By Josh Ennor
EPISODIC GAMES, THEIR ROLE AS BOTH A NARRATIVE AND TO APPEAL TO US WHO HAVE GROWN OUT OF BEING ABLE TO BINGE CONSUME MEDIA.
The introduction of episodic games is one that I personally am surprised has taken so long to emerge. After all, what could arguably be described as the most popular media medium of all time (television series) has existed for so many decades now that did it not only make sense for games to follow suit?
“But why do make episodic work good, Josh?”
Well, near-incoherent, disembodied spirit from the beyond, let’s answer that question. But not before we take a little journey back in time…
(Don’t wanna read the whole article? The answer is mass-appeal!)
THE VASTLY CONDENSED HISTORY OF EPISODIC VIDEO GAMES.
The first episodic game was released in 1979 and was titled Dunjonquest, since then some notable games that have followed the episodic style have included Alan Wake, which was released as one game, but the story was separated in an episodic style, the ever-popular Half-Life 2, who’s first episode was released two years after the original game, who’s second episode was released one year after the first episode and who’s third episode will be released on [Removed due to DMCA violation]. But episodic really emerged as a forefront for narrative driven games with the introduction of the wonderful Telltale Games in 2004 and they’re widely accepted tear-jerker of the decade The Walking Dead. Although they had made several episodic games before The Walking Dead, none really gained the traction that The Walking Dead achieved amongst both video game fans and fans of the television series alike.
This led to them releasing a follow up of fantastic episodic narrative based adventure games including (but in no way limited to) Tales from the Borderlands, Game of Thrones and my personal favourite, The Wolf Among Us. This then lead to larger developers and publishers trying their hand at episodic release schedules, including Dontnod Entertainment/Square Enix’s Life Is Strange and Capcom’s newest instalment of the Resident Evil series, Resident Evil Revelations 2 / Biohazard Revelations 2.
But the question still remains, are episodic games any good?
I think the answer to those questions depends on a hell of a lot of different things. Including, but not limited to “How much time do you have to invest in video games?”, “How much money do you have to spend on video games?” and “How important is a narrative in your video games?”
TIME INVESTMENT AND HOW LITTLE OF IT AN EPISODIC GAME DeMANDS
Most new-age episodic games do not require a large amount of time, at least not all at once. With both Telltale and Square-Enix releasing episodes usually on a monthly basis and Resident Evil releasing them weekly as well as each episode usually being only a couple of hours long, the older generation of gamers who are forced to juggle family, work and their Monday night mixed social-netball team do not have to commit a large chunk of their time before “completing” the available release and being able to put down the controller, or step away from their keyboard and say “I have experienced this, it is done” until the next episode is released. This allows these sort of gamers to “get their fill” and not leaving a metric tonne of titles in their back-catalogue where they will sit idle as the throes of life continually keep them from going back and completing them until they are forced to the back of the television cabinet and replaced with the newest Dora the Explorer Blu-ray, or that 7th copy of Frozen that they have had to buy because their children insist on putting the disc into the player themselves and tearing the data side asunder with their small and unlearned hands.
This leads me into my next point.
MONEY INVESTMENT AND HOW LITTLE OF IT AN EPISODIC GAME SHOULD DEMAND
The way episodic games stand at the moment is that you are given a choice, by the complete version of the game, often referred to as the Season Pass or simply purchase each episode as it is released. This allows a lot of people the ability to “try before they buy” or at least “try for a fraction of the cost of the full game and assess how you feel about that game before you commit to the full purchase”. But for the sake of the word count of this article, we’re just going to call it “try before you buy”. This is, of course, juxtaposed by the brilliant marketing for the developers that episode one is almost always incredibly gripping and leaves you wanting, no, needing more. But the ability to say “Nope! Screw this game and its subsequent releases!” is really such a benefit for consumers and their wallets.
NARRATIVE AND THE ROLE THAT IT PLAYS
The narrative element of video games is a point of contention for a lot of people. In a world where both the playing and spectating of competitive multiplayer is becoming more and more popular (Counter Strike: Global Offensive reached a peak viewer-ship of over 1 million at the 2015 Katowice ESL One tournament, which is more than double the peak viewer-ship of 409,368 people at the 2014 ESL One tournament in Cologne) a lot of games have all but done away with story narrative, often only including them as some sort of “second disc addition”. However with the Call of Duty franchise having accumulated over $10 billion in sales since its inception in 2003, why the hell would the suits at head office want to make anything else? I am of the belief that this is the reason that episodic video games have come out in full force in recent years; to fill the story and narrative driven void that games such as Call Of Duty: Black Ops VII and Battlefield: Flat-line 3 have created (all these flavours, and I choose to be salty).
So to answer the question “why do make episodic work good, Josh?” is really quite simple. It is due to mass-appeal.
Consumers who do have time and money to sink into a video game, can wait a few months for the entire thing to be released in one convenient package, and consumers who also have to juggle work, family and their social life can experience the game in short bursts over the course of the release cycle and still come out at the end of each episode, or the game as hole and say to themselves, “that is done, move it to the completed shelf” which at the end of the day is the experience that we are all chasing as it is a simple feeling of resolution.
I would absolutely love to hear your thoughts on episodic game releases, do we love them? Hate them? Indifferent towards them because all we play is Call of Duty: Modern Advancefare XII?
Let me know.
Josh is one of the four main writers here at OK Games. When he is not working, he is letting his pets on furniture that they’re not allowed on and sometimes he pretends to study so that his Fiancée will get off his back.
You can find him on Twitter, where he usually tweets about the Sacramento Kings and quotes from movies he is watching.