Luke O’Brian over at Slate talks about episodic gaming:
Should video games be more like TV shows?
I’m old now, and I’ve got to work and pay bills. I’m not alone. According to the Entertainment Software Association, the average gamer is now 33 years old, an age at which marathon gaming sessions are (usually) impossible. But today’s games are deeper and more complex than ever. Some can take 40So, how should game companies appeal to older players? And what should aging gamers do to get their fix without having to play 40 hours a week? One possible answer is episodic gaming.
The idea behind episodic games is to release content in small batches, like episodes of a TV show. This concept has been around for a decade, but every attempt so far has flopped.
I hear you Luke. We’re all getting old! It is my old-person opinion that most new games these days tend to narrow the market, focusing on more and more hard-core dynamics and game players. It’s a sort of tail-eating conundrum for game publishers and developers. They’ve created a customer who is forever seeking a more powerful drug – a continuation of game concepts that further distill, streamline, and improve on the original high. Eventually Namco will have to release “Ridge Racer” in an intravenous drip.
While this is a good thing for the core gamer, I feel this narrowing of focus works to limit the growth of the gamer demographic as a whole. Bill Gates was once quoted as saying, “If General Motors had kept up with the technology like the computer industry has, we would all be driving $25.00 cars that got 1,000 miles to the gallon.” I’d say that if GM had “kept up” with technology like the gaming industry has, we would all be driving $60 cars that exploded the moment you got behind the wheel – unless of course you were “hard core”.
But you can’t really blame publishers. Budgets increase. Schedules grow longer. The stakes get higher. In a difficult market you can lose it all trying to invent “New Coke”, but sticking with “Classic” is a pretty safe bet. What’s an industry to do?
Enter episodic gaming. Smaller games, shorter productions, and lower budgets. Possibly the solution aging gamers have been looking for?
If developers want to win big with episodic gaming, they need to do more than merely dice up pre-existing genres. They need to think episodically from the start. In short, they need to become more like TV producers.
Recent big-budget stabs at episodic games have met with so-so success. Both Valve’s “Half-Life Episode 1” and Ritual’s “Sin – Episodes” both tried to bridge the gap between a full-blown “feature” (to borrow a film term) game and a television-style episodic game. From what I understand, in both cases, the teams simply built “too much”. Ritual’s production lasted 12+ months, yielding 5+ hours of game play. Consumers will have to wait another 6+ months before a new episode is released.
To me, these early attempts look like they tried, but didn’t go far enough to embrace the true nature of episodic. I sense that for consumers to really connect with episodic game content the game size, price, and frequency of release will all have to come down to an equivalent of grabbing an episode of “South Park” from iTunes at 1.99 every week.
October 17th release of Sam & Max: Season 1 on GameTap
The first episode of Sam & Max, the episodic adventure game, will debut on GameTap on October 17th, followed by the international release on November 1st. After the initial episode, Telltale will release one new episode per month for five months, starting in December and running through April. More details on the game’s release and price structure can be found in our recent news item.
Cool! Will be interesting to see where this one goes.