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A Multiplayer Melee on Episodic Gaming

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August 10, 2006 4:42:01 PM

Episodic gaming has arrived, but is it a good thing? Mark Rein, co-founder and vice president of Epic Games, says \"no\". Aaron McKenna agrees with him, contending that episodic games are too short and half-baked. But Rob Wright argues that shorter development cycles and an emphasis on storylines will lead to an improved and compelling gaming experience. Who\'s right and who\'s wrong?
August 10, 2006 5:18:27 PM

Episodic games have been tried in the past. Heroes of Might and Magic 3 had a few episodes released after the game. It fizzled...
August 10, 2006 5:20:01 PM

Episodic games have been tried in the past. Heroes of Might and Magic 3 had a few episodes released after the game. It fizzled...
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August 10, 2006 7:41:03 PM

Do people realize that we've all been playing "episodic" games for a long time now? Halo 1, Halo 2, Halo 3 is planned as well. Half Life, Half Life: Opposing Force, Half Life: Blue Shift, Half Life 2, Half Life 2.1, Half Life 2.2 this winter, Half Life 3 eventually. I'll simplify it. Any game with a sequel is episodic in nature! People are complaining about "Boo hoo I want it all at once," then ok, how about you wait until 2020 and get Half Life 1 through Half Life 5, all bundled together? Beginning, middle, end, no sequels. That's the only way you'll avoid it being episodic. That's one end of the spectrum, where you get all the content at once, it takes a long time to make, and when you're done, you are done and the series is absolutely dead and abandonned. The other end of the spectrum is for game designers to upload their content the instant it's done, maybe adding a level (or portion of a level) every month or two. As with most things, the extremes of the spectrum aren't desirable. If you enjoy a series, you probably don't want the whole thing to be used up completely at once, and I doubt anybody wants to get the content the moment it's rolled off of the dev's computer. So the question, is how often are these episodes released?

Let me reiterate. Any game with a sequel is episodic. You've been playing them for years. The only question is whether you wait 3 months, 6 months, 12 months, 24 months, 48 months, between installments.

I think that 3 months is too short, and it would lose a lot of press and interest if you were putting out 4 episodes a year. I also think that 4 years is too long.

Take a look at Homeworld and Homeworld: Cataclysm. The sequel came out 13 months after the original. Maybe that particular type of game was faster to make, because there was very little in terms of level design (they're space-based, mostly empty maps). But in 13 months they were able to slap together a plot, add a new race, make new ship models and features, add game features that addressed a lot of exploitable or difficult/requested aspects of the original, write up a manual, and put it in a box. I enjoyed both games immensely, and never even knew it came out just over a year after the first one until I checked. 4 years later, Homeworld 2 came out. Granted there were huge overhauls in graphics, gameplay, and completely new ship models for everything, but it certainly didn't feel like it was 4 times the game that Homeworld: Cataclysm was, and it didn't even feel like it was better period.

Consider why this guy from Epic Games doesn't care for episodic content. What are some of the big games these guys are famous for? UT, UT2k3, UT2k4, UT2k7. Now, the fact that they have to differentiate the games based on the year they're released makes them look like sports titles which just add more features and characters, which is more or less what they are. In each installment, they make the graphics nicer, redo various character and object models, and maybe add a new game feature or mode. These guys can't really make the content episodic, because there wouldn't be enough to compell a person to buy it. Already they basically take the old game, characters, levels, weapons, and modes and just add to it, sort of like how The Sims worked. Same stuff, just add some more content, as it doesn't rely on a storyline. There are two ways to go about this, you could try the Oblivion style of charging a dollar or two for new items and adding them whenever the devs get them finished, or you can wait a year or two and release a new game which has all the old stuff, plus enough new features and content to make you feel like you're getting a good deal. Consider also that the UT series is mostly famous for its online play. How would you deal with Oblivion-style content? One person purchased a level, can other people not play on it unless they purchased it too? Or maybe one person bought a new weapon, can nobody else pick it up unless they purchased it? No, that's much to frustrating and confusing for consumers, it's easier to just make sure they have the newest version of the game. Plus, it's hard to have the sort of semi-annual episodic content that Half Life 2 promises when your game doesn't have a storyline to progress. Thus they're doing the only thing they can.

