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Episodic Gaming Changing Gamemaking?

Zonk posted more than 7 years ago | from the if-everything-was-as-good-as-half-life-everything-could-be-episodic dept.


Chris Morris, of CNN's Game Over column, talks this week about how episodic gaming may be changing the way games are made. He explores the possibility that, with the success of GTA and Half-Life 2, developers may start looking towards more of a 'Saturday Matinee' approach; shorter individual game units, but a longer story overall. From the article: "Whether Valve will continue with episodic content after "Episode Three" hasn't yet been decided. The company knew its fans would likely buy the first installment regardless. But they don't know if players will stick with the formula. 'So far the feedback has been really positive and led me to believe we'll be continuing to do this in the future,' acknowledged Newell. 'But we want to get these three out, then sit back and do a post mortem. ... We're really interested in trying this, then sitting down with some customers and asking them, Do you want a TV series or do you want movies - or a mixture of both? It's like they've had a diet of feature length experiences for a long time and this is their first chance to try something different.'"

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Movies (4, Insightful)

tarun713 (782737) | more than 7 years ago | (#16279667)

I'd rather have longer games released less frequently. TV shows are aired once a week, whereas episodic content still takes a long time to produce. I'd rather wait 2 years for an entire game rather than 6-12 months for episodic content where I forget what happened in the previous episode in between. I feel episodic content really loses a game's momentum to keep you gripped and involved.

Re:Movies (1)

yroJJory (559141) | more than 7 years ago | (#16279705)

What about monthly, as Telltale Games is doing with Sam & Max?

Re:Movies (1)

abandonment (739466) | more than 7 years ago | (#16282937)

do not confuse what valve has been doing with what could truly be done with 'episodic' content. if it takes them a year to do an 'episode' then their processes and or technology is broken. ie source is too difficult to use, they need to streamline how their games are made. talk to any modder that's used source (or in particular, their editor) and you'll get an earful on how this is true.

based on the MMO model, an ideal episodic series would have updates around every 3 months or so. just long enough to generate enough content to keep the series interesting and short eough so that people don't forget what happened in the previous serious.

telltale is a perfect example of what kinds of things that episodic content allow developers to pursue - instead of fighting tooth and nail with publishers to get 10-15 million to develop a game, an episode could probably be produced for as little as a quarter to half a million dollars if the processes and technology are right.

the number of different ideas that are produced can grow significantly, and it will allow developers to break free of the 'suits' responsible for funding crap like most of what you see on a shelf today.

we are currently in the 'first wave' of episodic games - as companies streamline their processes and figure out what works, you'll start to see alot more interesting productions start to appear.

there are 3 sides to any production:
1 - the idea
2 - the funding
3 - the technology

the bottleneck for most companies is #2 - the funding. we can begin to move towards the movie and tv style funding models (note that this doesn't mean making games more like movie or tv, just their funding models) where instead of one company holding the purse strings, the risk is spread around to 3 or more different investors. each investor spends less, and is willing to fund riskier projects as a result.

the 'big publishers' still have a place in all of this, much like the dvd aftersale market is currently for film or tv - ie bundling several episodes into a single concrete package for retail, but for the most part, the future of new IP distribution will be digital delivery.

Re:Movies (1)

aichpvee (631243) | more than 7 years ago | (#16287399)

Not sure where you're getting your ideas about how much it would cost to produce a single "episode", but you've got to remember that the majority of development cost on episodic games is going to be up front. All the engine work, all the recurring graphics, sound effects, music, etc will have to be made for release in the first installment. The opportunity for savings on development will come from reusing these resources in addition to the added revenue from charging more than the standard $50 for the whole series, even if each episode is cheaper than that individually.

Here's an idea for the people developing video games: Make shorter games that are better.

Re:Movies (2, Interesting)

mendaliv (898932) | more than 7 years ago | (#16279985)

Right- episodic content does take longer to produce than an episode of a TV series. I would argue that each episode of a game is more equivalent to a full broadcast season of a TV show.

This analogy carries, in that, if a TV show has a bad episode, it might not get cancelled (think The Haunting of Deck Twelve [] from Voyager). On the other hand, if a TV series has a particularly bad season, it might get cancelled. Likewise in gaming, we could see the death of a series if a particular "episode" is not well recieved.

An interesting concept might be to move towards making games even more episodic; say, you purchase the season of the game, and once weekly an episode is released. Sort of like how You Don't Know Jack [] the Netshow worked, except you're paying something. Then, the publisher could more accurately gear changes to the game and make improvements as is necessary. It would lead to the whole week-long break in gaming, so the stories would have to be geared towards this, but this is true of adapting any story to television in the first place; it's doable for games.

Re:Movies (1)

DarkNemesis618 (908703) | more than 7 years ago | (#16280015)

I agree with you, when episodes on TV come out weekly, you're not going to really forget what happens inbetween. With games, it could take a substantially longer time, maybe even a year or more. How many people honestly remember anything more than the general plot (if even) after a year of inactivity? The general plotline is one thing, but a lot of the cool parts of a TV show and/or game, do not come with the general parts, but with the more specific parts of the plot.

