A Convoluted Series of Thoughts and Ideas as They Come Up in My Head
Also: A Love Letter to Telltale
Episodic gaming is definitely new. As an idea, and in practice. There are several ideas of what episodic gaming truly is, and I increasingly find myself looking at Telltale to find my definition of episodic.
First and most importantly(I think), episodic games are released relatively close together. "Relatively close" obviously has a lot of difference between the different episodic projects. As a few examples, we have the Half Life episodes that release more than a year apart, Penny Arcade Adventures that release presumably 3-4 months apart, and Telltale with their monthly releases.
In my opinion:
-Valve simply can't call their game episodic. You release your games a year apart, no matter the price, they're sequels.
-Hothead has good sentiments behind their release schedule. They are focusing on player feedback, which I can definitely respect. It's hard to say how well this will do for future episodes, since we only have the first one. I can see the logic behind it, and I'm pretty sure I'll buy episode 2. But it is still hard for me to see this as an episodic series, and this is why:
Okay, I seriously have no idea how this tiny upstart studio got it right. I have no idea how they continue to get it right, a few bugs and missing eyes aside. It must be difficult, because big studios with literally millions of dollars at their disposal continue to get it wrong.
The monthly releases are pretty much just right for following something, for keeping interest momentum up. I could see smaller games with less resources releasing closer together(weekly tiny games?) working on a subscription level, and I can see episodic games working up to 2 months apart(though maybe I'm impatient in this regard!). But wait too long, and a consumer's memory and momentum of interest will fade.
The Season Pass and the Upgrade options are quite possibly the greatest successes of the Telltale formula. To plop down a single price knowing that a new game will be on your account page hassle-free on release day makes the whole process make sense. While it becomes difficult sometimes to justify the price of each episode as it comes out, the season pass option(with an upgrade for the curious or cautious customer), makes so much sense from the consumer's side of the equation. It's like following your favorite TV show after payment. The only difference is, you aren't also paying for hundreds of other shows that you'd never even dream of watching, or even know you have!
The physical media at the end of the season, the "Bonus" or "Collector's" DVD, would not really be necessary for my purchase. But it does make the decision, for me, extremely easy. I love getting that disc at the end of the season and popping it in for the hours of extras. It feels good to be a Telltale customer.
What is the future of episodic gaming?
Whenever we see an article on episodic gaming, Telltale is referenced as "The success story". I really hope that this means other companies wanting to get into the episodic model take a few notes from Telltale's execution. I rarely feel like I can justify paying $60 for a new game(last time I did this? Elder Scrolls IV). The cheaper overall, and subscription-based game model pioneered by Telltale is something I'd LOVE to see in the future. It simply fits with me and my manner of spending, in ways that the big AAA $60 game model doesn't. I mean, there are other things about most mainstream big games that don't quite "click" with me, but the price of admission for the amount of time spent with it. Getting a new game every month feels more satisfying than beating a game in a week or two, whether or not "total hours" is the same. It's like the suspense of a TV cliffhanger, its resolution is far more potent when you've had to wait a week to see it rather than when you've blasted through the series in a season box set.
...I think I just summarized why episodic gaming works for me. I didn't mean to go there at the start. Ah well. I'm typing as I think.
You know what?