Bear in mind that episodic content doesn't necessarily mean short games and crap storylines. Half Life 2: Episode 1 went by very quickly for me, but quite frankly, so did Half Life 2 itself. The amount and quality of content in an episode, be it a full-blown game or an expansion pack or something like HL2:E1, is entirely up to the capabilities and standards of the developers. The only thing that is more or less guaranteed by having 4 months rather than 4 years between episodes is that we won't see a new engine or enhanced graphics/gameplay with every new installment (remaking the game models and textures 2-3 times a year for new installments would be an insane amount of work, and each revision wouldn't result in many notable changes).

However, I don't see why we can't have the best of everything: Say we're making Generic Game 1 right now. We've got the storyline planned out, plus how Generic Game 2 is going to start. After we put out GG1 and the bulk of the team goes to work on GG2, why not get some more people to work on GG1: Episode 1? So you get a nice shiny new game in 2006 (Generic Game 1) and then every 6 or 9 months you get a new episode which adds to it, possibly retelling the story from a different perspective, or adding new content, or a half dozen levels (whichever is used depends on the type of game). These can pump out more gameplay in a shorter period of time than the full-blown games because the game engine and content is already made, it's just a matter of making a story, designing levels with pre-made parts and testing it out. Between 2006 and 2009 you get a handful of these filler stories which flesh out the main story. After all, you want Generic Game 1 and 2 to be fast-paced, spit-polished, cinematic and exciting; the slower moments and alternate tellings can be done in subsequent episodes. Then in 2009, you get Generic Game 2, which has a revamped engine, new characters (which could have been introduced in episodes leading up to then!), new weapons, cinematic storyline, and a whopping 14 hours of gameplay (rather than the pitiful 10 hours you milk from each episode).

And yay, most everyone is happy. People who just want the big blockbuster titles get their fill. People who want more and don't care to wait can spend an extra $15 on each episode, AND get the blockbuster titles. The game devs get to explore the same story from alternate viewpoints or fill in details the main story didn't get to while getting a slow but steady infusion of capital from the episodes. The only people who are left unhappy are Epic Games.

And in my oh-so-humble opinion, this Epic Games guy should shut the hell up. Why?

Half Life 2 launched on 11/16/2004, Episode 1 launched 6/1/2006, 18.5 months difference.
UT 2003 launched 9/27/2002, UT 2004 launched 3/16/2004, 17.5 months difference.

At least when Valve puts out an "episode" they charge $15 or $20 for it and call it as such.
August 10, 2006 9:31:30 PM

They have a good idea, but they are losing sight of what really needs to be done with it.

It needs to be handled in slightly different ways. If you want to handle the game episodically like LOST, or hell, like any Anime series, you have to provide the stuff MORE OFTEN!!!

Time it. Find out an optimal amount of playtime per week as experienced by the average gamer and provide for it.

You do not need to have 20 hours of game-play every week, but at the same time, if it takes you 3 hours to get through an episode, do NOT charge them $20 for it, and do NOT make them wait a month for the next installment.




Want to make the booty sweeter?

Make collection packs, just like they do with movies and the like, that offer discounts for buying the thing either up front ahead of release OR after a "season" is done.

I know people that did not watch shows like 24, but waited until the DVD was out and bought the whole season so they could watch it at their own pace, not at the whim and proxy of the maker.


So, there it is.

You wanna make it episodic? Give people at least 3-4 hours a week of the stuff. Make sure they are only paying a few dollars for it. At the end of a series, make the pack of 20 available for less than each episode individually.




As a side note, I do not see any problem using the same characters and weapons in a game. Hell, even the same levels, rooms, and other stuff. You have to picture it more as an ongoing series where lead characters do not just suddenly appear each week and everyone moves to a different city (although that might be interesting for something like a Privateer/Cowboy Bebop/Firefly type game).

You just have to make sure that it is not just running around the same maps fighting different combos of critters. We have custom maps for that.
August 10, 2006 9:32:39 PM

August 10, 2006 11:13:29 PM

-Nix-

It's up now...
August 11, 2006 10:15:26 AM

I'm not paying $20 for a couple of hours of gameplay. Nuff said.
August 11, 2006 10:18:15 AM

Epsiodic gaming might be the next best thing in video games, but I do agree with the fact that it is overpriced.

To put this into context, I bought HL2 for about £20 (OK, yes, I'm British) pretty much when it came out. Now, Episode 1 has come out and is $19.99+VAT (£12.40 approx). I'm yet to play Episode 1 but everything I've read tells me that it is NOT half of HL2, so quite why I should have to pay over half price for it frankly stuns me.