Re:Movies (2, Insightful)

kannibal_klown (531544) | more than 7 years ago | (#16280061)

If the games were closer together I'd rather have the episodic games. If 6months was the high-end of the wait period, then great. But 12 months is too much. My problem is some games start out great, but after a while they sort of taper off. It's almost like the writers/level designers ran out of imagination or got bored and start throwing repetitive garbage at us, or just some horrible gameplay. Look at Halo, with the whole repetitive-loop Library maps and such; almost like the writers were really struggling to give us those x/hours of gameplay. If they can provide small bundles of fun each time and get them out quick enough, then I'm all for it. But if the lag time is too great (or the quality just isn't there) then forget it.

Re:Movies (2, Insightful)

mikeisme77 (938209) | more than 7 years ago | (#16280457)

There's no reason they couldn't do weekly, monthly, or bi-monthly releases. Most TV shows are filmed all in a large block and then they release the episodes through out the season. There's no reason that the game creators couldn't produce a "season" worth of episodes and then release them weekly. Not all episodes would necessarily be ready when the first episode comes out (just as not all episodes of the TV show are ready), but the story should all be there and all of the art should be created. It should just be an issue of "editing" and such. I mean, sure they could just release it in one large block for $50, but with episodic content they are selling episodes for $10-20 a pop and could get $100+ for a season where they would normally just be getting $50. Great for them, sucks for us...

money money money (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16279687)

They can sell more games this way.

Cheap little games? Sounds good to me (2, Insightful)

Temuar Skylari (1008449) | more than 7 years ago | (#16279689)

At first glance, I like this idea, mostly because they're suggesting lowering prices. That's always nice to hear, even knowing that the episodic games might end up costing the same or more overall. Obviously, having to buy 3 games at $20 each costs you $60 for the whole story, but with the episodic plan you might buy the first one, decide you don't like it, and save yourself $40. If you do like it, plenty of games start retailing at $50 or $60 as it is, so it's not like they're cheating you out of money. Full speed ahead, Valve!

Re:Cheap little games? Sounds good to me (1)

Cheapy (809643) | more than 7 years ago | (#16280239)

$60 bucks plus the $50 (or $60) you payed for the base game? Hopefully this isn't the case, but if Half-Life 2 is any indication......

Re:Cheap little games? Sounds good to me (1)

eln (21727) | more than 7 years ago | (#16280805)

Half Life 2 was a full-length game in its own right. The episodes really should be considered an entirely separate game for the purposes of calculating value.

Personally, I enjoyed Episode One, but I do agree with others that it's kind of lame that we spend time getting through a third of a game, and then have to wait another year to play the second third, and probably another year after that for the final third. It really kills the epic feel that Half Life 2 had. I would have rather they just spent 3 years making Half Life 3 and releasing it all at once.

Re:Cheap little games? Sounds good to me (1)

enharmonix (988983) | more than 7 years ago | (#16284811)

$60 bucks plus the $50 (or $60) you payed for the base game? Hopefully this isn't the case, but if Half-Life 2 is any indication......

It's not. Go read the box for HL2:Ep1, you do not need to own HL2 to play Ep1.

Re:Cheap little games? Sounds good to me (1)

DarthChris (960471) | more than 7 years ago | (#16281985)

Unfortunately the prices aren't that much lower. HL2 Ep 1 had about 5 hours of gameplay, and cost 19.99USD. It took me three hours to download it off steam, and had I bought it retail here in the UK it would have cost at least 15.99GBP, more likely 19.99GBP - a considerable amount more which is difficult to justify through taxes. On top of that there are rumours that Ep 2 will be more expensive (I can't remember where I read that but it may well have been a /. article), and they are pushing it back to February.
Don't get me wrong, I like the idea of more frequent releases, but the prices must reflect shorter games. 1/3 of the gameplay at 2/3 of the cost with no new multiplayer options is a bit of a rip-off IMHO. Yes, I know programming is hard, the only game I've ever written was a Snake/Centipede varient in DirectDraw which was all buggy, but I'd like prices to be reasonable.

Re:Cheap little games? Sounds good to me (1)

enharmonix (988983) | more than 7 years ago | (#16284829)

Don't get me wrong, I like the idea of more frequent releases, but the prices must reflect shorter games. 1/3 of the gameplay at 2/3 of the cost with no new multiplayer options is a bit of a rip-off IMHO.
Second that. $20 per installment is probably too much for episodic content. I'm the patient type, so I don't usually mind waiting for a game (also lets me hear what the public has to say before I waste my money on it too). I just bought Far Cry (unopened retail) for $10 a couple weeks ago, and I'm feeling mighty good about it. So why should I want to pay $20 for an episode? Lower the barrier to entry down to maybe a $10-15 pricepoint, though, and I'm in.

