Hot on the heels of the release of the first episode of Telltale’s new Guardians of the Galaxy game, Dylan and I debate the ins and outs of episodic games. Are they good for the consumer? Are they good for the developer? Are they worth your time?
We went back and forth across the issues and while we disagreed on whether some aspects of these games, like having to wait a long time in between episodes vs consumers wanting bitesize content, we did agree on several other parts of the payment model as well.
So here it is: our first n3rdabl3 Staff Debate. Our topic this time: Episodic Content. Round 1: FIGHT.
Dale Bihari: So I’ll set my pitch out early: episodic games suck. No one wants to wait weeks or even months to finish a game. That’s just not how people like to consume content these days. People want to pay the full price and play the game through start to end – like binge watching your favourite show on Netflix. Surely you can’t argue with that?
Dylan Cook: A lot of times I find people want their games “bite-sized.” I’ve heard complaints that a game’s story is “too long.” People want to diversify their experiences and, grand RPGs aside, often choose to dedicate one afternoon/evening to one game before moving on to the next. Episodes allow you to do just that, and come back for more.
Dale: Most episodic games don’t have a firm release schedule though. It’s hard to imagine that those people who like to dip into smaller games don’t mind waiting months for the next installment. The next time they want to dip in it’s likely there won’t be any more to play!
Dylan: That was one of the bigger problems with Half Life 2’s execution, although that hardly counts. Telltale’s games and Hitman have always done a solid job of having a roadmap for their content being open; dates might not necessarily be set ahead of time however. One of the greater advantages to the system is in the different ways creators market their games. In this consumer driven culture, the more people are making YouTube videos of a game and the more they’re streaming it, the more it sells. Big updates always cause a surge in content, and single player games in the past had no real way to “update” until recently.
Dale: Yeah, I see that. The cynic in me ask why they should get a second, third, fourth, fifth bite of the cherry when significantly less dev time goes into creating a game like this. It’s definitely changed the market though. Feels more and more that non-episodic games are ‘updating’ in a similar vein to support marketing and news opportunities.
Dylan: This is also where the Season Pass comes into play. Gives more reasons for the consumer to keep playing the game more often. Even JRPGs such as FFXV are now doing the same, as people stopped talking about it after its launch. In a way, even they’re taking an “episodic” approach to their add-ons (though the main story is still concluded)
Dale: Ah the dreaded season pass. I’m not opposed to that at all. Some of my favourite content has come from DLC I’ve got through season passes. I do have a big frustration with season passes for episodic games though. It’s ridiculous to expect people to shell out £20/£25 for content they might not enjoy – and that they have no way to sell on to make money back on their purchase. This brings me to one my least favourite aspects of episodic games – they’re digital only. No way to trade in to recoup cash, you don’t technically own the game and effectively alienates anyone who doesn’t buy retail.
Dylan: A large part of that is just the market trend too. Myself, personally, I haven’t bought a physical game copy in well over a year and a half. The PC crowd especially is used to this, though they are also used to Early Access. In a way, the two are comparable. You buy SOME of a game with the promise that the rest will come later. With bedroom developers on Steam, there’s no guarantee that game will ever fully exist. With reputable developers and publishers, it’s not the same. This is a big risk still, but some of these games solve it in inventive pays through pay schemes. You can buy just a single Telltale episode. Don’t like it, don’t buy the rest. Hitman did the same by allowing you to buy a small package, and the upgrade it. You still can’t get it back, but what you risk is up to your discretion.
Dale: Yeah but if you buy a single Telltale episode to see if you enjoy it doesn’t that usually cancel out any cost saving you would get from the season pass? Five games at £5 = £25. Season pass = £20. Buy the first episode at £5, decide you like it, buy the season pass for £20 and total spent £25? Where’s the benefit?
Dylan: That’s kind of where the risk comes in, all or nothing. Same thing with most games and their DLCs, though the difference is there you can decide to get the pass or not based off of how much you liked the base game.
Dale: Just out of interest, do you play a lot of episodic games?
Dylan: Not so much Telltale anymore because I think their gameplay and storytelling is incredibly stale. But I’d argue the distinction is much more blurred lately. Most games you wait around for more content now. Even with Dark Souls 3 I was waiting for more content. I also understand how game development works: at a point, you have to stop adding content so you can push the game out, deadlines exist. By making season passes and DLCs allow the devs to split teams up to tidy up the game while another team finishes up any other fun ideas they had cooking (stuff people call “cut content” or “on-disc DLC”).
Dale: Yeah that’s interesting. I guess in my head I’m thinking of Telltale style games but you’re right to say no game is launched as the finished product now and all games have ‘episodes’ in a way. I actually really enjoy the Telltale-type games but I always wait until all of the episodes have launched before I play them. What are your thoughts on the way gaming news outlets are tackling episodic content in terms of reviews? Most seem to review each episode separately and I can’t help feel that gives the games an unfair amount of publicity compared to other games.
Dylan: That’s kind of part of the strategy, no? But yeah it is odd. Most outlets also review every episode of a TV show as well, and I don’t think there’s a more elegant way to do so; especially when each chunk comes with its own price tag.
Dale: I’m not sure if I’m just a massive cynic or if I just hate change.
Dylan: I’m a massive cynic as well. It’s something that should never be adapted to ALL games, but it’s not a bad change of pace. It tends to be the trend nowadays, is keeping people bouncing around their library of games rather than moving from A to B to C. Also, it makes it so players can’t beat a game and then pawn it off. You gotta hang on for the DLC. This fights used games, which publishers hate. In that manner, it is anti-consumer.
Dale: Totally agree with that. Personally I’ll keep playing episodic games but will just buy them once all of the episodes are released and play them consecutively. That’s what I did with the Telltale Batman series and I really enjoyed it.
So there you have it: what the two of us gathered to be the Pros and Cons of episodic games.
|Pros +||Cons –|
|Some people want bite size games dontcha know?||Nobody wants to wait months to finish a game. Give us the content!|
|Most larger developers and publishers will give you a release schedule.||Potential lack of release schedule.|
|Loads of great content around each episode’s release to encourage people to keep playing the game.||Never ending stream of content around one game.|
|They’re digital only – welcome to the future grandpa.||They’re digital only – give some consideration to your grandpa.|
|Cost effective if you buy smart.||Cost expensive if you buy dumb.|
Agree with Dylan? Agree with Dale? Let us know what you think in the comments below?