If it is, as Aaron indicates, about ¼ of HL2, then full HL2 should have cost £50 OR (preferably) the episode should have cost £5.99 or maybe even £6.99.

Still, one of my favourite games of all times is soon to have it's makeover in episodic content, Sam & Max (2) Season 1, so it'll be interesting to see how that goes.

God how I hope they don't screw it up...
August 11, 2006 12:57:44 PM

Was there any profanity or racial/ethnic/gender insults in those posts?
August 11, 2006 1:59:36 PM

i have no problem paying $20 for short episodes if they are thoroughly entertaining. I pay more than that for the movies on an hourly basis.

I think it's good for people like me who are long time gamers who really don't have the time to sit and play through 40 hours of game anymore. I have a life outside of my room so if I can play a few hours here and there and be entertained with a good story and left wanting more, then that is fine with me.

BTW, SiN Episode 1 wasn't good because it was short. SiN just wasn't very good period. I don't need next generation graphics, I just want a well developed game that is fun. The fact that Episode 1 used alot of the mechanics from HL2 actually appealed to me because I didn't have to spend the early parts of the game essentially going through a tutorial.
August 11, 2006 2:09:33 PM

well the price (at least with Steam) will more likely be effected by economics. The more people that want it, the easier it is for them to lower the price.

Now to the naysayers that say the episodes are too short, I don't know about you but besides a handfull of games. Many of the games that come out now are short or can be played through quickly unless it is on a high level of difficulty. I beat F.E.A.R. in two weeks with on again, off again playing. The game was good but it felt short to me and the story was kinda weak.

And sometimes, there are games that feel too long and it feels like they put in an extra 10 miles that i have to traverse (in FPS) in order to stretch the experience out.
August 11, 2006 2:10:40 PM

i just made two posts (no profanity or anything) and i dont even see them at all.
August 11, 2006 2:22:06 PM

I can definitely see the advantage of episodic gaming for gamers such as myself. A typical week for me involves working 40+ hours at my job, spending time with my 8 month old son and my wife, taking care of our two dogs and 2 cats, renovating our home, doing yard work and other household chores, and going to school part time. It is a real struggle to actually spend more than 1 hour at a time playing a game. I usually get bored or frustrated or forget what my objective is when I play the usual epic game. If I could subscribe to a game and the developers would mail me a disc periodically (bi-weekly, monthly?) that continued the storyline, that would be great! Also, if each episode was fairly short and presented a novel play environment or new story elements as well as a cliffhanger ending, it would totally end my getting bored with a game or forgetting where I was in the game. I think it could work as long as the price is right.
August 19, 2006 2:20:53 PM

Rob Wright wrote in the original article(?):

[Yes, being able to play an episode of HL2 for a short time will be tough for many to accept, but I think once gamers begin to get used to that and start to expect thrilling cliffhangers and a stunningly good story, they'll be hooked.]

Does this mean gamers HAVE to live with bottom line decisions of accountants? This change to SHORT episodes (vice sequels) is really being done so the actual developers can save millions but gamers will still pay those millions (ie: the substantial price tag for HL2:Episode 1).
What ever happened to making a product customers wanted, instead of a piece of garbage and telling your customer: "Tough, get used to it!"

I can not agree with Rob when the aforementioned episode wasn't really good enough to play more than once, but the full game is good enough to play many, many times!

Artemus[/quote]
September 3, 2006 12:16:05 AM

Quote:
Episodic gaming has arrived, but is it a good thing? Mark Rein, co-founder and vice president of Epic Games, says \"no\". Aaron McKenna agrees with him, contending that episodic games are too short and half-baked. But Rob Wright argues that shorter development cycles and an emphasis on storylines will lead to an improved and compelling gaming experience. Who\'s right and who\'s wrong?


I can see both sides of the story. On one hand yes episodic games are short, I just finished Sin Episode 1 and I liked it, but it was SHORT (I finished it in 5 ours). On the other hand I did like the cliff hanger and the preview, it made me feel like I was watching a good TV show. After playing Half-life 1 I felt like there was a cliff hanger and I waited 8 years to play the second episode. Granted while everyone else was complaining, I was on Valves side, and thought if they can come up with an awsome game that blows away HL1 then its worth the wait (and Valve and I were right).

