Episodic games

Episodic games

Episodic games are those produced and sold in small units that build into a recognisable series (See expansion pack). Such a series may or may not have continuity, but will always share settings, characters, and/or themes. Episodic production in this manner has become increasingly popular among video game developers since the advent of low-cost digital distribution systems, which can immensely reduce their distribution overhead and make episodes financially viable.

Definition

To consumers, episodic games are very similar in nature to expansion packs. An expansion is an add-on to an original, non-episodic product however; something of a lower order. In an episodic series there is no dominant '"first" game': each installment, although perhaps of the same length and price point as an expansion, is a main event that drives the core experience forward.

Advantages

* A way to make the games cost less for developers, therefore making the game cheaper for consumers.
* A cheaper purchase price per episode leads to lower immediate risk for consumers and increased uptake.
* The lack of the 'safety net' for disengaging periods provided by longer, less focused games coupled with the need to keep consumers on board for multiple release produces greater motivation for the production of quality and innovative titles.
* Exposure and experience from early episodes can benefit the production quality of future releases.
* Lower risk investment for the developers, as the games cost less to develop and to sell and are quicker onto the market.
* Higher quality of life for developers, with more manageable, focused projects.
* Faster games to market, as many high production titles often take anywhere from 2-5 years to complete - with episodic gaming, the wait time is often reduced to an annual or bi-annual basis.
* Developing in smaller chunks means developers can better adapt to community feedback in between releases.
* The developer gets several chances to hit the market with a lower level of risk each time, as opposed to a single chance to make good a lone product that has far more investment riding on it.
* New advancements can be added to the next release.

Disadvantages

* After buying all episodes, the total cost for consumers may be more than that of the typical game.
* If earlier episodes fail to sell, then funding for future episodes may suffer or disappear, forcing developers to renege on promises of future episodes and cut storylines short.
* In some situations it can be counter-productive using this method as opposed to plainly producing a full-fledged sequel or series of titles. Examples include sandbox titles such as the GTA and Sims series.
* Most episodic content is distributed primarily or exclusively over the internet, to offset the potential extra costs of distributing more physical copies to retail (i.e. 5 hard copies for 5 chapters over 4 years as opposed to shipping a single item once). This is a disadvantage to consumers with limited or slow internet access, who might have to wait for a physically-published collection of episodes or never get anything at all.
* Some content will always need to be created up-front, for example rendering technology. This makes bespoke engine software unsuitable in its complex modern form.
*A player trying to progress through a series of episodes may find the technological advances over time distracting; in extreme cases, they may even be put off by the primitive techniques used in episodes produced years before.
**"This is only an issue for series in which episodes are not context-independent."

ingle player episodic gaming

Single player games, particularly real-time strategy games and first-person shooters, have in the past experimented with a very limited form of episodic gaming, by adding new stages, levels, weapons, enemies, and/or missions with expansion packs.

Early examples include "", which was released episodically over the internet in 1998. However, this series was a failure and was discontinued after it failed to attract significant player numbers. One of the contributing factors was its 120MB download size, which may have been prohibitively large in an age in which 56k internet access was the norm. Limitations in bandwidth have also been cited as one of the reasons for the failure of the episodic alternate reality game "Majestic", as it required an initial download of an hour or more on a dial up connection. This lengthy delay may have attributed to 91 percent of players failing to complete the registration process.

Another example of a more casual episodic game is "Goodnight Mister Snoozleberg!" [www.snoozleberg.com] , an online title created by Sarbakan [www.sarbakan.com] that was released in 1999 on TF1's web site, later on CBC and now available for download on Trygames.

"El Dorado's Gate" was a Japan-only episodic game released by Capcom in 2001.

Kuma Reality Games [http://www.kumagames.com/] has played a major role in developing first person shooter (FPS) episodic games since its inception in 2003. Some of the "game-isodes" that this company has put out include [http://www.thedinohunters.com The DinoHunters] , which documents a group of off-key time travelers hunting dinosaurs and other prehistoric beasts, as well as the somewhat controversial [http://www.kumawar.com KumaWar] , which focuses on recent military action in the world, especially in Iraq and Afghanistan. Recently Kuma Games produced a series mirroring [http://www.kumagames.com/shootout_free_game.html The History Channel's Shootout!] series. The games created were modeled on the battles featured in the TV show, adding another level of media depth to episodic gaming in general.

The first episodic console game was ".hack", a four-part RPG released between 2002 and 2003. Upon clearing each game, the player's data is loaded onto the memory card as a "data flag" file, readable by the next game in the series. With this, the player can continue from exactly where they stopped playing in the previous game.

Other games have contemplated going the route of episodic development and distribution, only to decide against it. Examples of this include Quantic Dream's "Fahrenheit" and a planned series of episodes starring Duke Nukem by ARUSH Entertainment.