HL2 (2)

Duct Tape Jedi (802164) | more than 7 years ago | (#16279695)

I really wasn't that impressed with the story in HL2 to begin with so I never even considered getting EP1. Hell, the only reason I'll get EP2 is because of Team Fortress! Having episodic games means having a good story to begin with.

Re:HL2 (2, Interesting)

Slovenian6474 (964968) | more than 7 years ago | (#16280125)

I don't think HL2 in itself had a great story line. I do find it more appealing if you followed the with HL1, opposing forces, and blue shift. Also there's a great site here [] that sums up just about everything. If you single out HL2's story though, it is kinda boring.

Re:HL2 (3, Interesting)

Ford Prefect (8777) | more than 7 years ago | (#16280573)

The actual storylines of Half-Life and its sequel are practically non-existent. The worlds are brilliant, however, as is the manner in which they are presented to the player. And to be honest, I'd prefer that to a typically bloated game story with endless cutscenes and exposition getting in the way of the actual gaming; being immersed in a realistically portrayed world where everything has its place is much more interesting to me.

Re:HL2 (1)

Slovenian6474 (964968) | more than 7 years ago | (#16281253)

I wouldn't say non-existent. They weren't spelled out for you though. If you just fly through the game they are nonexistant. It is kinda a trade-off between cut-schenes and set beginning and ends to levels (example: Halo). I prefer both, but the HL type of investigation to get the whole story many times isn't fun and can be confusing. HL can pull that off, but i wouldn't want many games like that. Just my 2 cents.

Re:HL2 (1)

pinchhazard (728983) | more than 7 years ago | (#16281303)

Nah, come on. I think the storylines of HL and HL2 are about the level of depth appropriate for that type of game. The storyline is consistently maintained and slowly expanded throughout the games, without getting in the way of the fun. I think that is key -- HL isn't an RPG, it's FPS, and I feel it has a very appropriate story for what it is.

Re:HL2 (1)

pinchhazard (728983) | more than 7 years ago | (#16281347)

Oh, I just read the rest of your comment and we're pretty much in agreement except on semantics, it seems.

Re:HL2 (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16286029)

you guys are absolutely insane, or jaded and cynical beyond all hope of redemption. story is not just about 'wow, what amazing plot twist is around the next corner!' it's about character, environment atmosphere and dialogue and in all of these the half-life games are second to none (in FPSs at least). i can't even be bothered going into detail or examples because if you can't already see it, i guess you never will.

Re:HL2 (1)

grumbel (592662) | more than 7 years ago | (#16288411)

HL isn't an RPG, it's FPS, and I feel it has a very appropriate story for what it is.

One thing I found hugly lacking in HL2 in terms of story was goal-orientation. The first few hours in HL2 are spend for nothing that matters, first you have to walk a way that you normally should have been teleported acroos, then you have to run through Ravenholme since a few lausy stones blocked your path. Later on when trying to free Alyx father it finally gets somewhat more goal oriented, only to then turn into kind of a joke when the rebellion takes place while Gordon is stuck in a teleporter for a week or so. In the final then one enters the Citadel without any plan whatsoever, only that the Gravy-Gun can be magically turned into a super-weapon by pure luck.

I would have much prefered if the player would actually had an active part on attacking the Citadel and leading the rebellion instead of it all being a thing of following a linear path of lucky coincidences. The lack of goal-orientated acting all made HL2 look quite fake and unrealistic for me.

Re:HL2 (1)

Tz-Auber (984141) | more than 7 years ago | (#16280867)

It's not so much the quality of the story that attracts, it's the quality and showmanship of the storyteller, which Valve appears to do very well.

Nintendo has a similar approach (1)

Tanmi-Daiow (802793) | more than 7 years ago | (#16279845)

I recall reading about Nintendo saying that with Wii, they are going for shorter and simpler games that cost less. They consider that the future of gaming and thats very similar to the episodic gaming that is striking the PC market.

I doubt it. (2, Insightful)

O'Laochdha (962474) | more than 7 years ago | (#16280067)

The stories in GTA were mostly self-contained, and barely interacted. Think about it: which was the most popular in the GTA3 series? San Andreas...and this one unquestionably had the deepest of the storylines, on its own. It tied back to the other two, but that was it. People wouldn't have played Half-Life 2 if they hadn't already gone through the first. No one's going to pay $60 for a "to be continued" marquee.

Re:I doubt it. (1)

Kirin Fenrir (1001780) | more than 7 years ago | (#16280177)

No one's going to pay $60 for a "to be continued" marquee.
Obviously you have never heard of Halo 2...

Re:I doubt it. (1)

O'Laochdha (962474) | more than 7 years ago | (#16291153)

Yes, but what if that had been Halo 1?

Like anything else.. (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16280081)

it all depends on the *quality* of each episode/arc.

When the Timothy Zahn "Dark Force Rising" Star Wars books came out they were well crafted and captured the essence of the 'original' 3 SW movies. Each title was an engrossing story and could stand on its own but when combined they crafted an even better, more involved story. I looked forward and kept track of each book's release date (probably the single thing I've ever done that made me feel like a nerd the most).

