Episodic games are all the rage this season, and the odds are good that you’re probably somewhere in the middle of playing one right now. Almost all of the big story-driven mobile games are adopting the episodic formula these days, with most recent examples like In Fear I Trust and République just getting started with their own respective journeys. On the surface, making an episodic game is a great idea. You get to put the first installment out into the world up front and gauge your players’ feedback before fine-tuning the episodes that follow. But there’s one potential risk that could actually end up harming these pre-planned episodic games: the lengthy and sometimes unavoidable delays or wait times between each individual episode.
Take Telltale Games for example, the studio that effectively brought the idea of episodic games into the mainstream of our industry. “Faith,” the first episode of Telltale’s The Wolf Among Us, was originally released for PC on October 11, 2013, and with the second episode “Smoke and Mirrors” finally debuting this week, this puts the amount of wait time between these two episodes at just under four months. At this rate, we may very well have to wait until early 2015 to see how Bigby Wolf’s adventure ends: especially considering the crazy amount of new projects that Telltale has decided to juggle all at once.
There are a number of reasons for varying delays in releasing the subsequent installments of an episodic game, and none of them are exactly ideal for the studio, or for the player, at that. Over the last few weeks, you could almost feel the growing frustration of gamers towards The Wolf Among Us everywhere online, with some early Season Pass adopters even afraid they might never get the next portion of the game they already paid for. And for those that do start playing Episode 2 this week, will you have a hard time picking up where you left off after such an extensive break?
Sometimes I can barely remember what I ate for dinner last week, so how am I supposed to recall which story-altering decisions I made in The Wolf Among Us four months ago? I guess what it ultimately boils down to is this: would you rather have a game drawn out for an entire year or more in short doses, or would you rather just grant the developers an extra year up front and receive the game later, but as a finished whole? After all, there’s a lot that can happen from the time a game first goes into production to the time us gamers finally get a chance to play it (I’m not even going to mention the 6+ years we’ve been waiting for Half-Life 2: Episode 3).
In fact, now that I think about it, we’re still waiting on the second episode of Jacob Jones and the Bigfoot Mystery from Lucid Games to come out as well (the second of a planned five). To put this into a bit of perspective, I initially reviewed Episode 1 of the game on iOS way back in May 2013! Think that’s bad? We’re also going on 20 months of waiting for Chapter Two of The Journey Down, which we reviewed in the distant past of May 2012. What’s worse, if you put out the first installment of your new episodic game to widespread mediocre reviews, this could cause a serious blow to your enthusiasm for creating the remaining chapters, which have more or less already been promised to your fans and paying customers. Having to build up the hype all over again also can’t be the easiest thing in the world.
“We’ve been waiting almost two whole years now for The Journey Down: Chapter Two.
Of course, one of the biggest appeals to creating an episodic game is that it allows developers to put out the first installment much sooner than if they had to finish the entire game beforehand like in the old days. This is often a good tactic when a studio needs the money from those early purchases to fund the development for the rest of the title. But like anything else, there’s always the chance of having it backfire when your stockpile of cash runs out faster than the story you still have left to tell: especially when unexpected delays like those that Telltale has seemingly been experiencing begin to take their toll.
Case in point: Launching Pad Games released a promising new episodic adventure game in 2010 called Scarlett and the Spark of Life, which we happened to give a promising 4-star review. The company’s official explanation on their blog has since been taken down, but after being forced to delay the development of Scarlett’s second episode into the latter half of 2011 due to budget constraints, production on the game was eventually stopped altogether. Now anyone who invested time and money into Scarlett and the Spark of Life will never get to know the conclusion to the story, because the spark of this game’s life was extinguished too soon.
“Whatever happened to the rest of Telltale’s Bone series?
It’s also a little known fact that a very similar situation happened to Telltale themselves in the early days before the company struck gold with The Walking Dead in 2012. One of the developer’s very first episodic adventure games was based on Jeff Smith’s Bone comic book series, and only a mere two episodes of the game (Out from Boneville in 2005 and The Great Cow Race in 2006) were released before any other mention of the game quietly faded off into oblivion, never to be seen or heard from again.
Given Telltale’s success over the last several years, I don’t think anyone needs to be worried about them failing to finish one of their games again. But the real question here lies in how much you, the player, can put up with these kinds of delays, and what kind of negative impact they can have on an episodic game at large. So again we ask: do long delays hurt episodic games? Do you mind waiting up to four months for another two to three hours of gameplay? Or do you think the greater risks of the episodic format will slowly run their course? Don’t get delayed in letting us know your thoughts in the replies!