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Episodic gaming: Has it worked?

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To get it out of the way straight off the bat, I'm not talking about Half Life, even though it arguably kicked it all off. That's partly because I don't like Half Life but mainly because, well, Valve hardly lived up to the premise.

 

But anyway, there are lots of games now that adopt an episodic approach. Some work and will release all planned episodes; some perhaps get a couple of episodes released before lacking the funds to continue, leaving people who bought seasons passes up the creek. Even those that release are often beset by delays, thus somewhat killing the premise. Pricing can be an issue, given that the genre aligns to shorter experiences and I guess if you don't like adventures you generally won't find much choice.

 

I'm currently playing through The Wolf Among Us and see that the second season has been delayed until 2019 - which will be more than 5 years after the first season. There were delays throughout the first two seasons of The Walking Dead if I recall and I've played episodes of a couple of games that didn't release a full season - so I don't think it's been a great experiment, to the point that I would never buy on release nor before all episodes in a season had been delivered. But I'm interested in how other people have found it - enjoy something you can dip in and out of without having to commit lots of time to? Okay with the timing? Find the pricing acceptable?

 

I'm keen to hear the views of those that advocate, in particular, but all opinions welcome!

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I'm interested in the concept but not bought one yet. Haven't seen much that grabs me. I have my eye on something that is 4 episodes but I'm waiting for them to get episode 2 out (later this year) before I even try the demo. I don't buy things pre-release so it needs to be approaching decent value for what's available unless I'm confident the rest will arrive as promised. That could be seen as a big ask but I don't like getting burnt. I'm also not keen on there being a massive gap between episodes of a single story.

 

Do they all sell using a season pass or have any tried just selling each episode individually?

 

 

 

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Do people care unless it's a well known brand? If the Wolf Among us had been super successful there would surely have been a whole load more "episodes" thus far.

 

If the developer can create a game the fans like, and lock it to a limited time frame for development + want to tell a larger story - then this is a smart development tactic to be able to deliver the game.

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It’s a better storytelling device and structure than business model. Lots of episodic games I have appreciated but I bought them all as collected versions. 

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Thinking back, they announced the FF7 remake would be episodic in 2015 when people thought that it was a winning approach and the Telltale games were doing well, I wonder if they’ll abandon that?

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I don't think it's worked, no, and that's supported by the relative paucity of games which have followed an episodic model.

 

The only episodic games I've bought are the first two seasons of The Walking Dead, although I purposefully waited until all of the episodes were out so that I could buy them as full games; I didn't play one episode, wait a few months and then play the next. I'm the type of person who likes to play one game at a time, completely rinse it (it's it's worth my time) and then move on. I rarely go back to a game once I've started another one, unless it's a particularly good one or some DLC comes out for it that I'm interested in, so the episodic model doesn't really work for me.

 

Moreover, as has been said, the gaps between episodes are too long, meaning that by the time the next one comes out you've forgotten how to play the game and how its systems work and so on. This is why I think the few examples of games with this type of structure are limited almost exclusively to adventure games, with very little for the player to actually remember between episodes in terms of controls, like the Tell-Tale games. Can you imagine playing something like Skyrim or The Witcher episodically, with their layers and layers of systems and knowledge that the player learns throughout play? You'd have to re-learn all of that stuff each episode and it just wouldn't work, similar to how it's often impossible to go back to a game you've left for a substantial period of time when you've gone and played other games with their own complicated systems. All of this makes me very feel worried for the FFVII remake, which is apparently going to be episodic; I don't see how they're going to distil a sprawling JRPG into episodes without seriously diluting the experience.

 

I think the biggest benefit of having an episodic structure is that the developers can listen to feedback about the first episodes and make the later ones better (apparently, this was the case with the Hitman game that came out a couple of years ago, although I've yet to play it and I hear that the developers are abandoning the episodic structure for the sequel anyway). That being said, beta versions of games and early access means that developers can get their feedback this way before they release the finished versions of the games, so the episodic structure has become more or less redundant.

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I might be old fashioned but I'm still most comfortable with buying a game which lets me play and explore all of its content at my own leasure without having to worry about when the next part of the game is released or wether I should've gone for a collectors edition or not. Episodes, day one DLC and microtransactions can sod off for all I care. 

Episodic gaming is also the main reason I think the FF7 remake won't work, I'm afraid :(

 

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I think it clearly works well for certain games. Life Is Strange is the standout for me, which managed a regular release schedule (if I remember correctly), told its story well to fit the format and was able to adjust its gameplay each time following player feedback.

 

Hitman is another good example. By releasing one level at a time it allowed players to really dig into each one, which clearly proved to offer enough freedom to allow this. Adding in lots of bonus missions for each helped here too.

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38 minutes ago, Jamie John said:

I think the biggest benefit of having an episodic structure is that the developers can listen to feedback about the first episodes and make the later ones better (apparently, this was the case with the Hitman game that came out a couple of years ago, although I've yet to play it and I hear that the developers are abandoning the episodic structure for the sequel anyway). That being said, beta versions of games and early access means that developers can get their feedback this way before they release the finished versions of the games, so the episodic structure has become more or less redundant.

It had upsides and downsides for Hitman. From a gameplay point of view, it encouraged you to really savour and explore each episode fully as you couldn't rush onto the next. Kind of like that feeling when you have a really good demo level and you rinse it because that's all there is, and then the final game comes out and you never recapture that intensity of having to focus on one small slice.

