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Episodic Gaming...?

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ProjectMode The idea: A dark killer game. You play a rogue who stalks the streets at night, killing for money and generally causing havoc. The first area could be a train station at night. The question However, do you reckon its feasible to then release areas, i.e. shopping mall, later to entice late buyers, or put them in from the start to get more people to buy at first? As a sort of downloadable content, but really the rest of the game. How many areas would you have to put in at release? And how big would you make them?

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Hard to say; this is something I've wondered about to. I could probably spout a whole bunch of theory, but have no experience on how it would actually do. One thing that is fairly certain is that you would probably need to use an internet distribution / shareware method rather than trying to go through the retail channel, since most stores are not going to waste their very limited shelf space on a bunch of $5 expansion packs in boxes.

It would be interesting if anyone has any actual experience in this model. We're getting to the point these days where a lot of players consider 30 hours of playtime to be "short", so it's questionable how much they'd be willing to pay for a bunch of shorter games rather than one big one.

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This is something that I've considered too. I'm seriously thinking about selling games as shareware, but the episodic release could work too if published over the Internet. The closest model that I've seen that releases episodically is some of the shareware games, where they release one episode for free and then a large number of episodes for individual sale (or all of them in a pack).

For the first release, you'll have to follow the general rule of shareware and demos; you will need to release enough of the game to show your audience exactly what the full game will have to offer, and with enough excitement to get them hooked, but not so much that they will feel there is no need to buy the rest of the game. I'd think about releasing the first episode for free, as most people will be wary about trying a game with a different release strategy from what they are used to.

One main downside that I can think of is dealing with micropayments. From what I've read about on-line retail services, for shareware sales they often charge a percentage of the sale or a flat fee, whichever is larger. Each episode will have to be cheap, so they will likely charge the flat fee, which will be a larger percentage of your sales. You might have to shop around for a good retailer or deal with sales yourself.

The other downside will be to convince your audience to keep buying your episodes. You'll have to put in enough content in each episode to make sure that the buyers don't feel they aren't getting their money's worth.

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Episodic content is an excellent idea, as long as each episode is self contained.

If I buy Episode 1 of a game, and play it, enjoy it, and finish it, I'll be very happy having spent my money and looking forward to Episode 2. (If I don't like it, at least I won't have had to spend much money).

But if I buy Episode 1, and get to the end and find it's not the end at all, I have to wait until Episode 2 is finished, and in fact it might never get finished because the creators moved onto something else or ran out of money or didn't think Episode 1 was successful enough to continue with... that's going to really hack me off... even if Episode 2 does eventually appear.

I would have loved to see the GTA games in episodic form. I work 40+ hours a week, right now it's more like 80+ (damn crunch). I simply don't have time to play a game like GTA that promises 40 hours of gameplay, and I certainly can't justify 45 pounds on it when I won't see more than a third of the game.

I'd rather spend 15 pounds on a game 10 hours long, and finish it. Meanwhile those who do have that amount of spare time would still not lose out - they could buy all four 10-hour episodes at 15 pounds each, generating more money for the creators, who'd also be getting more money from me (15 pounds is less than 45 pounds, but on the other hand it's more than 0, which is what I actually spent on GTA - I didn't buy it as I knew I'd never get my money's worth).

The key though, is every definitely that each episode has to be self contained. For GTA, I'm thinking an island (or a town for San Andreas) would be an episode.

The problem is, everyone knows that if you release a 10-hour game for 15 pounds you get sneered at as a "budget title". Journalists and reviewers look down on and deride anything that lasts less than 40 hours. Apparently Doom 3 was too short! I've STILL not finished it... I think this has to change. We don't all play games for a living. Those of us who write games for a living get surprisingly little time to play them...

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I really like the idea of Episodic Gaming as my name suggests. However, quick COMPLETE games are something that isn't very comcercially feasible for most genres. In most cases people want more content, longer games, and better graphics or so the polls say I think what gamers really want is more Depth. But thats a whole other topic. There is definitely a need to balance the cost versus the distribution cost if you choose the wrong retailer and your cost is to high then you get trapped in a loosing situation not many people will buy the game and you will loose profit on retail costs.

The real challange is to not only choose the right price but to have an effective episodic game. Such a game would give you many reasons at the end of one episode to buy the next. If perhaps your game or even company already has a reputation you can rely on that fact and players will come back to buy the next episode simply because they enjoyed playing others you have made or the first in that seris. Also some other reasons are story followups if one episode has an unended story or holes in the story purposely put there to draw the player back to another episode that explains things and sheds some light on past events that weren't clear in the first then they will more likely buy the next episode.

Sometimes however you want a different strategy for different types of games. I think that if you are careful in evaluating your games marketability and the price is right your game could do well on the market. For instance mediocre graphics, an enticing story, but shallow gameplay might do well as an Episodic Model because your story will draw people in it will look good from todays standards and since it is story based people will grow fond of it and treat it like they do television shows. With a television show you capture most of your audiances with the primer and those that do can't wait for the next episode. People watch 'their' show almost religiously. You could almost apply the same strategy of most TV Shows to an Episodic Game.

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Under NDA? or what game are you working on?

If you say that its episodic, I'd assume you'd get more publicity as its not really been done before.

I think it could fit my game. But the first episode would have to be longer than the rest. As its going to be like Hitman, I'd have to be creative with the levels.

Might have to explore it.

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Really depends on how you go about doing it, some would argue that the average MMO is episodic, with new content being released with every new patch and expansion. I have played a more straightforward game in the sense of being episodic, Xenosaga.. my biggest complaint is the fact that there is a 2-3 year gap in between episodes! But I like their approach, it is similar to the "self-contained game" that another poster mentioned.