Valve Corporation's Steam platform is being used as a content delivery platform for two episodic games: "SiN Episodes" by Ritual Entertainment and "" developed by Valve themselves.

Telltale Games's "" is an adventure title that is literally adapting chapters from Jeff Smith's "Bone" comic book saga into game episodes on a periodic basis. The first two episodes have already been released. Telltale's "Sam & Max" title is also being distributed episodically.

MINERVA (mod) is a single player modification that has adopted an episodic development structure, and one of the first mods to do so for Valve's "Half-Life 2".

Turner Broadcasting's GameTap has made large investments in episodic game development. The online game service's first episodic game, "Sam & Max", was co-published with Telltale Games. Each episode premiered on GameTap 14 days before becoming available on the Telltale Games web site. GameTap's second foray into episodic games was monthly content deliveries for ' an online massive multiplayer game by Cyan Worlds. In February, GameTap announced a third episodic game, ', developed in conjunction with 3000AD. Their most recently announced game, the 24 episode "American McGee's Grimm", was announced in May 2007 for an early 2008 launch. GameTap's VP of content, Ricardo Sanchez, has written for sites like [http://www.gamasutra.com/features/20070103/sanchez_01.shtml Gamasutra] and [http://biz.gamedaily.com/industry/myturn/?id=14284&page=1 GameDaily] and presented at the [http://www.dicesummit.org/speakers.php?sp_id=108 D.I.C.E. Summit] on the subject. His "Three Laws of Episodics" lay out rules by which GameTap determines whether a title is episodic or not, and rules out "Bone" and "Half-Life 2: Episode One|Half-Life 2 Episodes" due to the unknown duration of time between episodes.

Massively multiplayer online gaming

Since episodic gaming is mostly driven through linear storytelling, outside of story-driven single player games, it is mostly found in MMOGs. Much as they worked for offline games, expansion packs have often been sold to increase available content to MMOG players by adding additional worlds to explore and additional gameplay features, such as new weapons and characters.

As the term relates to this genre, episodes are typically contrasted to the traditional expansion pack, as in the "Asheron's Call" franchise, where episodic content was downloaded without an additional fee (to the standing subscription price). This included new expansive story arcs comparable to those found in offline RPGs and were updated on a bi-monthly basis. It should be noted that retail expansion packs were still created for the "Asheron's Call" games.

Another MMOG featuring an episodic design is the "Guild Wars" series developed by ArenaNet. The company's business model involves releasing new, independent "chapters" for the game on a six month basis. Since "Guild Wars" does not charge a monthly fee, and there is no requirement to own the newer chapters, it is one the few games entirely reliant on the episodic games model to continue its service. To this end, "Guild Wars Factions" was released on April 28, 2006, which was subsequently followed by "Guild Wars Nightfall", released worldwide on October 27, 2006, and finally "Guild Wars Eye of the North" on August 31, 2007.

References

*Catalin Z. Alexandru [December 2006] [http://www.theg33ks.com/episodic-gaming-fact-or-fiction-10122006.html "Episodic Gaming, fact or fiction"] . "TheG33ks".
*Ricardo Sanchez [October 2006] [http://biz.gamedaily.com/industry/myturn/?id=14284&page=1 "What is episodic?] . "GameDaily"
*Jason Kraft and Chris Kwak (April 2006) [http://www.gamasutra.com/features/20060418/kraft_01.shtml "Episodic Gaming in the Age of Digital Distribution"] . "GamaSutra".
*David Edery (April 2006) [http://www.edery.org/2006/04/in-defense-of-episodic-content/ "In Defense of Episodic Content - A Response to the Above Article"] .
*Patrick Klepek (April 2006) [http://www.1up.com/do/newsStory?cId=3149299 "Bethesda Responds To Oblivion Issues"] - Fan reaction to the "Horse Armour" expansion. "1UP.com"
*N. Evan Van Zelfden (March 2006) [http://www.next-gen.biz/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=2603&Itemid=2 "Dallas Developers: Ritual"] - Steve Nix of Ritual Entertainment discusses Episodic delivery of "SiN Episodes". "Next Generation"
*Kris Graft (August 2005) [http://www.next-gen.biz/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=725& Micropayments] . "Next Generation"
*Ben Williamson (April 2003) [http://www.futurelab.org.uk/viewpoint/creat17.htm "Episodic gaming"] "Futurelab"
*Pete Rojas (August 2002) [http://www.wired.com/news/culture/games/0,54188-0.html "But Serially, a Game in Episodes?"] "Wired"
*David Kushner (March 2002) [http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9D0DE3DC1530F934A35750C0A9649C8B63&sec=&spon=&pagewanted=all " So What, Exactly, Do Online Gamers Want?"] "New York Times"


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