Earlier this month my colleague Catie penned an intriguing article on episodic gaming. If readers have yet to check it out, I recommend they do so; it is well worth the time. In it, Catie concludes with some thoughts on whether episodic gaming—that is, gaming chapter-by-chapter rather than by story—will occur more in the future. She thinks not. I agree, but for different reasons. Here I’ll briefly explain those reasons.
Toward the end of her piece, Catie argues that episodic gaming will not persist into the future. Why? It’s difficult to make out, but here’s my best guess. First, Catie asserts that episodic gaming “is an easy way for developers to promise extra content but they don’t necessarily have to bring it all out within months of initial release.” In other words, they’ve completed the main project, but they’ve chosen to release it in segments. Each segment, however, being part of the main project, does not ‘add anything’, so to speak, to the main project. Hence, why Catie dubs episodic gaming “very spread out DLC.” Therefore, she argues episodic gaming will not persist into the future.
THE NATURE OF EPISODIC GAMING
If I understand Catie correctly, then she and I are on the same page. That notwithstanding, I have one concern about episodic gaming that strikes me as more serious than convenience. I think what will prevent episodic gaming from enduring is its lack of fullness. By ‘fullness’, I mean the state of being whole or ‘in one piece’. Episodic games, by definition, are incomplete. They fail to reflect a sense of unity in the project. How? By wedging gaps of time between each episodic release. Such spans of time disengage the player from the narrative for too long, and therefore fail to communicate a full story, one that could be communicated immediately.
Now, some might object that players could just replay the previous episode to refresh their memory. True: players anticipating Kingdom Hearts III might replay some of the previous games to refresh their memories of the story. However, if a developer has released five episodes for one game, with six months between each release, incentive to replay previous episodes dulls. At that point, why not just release the project at once when the story is finished?
THE ECONOMIC MOTIVE
Moreover, there is an underlying economic theory that I think motivates the release of some episodic games. The theory, as I understand it, runs like this. Some $50 product might sell better if it became three or four $15 products, thereby potentially reducing the cost and attracting more sales. Now, this is a good theory from an economic standpoint, but not so good a theory from a psychological standpoint. I take it for granted that people don’t want fragmented plot lines or universes; they want something whole. Non-episodic games generally satisfy players more deeply than episodic games, because they’re complete. Because of this, folks may lose interest in episodic games with time.
In sum, I’ve tried to explain my reasons for thinking why episodic gaming won’t last. I’m grateful for Catie’s work, for she does good work. Nonetheless, I hope this article clarified my reasons for our shared conclusion. Given the fragmented nature and economic efficiency motivating episodic gaming, I think they will not be the future of gaming.