The second series of books I tried was the "Ambush at Corellia" series which were just god awful. The writer was just a hack that was trying to cash in on the famous 'trilogy' story device. The first book's 'cliffhangar' was some alien accusing Leia of being a bad politician (HORRORS!) with the words " be continued!" on the last page. I never even bothered with any of the other books in that arc.

I skipped on Descent 3 because after weeks of fighting my way through Descent 2 I was greeted with a 3 minute cut scene (which felt tacked on at the last minute at that) that answered nothing and concluded with " be continued!" I was furious and felt cheated, like I had just played an incredibly long commercial for a (at the time) who knew when to be released game.

I want something that can stand on its own and not feel like a glorified commercial for the franchise and/or next installment. Let game producers make what I want and I don't care if they call them "sequels" or "episodic content" and let it be transparent. If a game feels artificially shortened with a blatant implication that I'll "need" to buy the next one will make me walk away from the franchise completely.

Re:Like anything else.. (1)

The MAZZTer (911996) | more than 7 years ago | (#16281973)

The storytelling in Descent 3 is far better than in Descent 2... the plot actually evolves and changes as you play through it. I enjoyed it much better than the classic Descent games in a way (but I will probably go back to play them someday, they were still fun in their own way too). I encourage you to go and try it (the Mercenary expansion pack is neat too, although I don't think I ever beat it).

Here's some examples of things I liked in D3 that D2 could never have pulled off: In the 4th level in the beginning of the level you have to dodge trains in subway tunnels... quite possibly the most annoying part of the game but still interesting. Outdoor areas, although frustratingly limiting, are still a nice addition. The end of game cutscene was pretty good, at least better than D2's. I don't think you'll feel cheated when you see it.

I actually feel like playing some D3 now... hmm...

TV Shows Vs Movies (2, Insightful)

Brothernone (928252) | more than 7 years ago | (#16280147)

I think both ideas boil down to the same thing. Overall in any givin game, more specifficaly PC games (as that's what valve mostly makes)have a tedency to have a good beginning, and great end.. but a more or less mediocre middle. I think what episodic content does is give them more time to focus on each peice so it seems more or less great all the way through. I feel that most "Movies" or full length games theese days are mostly boring filler, and should probably be cut down a little anyway. Episodic content does very well for this purpose, and I have really enjoyed EP1, and look forward to EP2.

Not fast enough (1)

ShadowsHawk (916454) | more than 7 years ago | (#16280159)

The main problem is going to be the frequency of release. I'm really not interested in purchasing a 3-6 hour game every year or more. If they want to make this an effective strategy, they need to stick to a 6-8 month time frame.

Changing the way games are made? (1)

Bieeanda (961632) | more than 7 years ago | (#16280387)

What, like the way iD would sell story/level packs for Wolfenstein 3D or Commander Keen as separate episodes, back in the days of shareware? No. If anything, this is just the evolution of developing extensible engines and licensing them out, or even just a new spin on the old expansion pack routine-- a handful of new levels, maybe a new unit or two, plus a lot of clever scripting to cover up the flaking paint on the parent engine.

And so far, how many companies have hopped onto this apparent bandwagon? Valve at least has actually done something with it. The kids behind Sin: Episodes? We haven't heard a peep out of them since Emergence was released on Steam.

As a series of expansions, I think there's defintely something to episodic content. Coming up with a whole new engine just for a couple of hours worth of gameplay doesn't sound particularly cost-effective, and its likelihood of snagging players' attention in the same way that a full game does is pretty low. I'm interested in Episode 3 because I want to know how the destruction of City 17 pans out (though admittedly, Portal is a huge draw too), but I couldn't care less about the next installment of Sin.

Re:Changing the way games are made? (1)

Slovenian6474 (964968) | more than 7 years ago | (#16280717)

Hmm, Emergence didn't pull me in like the HL series has. Honestly, i haven't played the original, but i think you need to have a very strong beginning if you're going to run the episodic path. It was fun, but i feel as it was lacking a deep storyline and my favorite, multiplayer. I'm in your boat where i'm not feeling so great about buying the next one. HL2:E2 on the other hand, already has a deep storyline before it even comes out. I already know i want to find out what happens at City 17 and the broader aspect. Plus, they are throwing in some extras to up the replay value of it. Team Fortress for multiplayer and a (relatively) new concept, Portal. To summarize, i think new games HAVE to have an amazing story line to start out with, while established games already have the fan base and the foundation of a story already laid.

Changing the way games are expanded? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16280757)

"No. If anything, this is just the evolution of developing extensible engines and licensing them out, or even just a new spin on the old expansion pack routine-- a handful of new levels, maybe a new unit or two, plus a lot of clever scripting to cover up the flaking paint on the parent engine."

F.E.A.R: Extraction point. []

Re:Changing the way games are made? (1)

slackmaster2000 (820067) | more than 7 years ago | (#16281085)

Agreed. Whether we're talking about an episode or an expansion, these concepts have been around for a long time. I'm not sure why anybody would think that something new is happening. It would simply be a throwback to the old days if companies started producing cheaper, shorter "episodes" instead of one big game with cheaper, shorter expansion packs.