 

On the downside, as you said, you forget how to play in between episodes and move onto other things. Personally I like to binge games one at a time so I can really internalise the controls and the mechanics, and the stop-start nature of episodic releases undermines that. A bit like how I couldn't really follow The Sopranos with a week gap between episodes as it was broadcast, with the DVD box set binge-watching model working much better for detailed, complex stories.

 

Hitman definitely improved during the 'season' though, so that worked out well.

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I think a game like Persona 5 would have really benefited from being episodic. Not because the game took a long time to make, but more so players could digest the game at a better pace that more suited the game's structure. 

 

It's basically around 8 distinct chapters and each have a play time of 15 - 20 hours! It's just so much stuff and it took me a whopping 140 hours to finish. 

Releasing the chapters individually would have made the whole thing much more pleasant to consume I feel. 

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I'm on the fence post. I got Life is Strange after they had all been released. I couldn't imagine waiting the months in between to play that game.

 

I then played the GOT games, however due to the staggered released i played up to ep5 and other stuff got in the way.

 

Same with Before the storm - finished episode 1, by the time episode 2 came out i was stuck into another game and well, it just hasn't happened.

 

So, for the fact it breaks momentum i don't really like the business model. If it was weekly episodes then fair enough.

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Yeah, the momentum thing is a definite issue. I didn't like the episodic nature of Life is Strange because by the time the next episode rolled around, I had forgotten all of what had happened in the previous episode. Just too long between drops.

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6 hours ago, Mogster said:

Hitman is another good example. By releasing one level at a time it allowed players to really dig into each one, which clearly proved to offer enough freedom to allow this. Adding in lots of bonus missions for each helped here too.

 

Such a success that Warner Brothers have scrapped the idea for the sequel they are paying for. It seemed the only real reason it was even attempted was because otherwise IO weren't going to be able to justify to their owners developing another game in that series.

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Clearly it wasn’t financially successful. But from a gameplay perspective it had its upsides. 

 

I hope that the next Hitman has a regular full-price release followed by individual DLC episodes. That might work better. 

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Well it does have the benefit of giving you a large pool of real end user feedback so you can make changes to the next level you release, but that marginal benefit clearly wasn't enough to convince WB that they shouldn't just pay out the cost all upfront for the entire game this time. It works ok for adventure games as they are effectively interactive TV/story books so can be carved up into episodes more easily.

 

The only real reason they seemed to have been invented was as a risk mitigation measure. Most people don't complete games and so a lot of your content is sort of wasted on most of the potential customer base in practice, but it's probably best to get more people to pay for the cost of creating all that content, rather than let them cherry pick and only pay for the bits they more likely might consume, otherwise you might find yourself bankrupt sooner rather than later.

 

Early Access is the modern replacement for episodic gaming, fuck all of the polish and content missing but still fulfills that risk mitigation mandate.

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Like others have said; it has worked... for Dontnod, Telltale, etc. Less so for Valve. ;) I haven't actually played many "episodic" games but I appreciate the ambition to take a successful gameworld and refine or build on it based on feedback. Long delays are problematic but I can see how it's hard to anticipate delays; again, I haven't tried a lot of episodic stuff but I imagine most have a "previously on" FMV, or even a catch-up thing in the menus somewhere.

 

13 hours ago, Kevvy Metal said:

I think a game like Persona 5 would have really benefited from being episodic. Not because the game took a long time to make, but more so players could digest the game at a better pace that more suited the game's structure. 

 

It's basically around 8 distinct chapters and each have a play time of 15 - 20 hours! It's just so much stuff and it took me a whopping 140 hours to finish. 

Releasing the chapters individually would have made the whole thing much more pleasant to consume I feel. 

 

I remember desperately hoping I could wrap up Nier Automata with P5 releasing within a month :D - happily I freed up a lot of my gaming schedule beyond P5's release, but even I'll admit that the later palaces went on a bit!

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I mean, every episodic game that I've enjoyed has been in spite of its episodic nature (and generally involved me waiting until every episode was out before playing, knowing that the alternative would see me run out of steam/forget everything that had gone before), so from a personal standpoint no, not at all. However, in some cases I can see that without an episodic model the game wouldn't have happened at all due to budgetary reasons (hi, Life is Strange), and in others gave the developers a chance to collect feedback and improve the game as they went along (howdy, Hitman), so I can see some benefits.

 

The vast majority, though, benefitted not at all. Apart from possibly having snazzy intros/outros per episode (Telltale's real forte, that). In fact, as a narrative structure I don't mind it - I think splitting games into chapters can work very nicely - but I absolutely am not here for a game which expects me to take multiple-month long breaks between snippets of story. And even less so when that brings with it an added risk of the game never reaching its conclusion at all. Though at least so far the only games that has happened to have been rubbish and nobody sensible has cared about them.

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13 hours ago, Pob said:

It had upsides and downsides for Hitman. From a gameplay point of view, it encouraged you to really savour and explore each episode fully as you couldn't rush onto the next. Kind of like that feeling when you have a really good demo level and you rinse it because that's all there is, and then the final game comes out and you never recapture that intensity of having to focus on one small slice.

 

On the downside, as you said, you forget how to play in between episodes and move onto other things. Personally I like to binge games one at a time so I can really internalise the controls and the mechanics, and the stop-start nature of episodic releases undermines that. A bit like how I couldn't really follow The Sopranos with a week gap between episodes as it was broadcast, with the DVD box set binge-watching model working much better for detailed, complex stories.

 

Hitman definitely improved during the 'season' though, so that worked out well.

I agree 100% with all this.

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