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A Serialized Game Concept

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The design concept sounds fun, but tricky to manage.

One project I was involved with had something similar. It was to augment a science-based show, we would put out a tiny update every week with a few clips from the show and an interactive minigame demonstrating the concepts. Ultimately the project was cancelled before launch, because even though it was interesting the primary path to funding was by the show's producers and advertisers, and they didn't want to pay the cost to have enough teams produce the content.

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The design concept sounds fun, but tricky to manage.

One project I was involved with had something similar. It was to augment a science-based show, we would put out a tiny update every week with a few clips from the show and an interactive minigame demonstrating the concepts. Ultimately the project was cancelled before launch, because even though it was interesting the primary path to funding was by the show's producers and advertisers, and they didn't want to pay the cost to have enough teams produce the content.

 

What would be the trickiest part to manage? Releasing things on time, we already discussed, is quite tricky. My main concern is being able to do so and build up an audience/player base.

 

So your similar project ended up costing too much in the end? That's a shame really. 

 

As I recall, there was a show called Defiance on SyFy which followed an idea of a game and show tied together I believe. I'm feeling a bit hazy on details for it. I believe that this is it: 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Defiance_(TV_series)

 

It's a bit different from what I have in mind, however.

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What would be the trickiest part to manage?

 

Logistics were the worst. From a project management standpoint, you have many different things and each with a different cost.  This one requires 20 hours of engineering, 40 hours of animation, 10 hours of modeling, 5 hours of audio.  The next one requires 30 hours of engineering, 35 hours of animation, 15 hours of modeling, 10 hours of audio.  The one after that requires 35 hours of engineering, 15 hours of animation, etc.  You've got to put together all the projects in a good order so no individual person is overloaded.

 

For what you've described you've got stories (audio clips?), videos, and gameplay scripts, along with external scripting and the tool to run it, and the broader story arcs that need to be written. You need a regular pace of releases, and you need to follow the arc in order without too much rearranging.  Logistically it has the potential to be quite difficult.  The more freedom you have to move things around the better you can make things fit.

 

So your similar project ended up costing too much in the end?

 

Actually rather common.  The group -- an external company using us as a contractor -- had more idea than they had funding.  They had a successful show already with a popular following.  Their goal was to leverage their existing content that they publish every few days.  What they didn't realize was that building a new minigame every week to match the show's content -- usually picked 1-2 weeks in advance -- and having that minigame fully developed and tested, and having it interspersed with segments from the show that were recorded and delivered within the same week of release .... It is certainly possible, but they didn't want to pay for the necessary manpower. They also wanted occasional 'bonus' content.

 

They were able to pay what it took to produce 2-3 per month, not 4-6 per month. 

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What would be the trickiest part to manage?

 

Logistics were the worst. From a project management standpoint, you have many different things and each with a different cost.  This one requires 20 hours of engineering, 40 hours of animation, 10 hours of modeling, 5 hours of audio.  The next one requires 30 hours of engineering, 35 hours of animation, 15 hours of modeling, 10 hours of audio.  The one after that requires 35 hours of engineering, 15 hours of animation, etc.  You've got to put together all the projects in a good order so no individual person is overloaded.

I can see how that would get really complicated really quickly. I'm not sure if me being the only guy doing everything is better or worse for this project.

 

 

 

For what you've described you've got stories (audio clips?), videos, and gameplay scripts, along with external scripting and the tool to run it, and the broader story arcs that need to be written. You need a regular pace of releases, and you need to follow the arc in order without too much rearranging.  Logistically it has the potential to be quite difficult.  The more freedom you have to move things around the better you can make things fit.

 

 

 

Yea I realized that as well that it would be very tough to follow a consistent release schedule, especially since I'm the only guy currently working on this. I really doubt that'll change any time soon, since this isn't, strictly speaking, a professional project. This is something that I am (and will be) doing on the side in addition to my actual job.

 

The short stories are going to be a written piece released on my website, the same place that my videos and levels will be. I actually have the story arc for the next 6-7 episodes/chapters more or less charted out. I just need to actually write, code, animate, etc. I hope that by making all of these segments relatively short they should be more manageable. It's going to take me quite some time to make and release stuff. 

 

Actually, one of the honest problems I'm having right now is what to actually release in the interim period in between content releases in order to keep my audience engaged and interested. I wonder what I should do for that?

 

 

 

So your similar project ended up costing too much in the end?

 

Actually rather common.  The group -- an external company using us as a contractor -- had more idea than they had funding.  They had a successful show already with a popular following.  Their goal was to leverage their existing content that they publish every few days.  What they didn't realize was that building a new minigame every week to match the show's content -- usually picked 1-2 weeks in advance -- and having that minigame fully developed and tested, and having it interspersed with segments from the show that were recorded and delivered within the same week of release .... It is certainly possible, but they didn't want to pay for the necessary manpower. They also wanted occasional 'bonus' content.

 

They were able to pay what it took to produce 2-3 per month, not 4-6 per month. 

 

 

 

That's a shame really, but I guess that that's the industry. It ends up being a huge logistical burden to finish a mini-game that quickly. My plan is to have a longer release schedule, but the major issue is that people won't be willing to wait too long, so like I said, I need stuff to engage people with that won't take too long to finish but at the same time is enough to entice people to keep on going.

 

I hope that that solution to the release problem (which really is just another problem tbh) make sense? Do you think that that's a viable idea of sorts or something? Or is there a better solution to all of that?

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Do you think that that's a viable idea of sorts or something? Or is there a better solution to all of that?

 

Building a following is hard.  However, the payoff of software development requires a large number of customers; companies need to have tens of thousands of customers before investments begin to break even. Large products require millions of customers and a higher price point to break even.