While you might sell more units initially if you release a short single player game for $20, it gives players a whole lot of gameplay to decide that they don't really want to buy any more episodes. Do you come out ahead of the old $60, no refunds model? Assuming that your company is working on producing the same amount of content regardless, it seems safer lock fewer people in to the bigger price tag. You'd also be subject to more criticism, as now what would have been one game review turns into three, and it's not terribly common for reviews to get better as the length of time a game series has been on the market increases.

For me personally, I'd probably get pretty sick of waiting for episodes and would probably stop after one or two, UNLESS the game was really good and fit the episode model. To me that means a game that's not so engaging that I'm going to be pissed off having to wait six months for the next episode, but entertaining enough that it's replayable and I'll gladly pick up the next episode when it comes out. Games like Serious Sam fit this model....interestingly enough, it's similarly entertaining to old time games like Duke Nukem / Keen which were released as episodes.

Welcome to 1991 - (4, Insightful)

RoffleTheWaffle (916980) | more than 7 years ago | (#16280477)

Who here remembers the Shareware boom? You know, back when studios like Id were still in their infancy, and Apogee and Epic Megagames were big players in the PC game industry? Back then, not only were games released in episodes, you got the first one for free. Each successive episode was about $15 to $20, or you could get hard-copies of all three games and some other goodies for $30 to $35. Sound familiar? It should.

While I'm thinking I might not be reading enough into this, it really looks like that business model is making a return, but with one big catch. You have to pay for the first episode now, and it's usually the biggest and most expensive of all the episodes. This is the only difference I've seen thus far, and it really wouldn't surprise me if game studios reverted back to that old model of 'episodic content' now that it's become the in-thing to do again. I'm not complaining, I'd really like to try a game before I wind up wasting my money on it. I'm just wondering why they're treating it as though it's some big, new thing, when not only is it an old practice, it also hasn't been in style for about ten years. Just my take on it.

Why are episodic video games bad when... (1)

arthurh3535 (447288) | more than 7 years ago | (#16280621)

...they are a staple of other medias?
Would it be terribly bad for a quarterly or twice yearly video game that continued and expanded over time.
One benefit I can see (and have seen over the Xenosaga through three episodes) is that people get better over time with the practice. Each of the three games have had their own problems (X1, too childish characters, X2 had an overly-complicated complicated combat system, X3 is actually a much better, scenimatic story with just a few glitches in combat. But I'm really enjoying the story so far.
But I can definitely see an evolution and improvement over time.
I actually hope that more companies actually look at doing a more "episodic" type format. I like my characters over a longer time!
I mean, where would TV shows be if they were all maxi-series with new characters, all the time?

Re:Why are episodic video games bad when... (1)

Half-pint HAL (718102) | more than 7 years ago | (#16290599)

Would it be terribly bad for a quarterly or twice yearly video game that continued and expanded over time.

Would you watch a quarterly or twice-yearly TV series? No, a TV series comes at you in one hour chunks once a week for three months -- regular as clockwork. The delay between episodes is small enough that you get to keep the story in your head. Would you buy a game that you played for only an hour or two in a week? Increase the episode size and the delay between episodes will go up, because dev time won't be coming down.

We also have to consider how the episodes are scheduled. On TV, the majority of series are at least halfway through filming before the first episode is aired. The lions share of the investment has been made and spent, and they have a month's contingency for delays on the filming of the remainder.

Look at amateur episodic media on the net: serial prose, web comics, machinima. The vast bulk of this is published immediately on completion. Without several episodes as contingency, there is no way to fill a gap if the writer falls ill, has exams, etc. The audience gets bored and never comes back. Even the few who stick around often get disappointed when the author gets sick of it and never finishes the story. (And anyone who remembers some of the early Image Comics titles will know that this isn't just a problem for amateurs!)

The new wave of episodic games is very new, but it seems to me that they are falling into the publish-when-ready category: lack of pre-written follow-up episodes, no fixed release schedules, not even any guarantee of any other episodes.

I don't buy the start if I can't be reasonably sure of getting the end.


Re:Why are episodic video games bad when... (1)

tbannist (230135) | more than 7 years ago | (#16290809)

I think episodic content on TV shows may be driven by medium. Each station can only carry one show at a time, and most people can't (or won't) spend 26 hours in a row watching a full season of the show all at once.

Games are different, you can pause (save) your position in a game and return to it later, something you can only do with PVR or "On Demand" television. My experience is that people tend to play one game to the exclusion of others, and then when they've completed the game they move on to other games. On the other hand most people are willing to watch multiple TV shows over the course of a week.

I don't see a big demand for smaller packages of content released more frequently. The main benefit, of course, of episodic content would be to the leveraging of game engines. If you could release 10 "smaller" games that each sold for 1/3 of the price of your original game, you could make a lot more money. However, the problem would be more along the lines of whether anyone would want to actually buy 10 episodes of your game, and whether you can get them out on time. Blizzard promised monthly updates to WoW, and 2 years later, they've release 12 updates.

