The Walking Dead & Why Episodic Gaming Is The Future

Shoot em' ups and beat em ups' are one thing, but if you want the suspense you get from your favourite TV shows then episodic gaming is definitely for you...
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Shoot em' ups and beat em ups' are one thing, but if you want the suspense you get from your favourite TV shows then episodic gaming is definitely for you...

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So, you know that excited, nervous, scared, anxious, impatient feeling you get after your favourite TV show leaves an episode on a cliff-hanger and it’s a week before the next one?

I think it's time to see that more in video games.

Episodic gameplay is not a new idea and there have been some decent examples in the past, like the psychological horror, Alan Wake that was released in six episodes.

But it's the recent success of The Walking Dead that has really kicked things off. There have been 5 episodes released so far with each episode even having a TV style 'previously on the walking dead' recap.

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The game was made by the independent publisher Telltale Games and despite their previously unsuccessful episodic games; The Walking Dead is critically acclaimed and won over 70 ‘Game of the Year’ awards.

Most importantly, it showed the major, AAA developers that episodic gameplay has serious potential.

There are a bunch of positives from that type of game mode. Like a TV series, you can bring out a pilot, containing a small amount of gameplay to gauge reaction from players. If it flops, then that is a serious amount of time and money saved so you can instead focus your attention on other projects.

It is also a great way for game developers to keep their audience hooked, as they will be forced to patiently wait for the next episode to get their fix.

My interest in episodic gameplay has really taken off because of Spartan Ops on Halo 4, the newest installment in the Halo series developed by 343 Industries.

Each week a short cinematic is released that tells the story of UNSC: Infinity and your Spartan unit known as Fireteam Crimson. Each cinematic is accompanied with 5 playable episodes that make up a chapter and so far they have been a lot of fun.

One of the main things that The Walking Dead does very well is the player choice and how it affects future gameplay. Giving players choices for various tasks that will change what happens in future episodes will keep them enthralled in the game and most importantly, make them want to pay more to find out what happens in the next episode.

"A lot of the best storytelling going on in the past 10 years or so has been episodic storytelling, from The Sopranos to Game of Thrones," says CEO of Telltale Gamers, Dan Connors.

"We saw the strength in that model as the way to tell a story and it was tied into our digital distribution strategy, which was to break the content up in a way that would engage people over time, instead of just building a one-time experience."

With this model, developers can better react to community feedback between episodes and apply that feedback to future content, along with any bug fixes, graphical enhancements or gameplay improvements.

One issue that arises is how you actually go about making certain games episodic. Halo 4 is fairly easy to do because it has a very linear structure, meaning it is easy to define where one episode ends and another beings. However, with open world games like Firefall or even Far Cry, it would be rather more complicated since players have free reign to go wherever they want on a map.

Pricing is also tricky, especially if the game continues for a while. It could end up being very expensive for the consumer and deter them from paying for more episodes.

But the question is if gamers are ready to accept this method? Telltale and 343 have taken the first steps but is it enough for other companies to join them on the episodic path?