors", to drastically reduce the time required to create each episode. And, frankly, I don't see many games that could be successfull in such scenario.

There's a good idea there, but it can't be so apples-to-apples like he proposed.

William Collins
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Episodic content is a perfectly viable model, especially considering the declining free time of some of us aging gamers. Just because we sometimes can't fully visualize a proposed idea doesn't mean it isn't a good one. And the more naysayers you have beating said idea down the more powerful the impact when someone finally implements it successfully!

Yiannis Koumoutzelis
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I would tell him welcome to the club! I've been saying this for years, makes perferct for iOS games too!

wes bogdan
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So rather than a complete batman i'd start the game go to jail and escape then insert coin to play further no thanks i already have enough trouble just playing dual analog games with my own custom scheme and wonder if digital content i bought/full digital games will disappear upon 720 and ps4's release to ever want this to happen.

Now if someone paid $10-30 and the rest was dlc fine for them but keep the standard full game avaible for $59 i never want to see standard games going for $79++ up to $149

I can see if there were 2 sku's at retail mass confusion and people who couldn't or wouldn't download that much content get the $30 game.

I'd rather see a netflix or hulu plus streaming option to play games but the internet must be blazingly fast,everyone must have it and it must be super cheap before purely digital game streams are reality.

Ian Uniacke
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There's no reason you couldn't sell a season pass, for say 49$, for people that want the traditional pricing scheme.

wes bogdan
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Take quest for booty and pit it against a real ratchet disc and things get crunched so if we're talking sonic 4 ep 1,2 and onthen release the whole thing on a disc that could work but like i said insert coin to play after a short time starting with a disc would confuse many and leave a bad taste in return.

Harlan Sumgui
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Just to emphasize Bob's point: CALL OF DUTY MP HAS NO STORY, and the MP is what 99% people buy the game for.

Story based games usually have a bad story and bad gameplay, and they lack replay value. I wish him luck in trying to create episodic game content that will be compelling enough to bring people back.

Adam Bishop
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"I wish him luck in trying to create episodic game content that will be compelling enough to bring people back."

Like Telltale has successfully been doing for several years now?

Luis Guimaraes
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Wrong. Multiplayer games don't just have story, they are story. Basically, each match is an episode: a short, self-contained piece of story that connects to the whole at a different layer, but is independent in it's own layer.


Choosing contemporary CoD titles for the exemple is even more off than using any other MP game, because most MP games just give the sandbox and rules and let the multiplayer story happen, while CoD actually writes the story for the players in order to create compulsion loops.

Everybody is permanently one-step away from mastering the game, and stays as this forever, because the game controls the outcome of your actions in a constant up-down, win-loss curve that is just exactly what one looks for in good SP pacing.

So you keep coming back, because you're always "almost there" (just one more coin) and want so much to see what happens to the main character (yourself) in the next episode.


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Darcy Nelson
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I think if Joss Whedon started writing game stories I might have to never buy a game again. x_X

Dave Smith
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i think most gamers would be happy with shorter, cheaper games with AAA production values. in my dream world thats what the next gen would be. episodic content could be one way to do it. 100 hour slogs will always have an audience, but most gamers dont have time for that anymore, especially as they get older.

Jeremy Reaban
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The trouble is, other than RPGs, most games aren't very long. 5-6 hours at most.

Alexander Cooney
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I'm all for shorter games. It really only takes the running time of a feature film to fully understand the systems of most games, and learning the system is really the only part I enjoy (and don't the vast majority of players never finish games?). The rest is just the eye-reddening "compulsion loop" (which I feel very acutely every time I walk into a dungeon in skyrim).

I wish, for example, that some developer would try to stuff an RPG into a two hour, time-restricted experience. Home from work, beer, AAA beautiful immersive game from start to finish, done. Like a movie. If anybody has run across a game like this, I would be very grateful for a heads up.

Darcy Nelson
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I don't think TV is truly episodic... I'm beginning to think the default unit for television is a single season, episodes being a fraction thereof. That's how they are sold, after all. Could be interesting, done that way.

Adam Borno
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I don't see it working all too well, but it'd be interesting to watch how publishers and studios try to pull it off.