The topic of the hour. (1)

kronlyr (1008483) | more than 7 years ago | (#16280647)

Interestingly enough, CNNMoney is running an independent story on the same topic. Episodic Content: A Survivor for Gaming []

Why not both? (1)

spyrochaete (707033) | more than 7 years ago | (#16280705)

I hope Valve will make a trend of their idea to put out a major blockbuster followed by little spinoff episodes. It gives them a chance to wow the world with an impressive major release with all kinds of new technologies, scenarios, and gameplay mechanics, and then nurture the technologies a little bit further with subsequent optional continuations. The Half Life Episodes give even more bang for the buck since each is only $20, is optional, and works standalone in case you'd prefer a $20 "full demo" before buying the $60 game.

If Half Life is any example of the power of episodic continuations to an already full product, then I'm all for it. I was underwhelmed by the new Sin game, but will give the concept of a fully episodic series a chance with the upcoming Sam & Max games. However, I'm much more interested in a full standalone game that optionally lets me playing if I choose to keep paying.

"Episodic" (1)

Ahnteis (746045) | more than 7 years ago | (#16280825)

I don't really like that terminology, but I like the idea of shorter, cheaper games, that come with more regularity.

This not only gives me something new every couple of months, but lowers the risk of purchasing an "over-rated" game. At the same time, it gives developers a little more leeway to take risks. If a small "episode" flops, it's $5 million instead of $40 million. (Or whatever your numbers may be.)

Runescape already adds weekly content (1)

Andy_R (114137) | more than 7 years ago | (#16281435)

The mmporg Runescape already sticks to a strict 'new quest every week' schedule, and it seems to be working very well. There is generally somewhere between 30 minutes and 3 hours of new content that can be played each week (if you have high enough levels), which really helps break up the 'grind' of levelling up.

This approach seems to work really well, and the fact that it's a low-spec java based game means that the cost of developing the extra content is not prohibitive, and when the users have a problem with an update it's not the same sort of 'game over' situation that Star Wars Galaxies found itself in. Things can be redone if needed, for example after 10,000 complaints about the interface changing 7 days ago, a compromise redesign was rolled out today, without interrupting this week's new quest.

This 'lots of content/less glitz' approach fits in nicely with the retro-gaming movement, favouring gameplay over graphics. Runescape isn't the prettiest mmporg, but it sure has a lot of actual content.

rewards (1)

abes (82351) | more than 7 years ago | (#16281513)

I like the idea of an episodic model, as I'm more likely to actually finish an installment. Additionally, with larger games, you need to constantly increase the difficulty of the levels because the person feels like need ramp up to something better. I feel like with installments, the person is going to have some off time, so you can keep the difficulty curve more flat, allowing for more people to get in on the fun.

Someone mentioned previously that it's the difference between movies and TV shows. It could be easy to interpolate this to mean that the plot lines would suck. Hopefully this will not be the case, and each could be a continuation of what happened last (e.g. Battlestar Gallatica).

One final point, is I think this model is a great boon to small software companies as a whole. As another person pointed out, this is how shareware used to be done. While a big movie game is sometimes nice to play, in the end what really matters is that the game is fun. Shorter development times can help keep the focus on the fun rather than making sure all the bells and whistles are in.

I don't think it'll work... (1)

Endo13 (1000782) | more than 7 years ago | (#16281737)

I can see where they get the fresh urge for episodic content, but I really don't think it'll work. They're looking at MMORPGs and the way they keep adding content a bit at a time. The problem is, MMORPGs start out with an established game world (most of the developers trying the 'episodic' trend have to create entire new maps and levels for each new episode), and most of the new content is relatively easy to add in for the time it takes to design and implement it. For episodic content to work well it's going to mean a new release every 6 months at the most - and preferably once a month - with at least 5-10 hours worth of new content per month. These days the average gamer will blow through that 5-10 hours worth in a week or even a day. If that's all they get and have to wait a whole year for the next installment in a "to be continued" series, I don't think most will be too eager to shell out for the next one.. unless the series is really just *that* good. Most aren't, Half Life 2 included. So personally, given the choice between 5-10 hours of content once a year or 40 hours of content every 3-4 years I'm going to choose the latter, and I tend to think most other gamers would as well.

I hate it (1)

rabbot (740825) | more than 7 years ago | (#16282675)

I think "episodic content" is a horrible idea for the consumer.

It's great for the devs and publishers. They get to finish a game at their leisure, releasing small pieces at a time for a higher overall price than if they had finished a complete game and sold it for $50.

The biggest problem is that they are getting a positive response from people who are just too stupid to see where this is going to lead.

How are you going to feel when you're half way through a "game", I use quotes because it's just episode 3 for example, and the company then decides not to finish it because not enough people bought the last episode? You're out of luck.

