With the recent success of Telltale’s The Walking Dead video game, people are starting to wonder if episodic content is the future of gaming. Truth be told, even full priced games such as the Mass Effect series are pretty much episodic in terms of story. They work in much the same way, you drag the gamer into the story, then drag the story out over multiple entries. With The Walking Dead, it’s more easily discernible given that each episode only last around 2 hours (although there was some replay value to be had). Telltale has also published other games in this fashion, such as Back To The Future and Jurassic Park.
Notice though that those are titles with tie-ins to other media, namely movies and TV. As such, the gamble of episodic content still isn’t really that high. Developers like Telltale will still gain a substantial amount of followers who are hardcore fans of the original property. There hasn’t really been a game, independent of any tie-in, that has done well through small-scale episodic content. The thought of episodic content will still entice indie gamers though. Consider if Journey had been an episodic game; surely it would have garnered more fans and more positivity. Granted, you can’t just add content without prior planning, but hopefully you get the point.
Is it the future though? I made mention of Mass Effect, essentially a planned trilogy from the get go. It sacrificed the main plot to cater to a lot of busy work within each game. It worked to a certain degree though because there was a lot of interaction going on as a sub-plot to the main story. Games didn’t use to be like that though. Games used to tell a full narrative (if it had a story at all) within a single game. Gamers and reviewers don’t seem to mind though, and there in lies the reason why episodic content could very well be the future of gaming. Games that stretch their story, sometimes providing many loose ends (ie. Dragon Age: Origins), aren’t penalised for it. We look back at Dragon Age: Origins and can see how now, it looks like a lot of loose ends might never be explained. Perhaps loosely explained in Dragon Age 3, but I don’t expect anything grand. When we originally played Dragon Age: Origin, we didn’t mind those loose ends, because we assumed it would be answered later. We sit here now with uncertainty surrounding how Dragon Age 3 will turn out, so shouldn’t we have been more critical of Dragon Age: Origins to begin with?
Need I mention how Mass Effect 3 originally ended?
Thus I do think episodic gaming will continue in the future. Perhaps not the primary method of delivering games, but it will definitely increase. For indie developers, it’s a chance to test the waters and see how well a product does. For bigger companies, it provides a way to sucker in gamers and make sure they continuously buy sequels to games. This was already the case with some titles like FIFA and COD, where the online was what sucked people in. They would then need to always buy the latest installment to get that experience. Now story-driven games are catching on too. I do think the industry is worse for it though.