Episodic Game Content Done Right
I think there’s a missed opportunity with Episodic games that arecurrently being launched, they’re largely just about delivering a knownexperience over an extended period of time and splitting the coststhroughout each episode.There’s very little focus on the user experience and, more importantly,the social experience that episodic content can repeatedly deliver.I think they key to this is engaging everyone in a simultaneous andrecurring experience, like a TV show.Imagine a chapter of a story driven game like Halo Reach being madeavailable for everyone to play at 8pm on the 1st Sunday of every month,just one chapter, no-one can play it before that time so everyoneexperiences the same event. It could even be that this chapter is onlyavailable to play for a fixed period too, if you missed the event thenyou’ve got to wait for a repeat or get yourself the box-set.I believe this will generate much more exposure for the game where theanticipation of what’s in the episode and the discussions afterwardsmake for a continued presence in peoples minds. Everyone would get thetime to savour the experience and look forwards to the next one, hopingto share this with your friends.A great side-effect of this is that it enables others to join theexperience and catch-up with the previous episodes with everyone liningup at the next event.It’s completely important to give people and end-to-end experience,i.e., a boxed off series with a compelling series ending. This giveseveryone something to share and builds to a great crescendo for youridea.How would you make this happen?I believe that a pre-sold box set, either retail or online, would enableplayers to get their content ready *before* the content is unlocked ata specific time. You have the content in your hands, it’s ready, youknow it’s going to be delivered to you over time so you can judge thevalue.This is a different position to making the game available fordownload/purchase at a set time, this is about unlocking the experience.iTunes has incorporated the idea of a ‘Series Pass’ for TV Seriessince 2006 with the exact model with series such as The Inbetweenersbeing unlocked as they’re aired on TV. It would seem likely that thismodel will extend to games too.Steam have also been supporting this kind of pre-load and unlock foryears where they pre-download content to your PC so that the game isready to play at a specific time, no additional downloads or waiting isnecessary.For other platforms, it would seem trivial to unlock the content basedon a live connection to an ‘unlock server’ instead of the obviousunlocking at a set time based on your PC/phone/console clock.Bonus ExtrasThere’s also the opportunity to engage your audience between events byadding in the usual layers of Making Of documentaries and DeveloperCommentary (Valve have been embeddingcomments this since 2005). These extras could be made available to series subscribers to encourage people to take up the whole package.Benefits to your businessThere is a middle-ground to be had here. As a business you could makeenough content to release but the whole series would be incomplete asyou’d be making the later episodes as you go along.There are pros & cons to this approach.It means you *have* to hit all of your production dates for the laterepisodes or you risk breaking the series and therefore the experienceand we all know there’s a lot of things that can go wrong. This risk ismitigated by the length of your series and the lead time on yourepisode, i.e., if you get 6 months worth of content in the bank beforeyou release the 1st episode then you’re probably going to be OK.One benefit to overlapping release & development is that you can startto incorporate feedback into your episodes that are currently inproduction and also use the revenue to keep your business going.SummaryI believe there’s a great opportunity for well thought out andspecifically written games that maximise the potential of Episodiccontent.It needs a well written story that spans multiple episodes with theemotional peaks & troughs to keep you coming back for more.All of the pieces have existed for a while but no-ones really made a goof it and I believe that the synced mass shared event is key to this.It’s not enough simply to make your game available to download at afixed time, the experience must be shared.