Episodic Content

21 October, 2006 at 7:30 pm Leave a comment

Sorry I haven’t posted for a little while, I am in an exam period and free time is hard to come by. Anyway, today I will be talking about a topic that has recently been discussed in great depth, that being episodic content. The reason it is being discussed is because of the rising cost of game development and the risks that are associated with this increasing cost. I will explain exactly what makes a game episodic, how episodic games will change the development of games and the pros and cons for the publisher.

Episodic games are games where the content (campaign/story) is released periodically with each release categorized as an episode. This is very similar to how a TV series is constructed, with a preset time of each episode is set (normally an hour or half hour) and there period between releases is a week. The most famous game at this time being described as episodic is Half Life 2, but I disagree with it being labeled as episodic. Each ‘episode’ is essentially and expansion, not dissimilar to many other games that add extra story content to the original game. With the episodic model, each episode is considered equal, where as with Half Life 2, there is the main game Half Life 2, and then there are the expansions, episode 1, 2 and 3 which are cheaper and shorter. The period between the ‘episodes’ isn’t the same either.

Making an episodic game will change the entire process of making a age. Currently, the engine development, content creation (art) and much of the design work is done concurrently. With an episodic game, because each episode is much smaller than a total game, it will take less time to produce the content (art and design) and therefore, the engine (if developed in house) will have to will have to made much earlier than the first episode or an will need to be purchased (i.e. unreal 3). It will also mean that more designers and artists will be needed per programmer.

How will this effect the games themselves. Games will have to be very linear in story, so that the next episode is usable by all game players. Games stories will have to be more segmented, so that the end of an episode will entice the purchase of the next episode. Also, each episode will have to have a plot in each episode, as well as a continuing plot. This could be an emphasis on the continuing plot, or the individual episode plot. An example of this style is the game Alan Wake, where the gameplay and story is structured like a TV show. It might also lead to improved games and a greater emphasis on story in games as there is a need for consumers to continually purchase each episode.

This is also the risk for publishers, as people could go cold on a game 2 or 3 episodes in, leaving the publishers out of pocket. Where is a game could be crap, but because of marketing for the launch, it could sell well. There is no needed to continually create good games and continually market.  The advantage is that if a game goes cold, they will lose less money if the game is episodic because the entire game hasn’t made.

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