A friend of mine brought up a good point. Episode games are a good way for them to hike up the price of games. Games now are $40+, and they have tried to raise the price of games to $60, but brought the price back down because people weren't buying as many games. Now they can charge $20 per episode and by the time it like a full game comes out you're paying $80 (4 episodes). I'd like to see them charge $10 per episode, then it would be more worth the price.

I did like Sin episode 1, don't get me wrong (especially since it came with Sin 1). I'm willing to give Episodic gaming a chance, it has promise.
September 3, 2006 8:06:33 AM

Quote:
Episodic gaming has arrived, but is it a good thing? Mark Rein, co-founder and vice president of Epic Games, says \"no\". Aaron McKenna agrees with him, contending that episodic games are too short and half-baked. But Rob Wright argues that shorter development cycles and an emphasis on storylines will lead to an improved and compelling gaming experience. Who\'s right and who\'s wrong?


I can see both sides of the story. On one hand yes episodic games are short, I just finished Sin Episode 1 and I liked it, but it was SHORT (I finished it in 5 ours). On the other hand I did like the cliff hanger and the preview, it made me feel like I was watching a good TV show. After playing Half-life 1 I felt like there was a cliff hanger and I waited 8 years to play the second episode. Granted while everyone else was complaining, I was on Valves side, and thought if they can come up with an awsome game that blows away HL1 then its worth the wait (and Valve and I were right).

A friend of mine brought up a good point. Episode games are a good way for them to hike up the price of games. Games now are $40+, and they have tried to raise the price of games to $60, but brought the price back down because people weren't buying as many games. Now they can charge $20 per episode and by the time it like a full game comes out you're paying $80 (4 episodes). I'd like to see them charge $10 per episode, then it would be more worth the price.

I did like Sin episode 1, don't get me wrong (especially since it came with Sin 1). I'm willing to give Episodic gaming a chance, it has promise.
September 3, 2006 8:09:35 AM

I can see both sides of the story. On one hand yes episodic games are short, I just finished Sin Episode 1 and I liked it, but it was SHORT (I finished it in 5 ours). On the other hand I did like the cliff hanger and the preview, it made me feel like I was watching a good TV show. After playing Half-life 1 I felt like there was a cliff hanger and I waited 8 years to play the second episode. Granted while everyone else was complaining, I was on Valves side, and thought if they can come up with an awsome game that blows away HL1 then its worth the wait (and Valve and I were right).

A friend of mine brought up a good point. Episode games are a good way for them to hike up the price of games. Games now are $40+, and they have tried to raise the price of games to $60, but brought the price back down because people weren't buying as many games. Now they can charge $20 per episode and by the time it like a full game comes out you're paying $80 (4 episodes). I'd like to see them charge $10 per episode, then it would be more worth the price.

I did like Sin episode 1, don't get me wrong (especially since it came with Sin 1). I'm willing to give Episodic gaming a chance, it has promise.
September 5, 2006 10:27:23 AM

I remember back to when I preloaded Half Life 2 and I even remember sitting there for the clock to strike the hour so I could unlock the game. I played Half Life 2 constantly for 2 whole days, till I completed it. Paid what, $38 or something like that for the game plus all the mods that came with it.

Now Episode 1 comes out and this time I am not so keen to spend $20 on this game so I wait 3 weeks before I buy it. Then spend a sat morning playing this game… If it were not for a big bug I would have completed it that very day. But Alex got stuck in a cupboard and would not come out so after I spent 2 hours laughing at all the crazy zombies that spawned everywhere because of this bug I skipped it till the next day.

So on Sunday I backtrack the save and play 30 minuets of game play over again then spend about 3 more hours playing till I complete the game. One thing that it did have going for it is that it was a very good ending. But as for the game it’s self I did not have any story to it, I felt kinda robbed. All I got out of that game was the experience of escaping the citadel. I got more out of the first chapter or two of Half Life 2.

Thing is after I completed it, what did I have for the $20 I spent. Nothing was the answer I had the viewing pleasure of seeing a good cliffhanger ending. That I now have to wait months and months to continue the story… With this gap in mind I don’t think you can call them Episodes I think a better name for them would be ‘Mini Games’.

Now I have to give some credit, it does look like they are going to do a good job on Episode Two. Since this one actually seems to have new enemies and a LOT more action, as well as letting you go in a vehicle this time. It’s even toped off with two mods that should ensure that this release should have a longer shelf life even if the game were completed in small number of hours. But will this ‘Episode’ cost $20… I don’t think so some how.
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