I already game in an episodic manner anyway, each night or so is another chunk of a whole story; like watching a movie on TV or watching the DVD boxset of a series one episode per night. The difference being that I choose where to end each gaming session, I can choose to play through like a complete movie, and the learning curve for the gameplay mechanics is all taken care of in the first episode. Which, if one were to truly copy the format of TV (or comic books for that matter), means that without a simple enough control scheme or reward system players would have to start at episode 1 to really enjoy a series; which would cause problems for long running series.

One would really have to rework how a game's narrative and controls are conveyed to a player to have episodic games work in this model.

Adam Wooley
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I agree that the episodic format is great, and it's definitely nice to have new content released regularly that isn't just buying a new weapon, or new skin for your characters. Episodic games have already been around for a while though no?

In fact, doesn't EA already have a few of it's own successful episodic games such as Surviving High School and Cause of Death? Those have both been out for a while and are doing pretty well with that format I imagine.

Buck Hammerstein
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the problem is if the game is episodic but the first installment is not successful we will never see even the crest of the story arc. there have been many games that were designed to continue even past the standard trilogy but they never got past the first episode due to "poor sales."

the tv analogy is okay if the following game episodes come in a similar timely fashion. hard to keep a story flowing when the chapters come 12 months apart.

i would love to see this applied to adventure gaming, a genre i see this best suited for and one that i hope makes a dent in the fps dominant market.

Harry Debelius
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The problem with a possible cancellation is that you will see most players hold up to see if the story is continued before spending their time and money on a project. It would be necessary to guarantee some sort of continuity or at least to have episodes be self conclusive.

L.A. Noire is a game that I think would have worked fantastic in this fashion; each case is individual but it always adds up to an overall story. It's easy to just play a case that you can finish in an hour or so. Alan Wake and Alone in the Dark also picked up ideas from episodic content... even Resident Evil: Revelations has used some of the storytelling techniques used in TV series.

By the way, check out Telltale Games for episodic adventure games; they have been doing it for years!

Joe McGinn
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Isn't this about 10 years behind the times? Valve proved it doesn't work. For high-quality interactive single-player games, making an "episode" takes as long as making a game.

Luis Guimaraes
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Plenty of developers are releasing 6-hour campaigns every 12 months. Let's do the math.

Valve proved (...) making an "episode" takes as long as making a [trilogy]. ^^

Bart Stewart
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I suspect that TJ Galda is right, and episodic content is the future... at least from EA.

All the points that Galda makes are good ones. But the success and difficulties of this model will be driven by things that he doesn't mention.

First is that episodic storytelling is strongly character-driven. It's nice to have an amazing world (Skyrim), but the world of an episodic story is only there to support putting characters into difficult situations from which story emerges. In TV, that means hiring actors that people like to watch. Games can do that to some extent, with some voice actors becoming fairly well-known: Ellen McLain, Jennifer Hale, Nolan North. But actors in hit TV shows can command millions of dollars -- are the funders of games ready to shell out that kind of cash?

Which brings me to my second point, which is that an EA guy is talking about this model not just because some gamers might like it, but because it's good for EA. EA knows that gamers only have so much money -- if they can get you hooked on playing episodes of one of their games, that's a stable revenue source almost as good as subscriptions to a MMORPG. Making content episodic is essentially a customer-control tactic. (That sounds bad, but it's basically what every large publisher wants. One-shot hits are too rare and infrequent; long-term success comes from repeat business.)

Furthermore, EA has BioWare and its track record of making character-driven content, and other publishers don't. So making game content episodic leverages one of EA's strategic assets.

If I were EA, I'd be going this route, too. Whether it works or not will be up to gamers, but as a strategic move, it's a reasonable gamble.

Joshua Darlington
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All games that cant be completed in one session are essentially episodic.


Professional preliterate storytellers had a certain amount of plasticity in their art. They could tell the same story in 5 min or 3 days.

Jonathan Murphy
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Consumers lose interest when they have to wait x amount of time and spend x amount of money for the next episode. It's a simple formula with no success as of yet in video games. I can only think of one company that came close. Tell Tale.