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Don Andy
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« on: August 19, 2008, 01:35:04 PM »

I found that lately (like, during the last year or so) the distribution of games in episodic format has become quite popular, both in indie and, uh, not-indie game development.

What I'm wondering though is, is there really any point to it, other than making people want more? Is there actually some kind of thought behind it that I don't get (like, I dunno, less development costs, or something like that) or is it really just a way to get sales up a bit?

Of course, there are those and those cases again. Sam & Max for example pulled off the episodic thing quite well. The episodes felt like actual episodes, and the end of one actually concluded a sub-story AND progressed a bigger story. During no episode I actually felt like something was missing.

But in other cases it's just disappointing and doesn't really fit. The Penny Arcade game, for example, to stay within indie boundaries. Sure, it too kind of concluded a story in itself, but still it kind of felt like the developers just said "You know what? I want this to be out now, just let us make the rest later."

Lost Winds (although I'm not sure if it is indie or not) was similar there. It kind of just ended in between. Actually, with Lost Winds I thought "Did I just play a demo?"

So, is there really any advantage (other than sales) developers gain from episodic releases? Or is it a publisher thing? That they're FORCED to release episodic because the publisher puts on pressure?

I'm really kind of curious there, as it seems to be an increasingly popular trend (Strongbad, anyone?), despite not always quite working out.

Oh, and please, PLEASE don't misinterpret this post as complaining or anything. I really just want to get a bit deeper insight into the motivation behind releasing episodic games.
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synapse
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« Reply #1 on: August 19, 2008, 01:49:49 PM »

I've no idea what the standard reasoning behind episodic content is, but I can tell you why I'd like to do it.  It takes a huge amount of production time to create a game engine (sometimes around 80%) with only 20% going to actual content.  Episodic content is a way of saying "Ok, we'll spend X months developing an engine and the first episode.  Then we'll spend X/2 months and give you Episode 2 with just as much gameplay, because we can spend 90% of the development time on new content."  This way, Episode 2 can benefit from all the bug fixes from player "testing" of Episode 1.  It's not too different from an expansion, really, but when a developer says ahead of time that a game is episodic, it's essentially a promise to its playerbase that more stuff is on the way.  Not sure what that really means as a business model, though.
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Cymon
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« Reply #2 on: August 19, 2008, 04:48:52 PM »

Episodic releases, business wise, is a new territory, so it's difficult to answer your initial questions quantifiably. There area a ton of theoretical reasons why the model could work, and many theoretical situations where it would end up being more work and less pay off.

Now, when I was in high school I actually thought up a game that I felt would be better released episodically, tho I didn't use that word at the time. To my late adolescent mind it would drive the individual costs of each game down to a level even pirates could afford, while making the whole thing, purchased a little at a time, bring in more than you'd get from a single game since all you'll be generating for later episodes is content, again a word i didn't use at the time.
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« Reply #3 on: August 19, 2008, 05:03:32 PM »

The core idea behind episodic games is that if you make (1/n) of a game and it doesn't sell, then you've only lost (1/n) as much money as if you'd invested enough to make the whole game.  And if it does well, then you can build the second (1/n) of the game and continue.

It's really just a way to mitigate the financial risk of an unsuccessful game.  And by mitigating the risk, it also means that you can try more adventurous things;  things that you aren't certain will sell well, because the risk is lower.

In practice, (like most things) it doesn't work quite as well as it sounds like it should in theory;  you generally have to do an awful lot more than half the work to make the first episode, and less work to make the later episodes.  But it's still a lot more financially safe than taking the monolithic approach, especially for small companies.
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ஒழுக்கின்மை
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« Reply #4 on: August 19, 2008, 06:01:22 PM »

I don't think this is new territory, really. Anyone remember that early shareware PC games like Doom and Jazz Jackrabbit used to come in episodes?

One benefit of episodes to me is that it sustains interest in a story over a longer time period than releasing all at once does. The sense of anticipation that's created can be effective at heightening the impact of a story. Anyone who has watched soap operas or old episodes of Batman or even read the Harry Potter novels as they were being released has felt that effect. If I release an episodic game that would be one of the biggest benefits in my mind.
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« Reply #5 on: August 19, 2008, 06:06:21 PM »

As a consumer, I'm not really thrilled by the "episodic" stuff, I'm not too fond of waiting for the next episode, unsure if the author will release it or be too lazy to finish.
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« Reply #6 on: August 19, 2008, 06:15:55 PM »

As a consumer, I'm not really thrilled by the "episodic" stuff, I'm not too fond of waiting for the next episode, unsure if the author will release it or be too lazy to finish.
I don't think it'd a matter of laziness as much as profitability.  On the flip side, if an episodic project is continuously profitable, it might continue indefinitely.
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« Reply #7 on: August 19, 2008, 06:20:22 PM »

I don't think it'd a matter of laziness as much as profitability.  On the flip side, if an episodic project is continuously profitable, it might continue indefinitely.

That's not unique to episodic projects, though.  The vast majority of modern commercial games are sequels or tie-ins to something that was profitable.
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« Reply #8 on: August 19, 2008, 06:26:01 PM »

That's not unique to episodic projects, though.  The vast majority of modern commercial games are sequels or tie-ins to something that was profitable.
Doesn't that make them episodic themselves then?  Presumably most big games are pitched with the prospect of sequels in mind.  One could say that the sims games are episodic, as is microsoft flight-sim (though maybe 'modular' would be a better term for those expansions).
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mewse
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« Reply #9 on: August 19, 2008, 06:35:05 PM »

That's not unique to episodic projects, though.  The vast majority of modern commercial games are sequels or tie-ins to something that was profitable.
Doesn't that make them episodic themselves then?