Are you going to still care about a story 6 months later when the next episode comes out? Maybe, but not always.

Are you saving money by buying 1 episode before realizing the game sucks? Sure. Or maybe you would of done more research on the game before the $20 impulse buy, and saved yourself more money in the long run just buying full games at $50.

But don't worry, the people selling the games will be laughing all the way to the bank. At least someone made out!

Re:I hate it (1)

exp(pi*sqrt(163)) (613870) | more than 7 years ago | (#16282789)

How are you going to feel when you're half way through a "game"...and the company then decides not to finish it because not enough people bought the last episode?
The same problem is faced by TV studios, but that hasn't stopped them producing quality TV. (Better than movie writing anyway.)

Re:I hate it (1)

rabbot (740825) | more than 7 years ago | (#16282867)

I don't see how any comparison can be made to TV...last time I checked you don't pay per episode of any show. You pay for channel.

Re:I hate it (2, Interesting)

exp(pi*sqrt(163)) (613870) | more than 7 years ago | (#16283391)

I don't see how any comparison can be made to TV...last time I checked you don't pay per episode of any show.
Think of Firefly. Canceled mid-series because it wasn't earning enough revenue. Much of the time, TV series are paid for one season at a time. Think of a season as an 'episode'. One of the trickiest aspects for scriptwriters is to work with the constraint that they don't know how many 'episodes' there will be. For example, Babylon 5 was conceived as a 5 series story. But apparently, due to threats of cancelation, it was shortened to 4 seasons, and then, after the story was accelerated, extended back to 5 seasons. These are the same issues that would face episodic game writers.

Re:I hate it (1)

rabbot (740825) | more than 7 years ago | (#16284247)

You're right. That's anothe great reason not to support episodic gaming. I prefer well thought out stories written by people who know what they want out of the game from the start, and know where the game is going at the end.

Episodes (1)

Bongo Bill (853669) | more than 7 years ago | (#16283083)

One thing I'd like to see is ultra-short episodes. Say, they mostly reuse assets from earlier episodes, and you distribute one or two every month for five or ten bucks a pop. This would be better-suited for an RPG engine: add a single dungeon, or a single quest, and add a few new monsters or items throughout the other episodes.

Maybe the first episode contains the start and the end of the game, and a single quest and dungeon, and subsequent episodes expand the game from the middle, so the game is complete from the start but you get to fill it out with the parts you think you'll like.

They already exist (1)

Dracil (732975) | more than 7 years ago | (#16287663)

They're called micropayments and premium modules.

Nothing new about this at all (1)

Vanth Dreadstar (794008) | more than 7 years ago | (#16283963)

Waaaaay back in the early 90's, games like Duke Nukem started appearing in episodes. In fact, I am quite sure this was a practice common back in the late 80's too if not earlier, but I don't have the time to track it all down. Where is the sense of history anymore? Why does each generation think they "invented" everything? This is not new at all.

Content (1)

Aladrin (926209) | more than 7 years ago | (#16285433)

The big thing for me is content.

Let's look at video. How many 'epic' tv shows can you count? How many movies? I'm betting you have a lot more movies on the list than tv shows, and I bet the tv shows took a LOT more time to get to that status for you.

The same applies to video games. You get a 5 hour game every month for 6 months and it'll just seem ho-hum. If you get a 30 hour game with the same plot, it's a lot more dramatic. Why? Maybe because of how it has to be written. The 30 hour game doesn't have to constantly remind you who the characters are. You remember from last week. The episodic game has to not only remind the players of previous eps, but also provide enough information for new players that didn't start from the beginning. That's time lost that could be telling story, or fighting, or whatever.

No thanks. Give me the old all-in-one games any day.

Episodic IS the way of the future... (2, Informative)

Juggernautz (1008593) | more than 7 years ago | (#16285851)

For all those people saying "Oh noez!!!1! The developers are being cheap, and trying to give us less for more!", then you obviously don't have much faith in those who build these worlds that you enjoy. Developers don't go out of their way to specifically develop less content, in fact you'll find that if you add up all of the content in the episodes it is much more than a full game would be. Further, because the content is released episodically, the developer can do a post-mortem after each release and analyse what went wrong, what people loved and build on it. Half Life 2 and the Episodes are the prime example. Half Life 2 was an amazing game, but suffered a little in the middle sections as there was too much downtime between brilliant scripted sequences. Cue the expansion, a non stop thriller of amazing setpieces. Plus the introduction of HDR lighting and some amazing new shaders (the pulsing energy ball, anyone?) Other franchises (Sam and Max spring to mind) are going the way of being completely episodic. And like Sin: Episodes, isn't it better that you found out the game was shit and only spent 20 bux rather than the full amount? Yes, episodic content is not new, in fact it is the reason why games took off in such a big way. Everyone who doesn't want to buy the new content every 6 months (more like a year), then just freaking wait until all the episodes are released and buy them in a pack. In the meantime stop whinging. Why am I so opinionated on this matter? Because I make games for a very large, succesful developer. I am working with next gen tech, including some episodic content, and I realise just how much this helps us in creating real, memorable experiences. Episodic releases allows us to keep the technology fresh (or at least appear fresh :P), constantly improve on the gameplay experience and throw in some great cliffhanger moments. Try and tell me that the ending of HL-2 didn't both infuriate and intrigue you. That's exactly what they were aiming for.

