Yesterday I took a look at Telltale Games and how they have struck gold with their game, The Walking Dead, after a lot of missteps and quite plainly, poor games. What is interesting is that outside of simply the content of their games and the writing, the delivery method that they chose for their titles has been an interesting one and it could become a standing in the game industry. Of course, that is through downloadable episodes. Episodic content has been around forever in television, radio and even in literature, but in gaming it has yet to really gain any traction, but Telltale has stuck to their guns when it comes to offering episodic content and we’ve also seen 343 Industries do the same with Halo 4’s Spartan Ops.
These are just two recent examples of episodic content in gaming that have received critical acclaim, but there has been more and I’m willing to bet that those recent successes will lead to other developers and publishers exploring the world of episodic downloadable content as a way to keep fans interested in their games. Of course, downloadable content has become a beast in the world of gaming, with fans both loving and hating it and having very valid reasons for both. It has been heralded as both the savior of the gaming industry and the destroyer, but like everything else, the truth lies somewhere in the middle in the grey area.
Games coming out in episodic installments could be a great way to deliver a game to fans and to tailor that game as you develop so to keep fans interested. When you buy a game, you are buying a finished product which has been fully-realized by the time that it reaches you, the end consumer. Sure, there are patches and DLC add-ons, but it is mostly a done deal. The story has been written and scripted and not much will change from when the game is pressed to when you actually play through it. Episodic content can allow for on-the-fly development changes to adjust for critical and consumer reactions.
In an ever-greedy world of game publishing, we’ve already seen the phenomenon of “subscription services” or “season passes” for games, but something about them tend to be a bit hollow. It usually just means that you get whatever DLC they choose to release. If a season pass actually gave you access to a season’s worth of game content, I think there would be an uptick in gamers looking to subscribe to such a service, as opposed to feeling like they will just get a bunch of map packs from Battlefield Premium or Call of Duty Elite.
This could also lead to gaming being a bit more like television, where there are actual seasons for games and gamers are given easily-digestible portions of content to consume on a weekly basis. Now, this absolutely will not work for every type of game, especially most of the games on the market today, but it could help lead the way for new kinds of games and content in the future. Two dollars a week for an hour of gameplay over the span of 24 weeks might sound like an odd concept right now, but it could unlock a whole new movement in gaming.
The big question is if gamers will accept episodic gaming as a viable method of playing. The Walking Dead might have been a critical success for Telltale, but they did just release all five episodes of the first season in retail outlets today for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 at the same price as buying the episodes online would be. Would you accept more episodic gameplay, or would you rather see stuff like Telltale and Halo 4’s Spartan Ops as the line we don’t cross yet?