The thing is, to be episodic is to contradict "self-contained." If there is an on-going story, relationships, character development, how could a player even consider not starting from the beginning? Sure it is not required, but seeing the first half of a movie is also not required in order to see the second half.. although your perception of the content may be corrupted.

What I'd like to see done is a self-contained game with the only "pre-requisites" being to know the story/characters/etc, with maximum gaps between episodes of 3 months. I believe the game .HACK managed to pull this off pretty nicely, I believe they released four games within about a year, though I didn't feel the first episode was compelling enough to keep playing.

Perhaps special deals could surface up when the series is in a late form, maybe after say the fourth game, instead of purchasing all three previous episodes for $40 each, you could give the games a similar "best seller" selling price of $19.99. Not only would this help new players pick up the entire series for a little more than the price of two games, it would encourage players that stopped playing after the first episode or so to pick the series back up. Of course this scheme would be transparent after the first run through, and players may avoid paying another $40 for an episode knowing that in a year it'd be $20, but hopefully you can make the game so compelling that they must have it asap.

On the other hand, games that just end instead of tossing out the inevitable "to be continued" are good, too. You should ask yourself why you want to make an episodic game, is it because it's something you've never done? Surely releasing a second episode to add in a new Mall is asinine, why can't you include that in the original game? I've played games that are over 100 hours long, and I'm not talking about MMOs where you sit around most of the time waiting for things to happen, I'm talking about games with 60-100 hours worth of REAL content that is often intertwined with an intricate story. Why should one team release a $50 game that is 60 hours long, while another team releases three $50 games that are 20 hours long each? Is it all about money in this case? Possibly rapid development? Being able to get a part one of a 4-part episodic game out 9 months before you could have if all 4 parts were in one game?

[Edited by - ferr on September 1, 2005 3:01:46 PM]

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Great points.

I'd have to look at it as, you'd have to make around 3-4 episodes before you released any of them so to get a good grounding.
Staggering them every couple of months, and using the intervening time to develop another couple of episodes.

This way you could turn your game into more of an anticipated franchise, thus making more money, without skimping on quality.

More of a continuation of story, but like a book/novel, having clearly defined chapters would be the perfect breaks for episodes.

Charge £20 for the original game, then £15 for episodes. Then after a year of so £25 for 2 or £30 for 3 additional episodes.

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You might want to look into Final Fantasy VII: Before Crisis (I think that's what its called). Its being released episodically for cellphone in Japan by Square-Enix. Its actually an episodic RPG. As for the actually story, I think they've broken it up into chapters. Then you pay something like 300 or 500 yen to download each piece (around $3 - $5 US). I thought the idea was pretty cool, but you definitely need to make sure that the releases are periodic enough such that people stay interested. Like, let's say you release one chapter every month or 2 months. That way, people stay hooked. The episodic nature of things also require some good writing and integration between story pieces too, which may be the bulk of the work.

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Episodic Gameplay used to be called "Shareware," and it was good model, though on the technicality that the first episode was either free, or really really cheap (like bundled on a CD with other shareware cheap). However, episodic like Xenosaga or .Hack episodic, thats bad. Why, because I'm basically spending $200 for a game.

Now, lets get to the heart of the situation, what are the pros and cons for episodic games?

Pro: Feedback mid-cycle to patch software bugs.
Pro: Acquire new players with each incarnation.
Pro: More money if it works.
Pro: Story becomes structured, players are more apt to learn it.

Con: Product quality slips because of bad feedback.
Con: Losing players as the game progresses because the story sucks.
Con: Less money if it doesn't.
Con: Players get tired of the same old thing.

Hard to gauge. I'd suggest it this way, build an episodic game, but release it most of the episodes as a complete bundle. When player demand calls for the missing episodes, then go for it. If theres no demand, release the remaining episodes as free for posterity.

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Guest Anonymous Poster
Valve announced they were doing an episodic FPS released via Steam a few months ago.

http://www.valvesoftware.com/news.php?id=427

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Quote:
More of a continuation of story, but like a book/novel, having clearly defined chapters would be the perfect breaks for episodes.

Charge £20 for the original game, then £15 for episodes. Then after a year of so £25 for 2 or £30 for 3 additional episodes.


People won't buy a game they're not sure if you'll ever finish it. What if you go bust after having released only some of the chapters? They'll have spent all that money and not even had a finished product. If each episode is self contained, that's not an issue - they'll already have had full games.

Quote:
However, quick COMPLETE games are something that isn't very comcercially feasible for most genres. In most cases people want more content, longer games, and better graphics or so the polls say


Who answers those polls? People with time to answer them. The same people who have time to spend 40+ hours on a single game, and still go out and buy another one next week. The majority of people don't have that much time, and I would contend that as a result they DON'T want more content and longer games.

Fact: in the UK, more people watch Kim and Aggie clean people's houses for half an hour once a week, than play Halo 2. The computer game market is the ultimate example of a niche, and selling the same games (but longer) to the same people will mean it will remain a minority pasttime. Costs are spiralling. A minority can't sustain this market for much longer.

Why not expand the market, and sell your games to more people, by making games not only for the hardcore but for someone who's lucky to get 4 hours a week to play a game, never mind 40? Episodic content, done properly, is an ideal way to reach BOTH groups. The "hardcore" get their 40 hours, spread over several episodes. The "casuals" get their short sharp hit of fun, and don't spend a lot of money on it or feel like they've missed out as they didn't complete the game.

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