You could make a pretty compelling argument for that.

But then we'd need to come up with a new term for games which are built to be small portions of a larger standalone work, sold at a lower-then-normal price, in order to make their creation a smaller financial risk.  Because "episodic games" would just mean "games", at that point.
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« Reply #10 on: August 19, 2008, 08:38:30 PM »

That's not unique to episodic projects, though.  The vast majority of modern commercial games are sequels or tie-ins to something that was profitable.
Doesn't that make them episodic themselves then?

You could make a pretty compelling argument for that.

I think the key difference is that episodes use the same engine, but sequels update the engine (new graphical support, major feature changes, etc).  The more interesting differentiation is between episodes and expansions.  My guess is that it's mostly a gray area - maybe episodes are a bit smaller and a bit less self-contained, but a bit more frequent.
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Madnis
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« Reply #11 on: August 20, 2008, 05:36:27 AM »

Expansions require the original game: you can't play Brood Wars unless you already own Starcraft. AFAIK, 'episodes' are standalone, allowing you to pick up anywhere in the series.

To me, episodes fill in the grey area between 'expansion' and 'sequel'.

For an example of an atypical 'episode', see http://pc.ign.com/articles/733/733991p1.html
"By making a hybrid standalone expansion, we've given the first time player plenty of single and multiplayer game-play options while providing a great deal of new content to the experienced Dawn of War veteran."

DoW: Dark Crusade is priced at $30, average for an expansion. But other expansions require $50 more for the original game, or maybe $30 more for the "Battle Chest" repackaging. As a customer it's easy to think, "should I buy this old game for $60, or pick up the hot new game for $50?"

I think overall episodes are a great way to lower the entry-point to people playing your game. If you play Sam and Max ep3 and enjoy it, you're likely to continue the series.... AND very likely to pick up 1 and 2. Expansions are a way to keep old customers, but IMO not as good at hooking new customers. A 'standalone expansion' (episode) does both.
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Cymon
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« Reply #12 on: August 20, 2008, 08:31:13 AM »

I'm waiting for the cliffhanger episodic game where at the end of each episode you're in some dire danger that resolves itself in the next episode with some sort of pedestrian solution.
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Craig Stern
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« Reply #13 on: August 24, 2008, 12:37:56 PM »

I agree with synapse and rinku here. As far as I can tell, it's basically a way for a developer to get more out of their initial time investment in creating the engine, as well as a way to sustain interest in the product over time with more frequent releases.

I would also expect that it helps address the much-ballyhooed problem with games being of such length that no one ever takes the time to finish them. With episodic content, developers have a huge incentive to make sure their players play episode 1 to completion!
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« Reply #14 on: September 10, 2008, 06:33:52 PM »

You can adapt later episodes on what the feedback for the previous ones was. For a long game, you're working in the dark for a long time.
Also I guess you can get cash-flow sooner than with a non episodic game, and use that money to invest into later episodes (and this seems like a really interesting thing for indies)
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« Reply #15 on: September 12, 2008, 12:53:27 PM »

The episodic format works well for me, especially since I work on a budget.  I can reuse assets from previous games, the series builds up a fanbase over time, and you can build up hype between episodes. The only problem is that you have to get the games out on a regular basis for it to work properly.  That's the issue I keep running into.   Cry
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Core Xii
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« Reply #16 on: September 12, 2008, 11:41:59 PM »

I can reuse assets from previous games, the series builds up a fanbase over time, and you can build up hype between episodes. The only problem is that you have to get the games out on a regular basis for it to work properly.  That's the issue I keep running into.   Cry
Sounds like Valve alright.
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« Reply #17 on: September 15, 2008, 04:41:56 PM »

I encourage episodic gaming simply because it allows a developer to test the waters with their product.  The risk is lower (compared to a full budget, AAA title) and they're usually much more reasonably priced, allowing more players access to the title.

There have been times when a project, as critically acclaimed as it was, never sees a sequel or at least without some kind of hubbub (Beyond Good & Evil is the first thing that comes to mind).

Also, as much as I like sinking 40+ hours into a game, I feel that episodic games are generally shorter as well, which I like.  I hate the feeling I get when I'm into a game and I start saying to myself, "Just let me be done with it so I can fully concentrate on another game."
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« Reply #18 on: September 18, 2008, 08:22:09 AM »

I would say that another advantage to an episodic game release system is kind of beneficial for indie games in that you get something out to the public that has more attainable goals. For example, if you have some long ass story heavy game, there may be a lot of intricacies you want to keep intact, and trying to cram it all into one game could cause for things to get lost. Also, it's a matter of feasability. It'd be much easier to reach the goal of say 5 hours of gameplay as opposed to the entire 60-hour shabang.

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« Reply #19 on: October 01, 2008, 04:09:33 AM »

I hate the feeling I get when I'm into a game and I start saying to myself, "Just let me be done with it so I can fully concentrate on another game."

Then perhaps the game you are playing is not fun for you.  Wink
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