If it works, I'd get it. (1)

CowsAnonymous (697884) | more than 7 years ago | (#16286053)

I originally typed "buy it" in the subject line, but remembering back to slate's article [] on this very same topic, decided it wasn't necessary. One of the examples given there was Kuma\War, which is a free to download FPS based on current events in the Middle East. I haven't played it, so can't vouch for it, but it seems to be doing pretty well, and although I admit that the screenshots are pretty lame compared to the average FPS, I've read that in March the company signed a deal to work on Valve's source engine p [] for upcoming titles using the same episodic ideas. But all other politics and nonsense aside...

A.) It's free,
B.) It releases new "episodes" typically coming out about every three weeks, and they are also free.

Why I hate it, Why it fails. (1)

Quadfreak0 (624555) | more than 7 years ago | (#16286253)

Honestly I prefer to buy a game and having a consistent story; Begining, Middle and End. Half-life 2 and Halo 2 were anticlimatic for this reason; they both end up feeling incomplete. (Like buying a full price demo.)

Episodic Content Fails when you release each episode for $20, knowing that you'll lower the price in 6 months. In this manner it fails because people will hold out for the 3 announced episodes so they can buy it in a bundle at a cheaper price ($40 vs $60 {$20X3}). In the end when you pay more for the episodes than you did for the original game it just doesnt feel right.

Secondly, Episodic content fails when the game designers release the content with the intent of treating paying customers as beta testers. When content is released and the designers look at how players are responding to the design with the intent of going back and retooling or completely changing parts of the game. Sin Episodes IIRC had such retooling after reports of it being too easy. If I'm paying for a game I'm expecting quality, not bugs and play testing.(I hear they pay people for doing that :sarcasm:)

Perhaps the problem isnt the concept of episodic games, but the execution; in this instance Steam's variable pricing and 'we can patch it later' mentality.
These 'great' deals on steam are absurd if you break down the cost of buying individual games the day they are released.

I'm willing to bet Valve will bundle the episodes and give them away for free if they decide to release another sequel. (I did get all those half-life expansion packs for free when they released steam)

Re:Why I hate it, Why it fails. (1)

Juggernautz (1008593) | more than 7 years ago | (#16286523)

Game developers do not use episodic content as external beta testing. Game developers will developer their titles like they have always been developed, but with episodic content there is always the ability to refine the gameplay experience, rather than having the whole title just suck. And because they can keep improving each episode, you can guarantee that the final episode(s) are going to be incredibly entertaining. Episode 3 is probably going to be of a quality no other game has ever matched, because the developers can get current feedback on their most recent release.

Bah (1)

StikyPad (445176) | more than 7 years ago | (#16287333)

When I was a kid, the only video game episodes we had were photosensitive episodes [] .

And we LIKED IT.

Episodic Multiplayer (1)

dbc001 (541033) | more than 7 years ago | (#16287391)

Here's my concept: a multiplayer game, like SOCOM or Counter-Strike. Instead of playing the same map over and over, they release a new map every so often, and set it up like a TV show. You could easily create a "24" like series within SOCOM or Counterstrike, where every few weeks you get a new mission. Right now, after a few weeks of play you learn all the maps and it gets boring. But imagine if you got not just a new map but a new story every once in a while! The excitement would be awesome - a new episode would generate massive amounts of traffic, and lots of the players would experience the new mission simultaneously when it's released, kind of like a TV show. They could have previews just like TV shows. But I think online FPS titles (especially console titles) could benefit immensly from this - instead of letting the same old content get more and more stale.

Is Episodic Gaming really changing gamemaking? (1)

VTMarik (880085) | more than 7 years ago | (#16287877)

After a review of the facts and consulting my 18 years of experience playing games and watching styles of game making rise and fall, my answer is:

It won't change the way games are made nowadays, but rather will add in a new avenue for people who have content they'd like to make into something, but don't have enough to create the 10-20+ hour game that some people expect.

Would Descent 2's ending have been so awful had it been part of an episodic series that only cost $5-10 a game?

I hate episodic content for FPS's! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16289123)

I am actually waiting for episode 2 to come out before I but episode 1 for the simple fact that I like longer games and when I buy a game I usually play it exclusively until I have finished it. Playing a 5 hour game then waiting for months for the next installment is the best way for me to lose interest in the story since there are many other things that can get my interest during that time.

Plus the fact that Episode 1 is still £20 for what I am told will take me 4-6 hours (on the lower side most likely). When it drops to a tenner or Episode 1 and 2 are combined into a proper game I'll think about it.

As someone said for games like Sam & Max where each episode could be a totally different adventure with recurring characters (Like the cartoon series) that would work.
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