 

That's where a regular release schedule works great.  For the Sims 3 stuff there were nearly a million unique IPs and release dates were twice a month. In the hours before the release time web traffic rose, and the minutes after the products went online there was a tremendous spike.  The would have done far worse with an irregular release schedule.

 

You need to build both a large customer base and a regular following so people know when to check for updates.  If they know it comes out on the same day every month, maybe the 5th day of every month, they'll have an incentive to return.  If it is a random surprise for checking in they'll not care as much.

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Do you think that that's a viable idea of sorts or something? Or is there a better solution to all of that?

 

Building a following is hard.  However, the payoff of software development requires a large number of customers; companies need to have tens of thousands of customers before investments begin to break even. Large products require millions of customers and a higher price point to break even.

 

That's where a regular release schedule works great.  For the Sims 3 stuff there were nearly a million unique IPs and release dates were twice a month. In the hours before the release time web traffic rose, and the minutes after the products went online there was a tremendous spike.  The would have done far worse with an irregular release schedule.

 

You need to build both a large customer base and a regular following so people know when to check for updates.  If they know it comes out on the same day every month, maybe the 5th day of every month, they'll have an incentive to return.  If it is a random surprise for checking in they'll not care as much.

 

 

I see, so just have a regular release schedule, and that should work out. And I'll need to post regular updates to keep people interested, or at least post something regularly to keep people checking back and following. That makes sense. 

 

As a one man team doing work on this, development for the CGI and game part of my project are obviously going to take quite some time, even for small segments. I guess I'll have to keep my schedule realistic, especially given that this isn't something I'm working on full-time.

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A regular schedule is PART of the equation. It is one of many things you must do.  

 

Also this leads more to a business topic than a design topic. 

There are an enormous number of factors and each multiply. If any of them is near-zero effectiveness you'll have no clients.  You need a pattern of good products, you need a regular schedule, you need marketing, you need a catalog of content, you need reasons for people to return, you need a web site that is inviting and usable, and on and on.  All it takes is a single bad thing for the product's viability to quickly drop to zero.

 

Edit: You should probably read this. It is dated but it still applies.  (The person who wrote it used to be a moderator on the site and hosted it here, but sadly it looks like it is long gone.)

 

Edit 2: Found the original on the archive.gamedev.net site

If you have more questions about the business side of game development, those should be asked in a different topic in the business forum.  The design of episodic content can be viable.

Edited by frob
Add link to relevant story.

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Very interesting concept. Certainly sounds worthwhile. As mentioned there are a host of technical challenges lining up these three different storytelling and production methodologies together, but the overall goal seems like a worthy one. My first question is: why? I understand video games with cutscenes, or movies with video game bits in them, but you seem to want this threefold event, and I'd like to know why. Is this game targeted only at people who like read, play video games and watch videos? How much literacy is needed in each of the three mediums in order to fully appreciate the story? How should the story receiver feel when transitioning form viewer to reader to player? What literary purpose does the gaming and videos serve? What cinematic purpose do the stories and gaming serve? What effect is the literary and cinematic narrative supposed to have on gameplay?

 

I don't know if you need to answer all those questions here and now, but those are the types of questions that should probably influence your design.

 

I personally would suggest expanding on proven purposes, that is, the short stories are lore, the short videos are cutscenes and the gameplay is gameplay, motivated by the short videos and most profoundly experienced in the light of the short stories. For the short stories, the cinematics and gameplay help increase the immersion, as you start to read the fictional short story with same eyes as you might read a non fiction story, that is "Oh yeah, I know that place, I met that guy." For the cinematics, the short stories work as sort of an opening crawl, and the gameplay is, essentially, a very extravagant 'choose your own adventure' page.

 

That's the way I would collate everything together. I think that works without conflict to make everything harmonious instead of destructive to a single purpose. Even if you don't go that way, I'd suggest finding a united "effect" you want the serial to have and make sure everything is driving towards that.

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Very interesting concept. Certainly sounds worthwhile. As mentioned there are a host of technical challenges lining up these three different storytelling and production methodologies together, but the overall goal seems like a worthy one. My first question is: why? I understand video games with cutscenes, or movies with video game bits in them, but you seem to want this threefold event, and I'd like to know why. Is this game targeted only at people who like read, play video games and watch videos? How much literacy is needed in each of the three mediums in order to fully appreciate the story? How should the story receiver feel when transitioning form viewer to reader to player? What literary purpose does the gaming and videos serve? What cinematic purpose do the stories and gaming serve? What effect is the literary and cinematic narrative supposed to have on gameplay?

 

I don't know if you need to answer all those questions here and now, but those are the types of questions that should probably influence your design.

 

I personally would suggest expanding on proven purposes, that is, the short stories are lore, the short videos are cutscenes and the gameplay is gameplay, motivated by the short videos and most profoundly experienced in the light of the short stories. For the short stories, the cinematics and gameplay help increase the immersion, as you start to read the fictional short story with same eyes as you might read a non fiction story, that is "Oh yeah, I know that place, I met that guy." For the cinematics, the short stories work as sort of an opening crawl, and the gameplay is, essentially, a very extravagant 'choose your own adventure' page.

 

That's the way I would collate everything together. I think that works without conflict to make everything harmonious instead of destructive to a single purpose. Even if you don't go that way, I'd suggest finding a united "effect" you want the serial to have and make sure everything is driving towards that.

 

Ok, so you've definitely touched on a lot of good points there.

 

I guess to answer your why question, the series I am creating is all about not just telling a story but also about creating immersion into a world that I've spent a lot of time developing. I'm doing it more for fun than anything else, and I like all three mediums, which is why I decided to just use all three. In the end I may end up having more CG than anything else, or more text, or more game.

 

There are some solid points that you've made that I will definitely have to consider while building this series.

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