It's safe to say that plenty of gamers aren't fans of episodic releases. Apart from Telltale Games – and even then it took until The Walking Dead to get people on board – developers always seem to get a hard time whenever they opt for a less conventional release system. Sure, you could say that Life is Strange or King's Quest are both episodic, but they're essentially Telltale games, too; story-driven adventures that replace actual combat or action with quick-time events, boasting dialogue trees and puzzles aplenty.
I'm talking about different genres experimenting with episodic releases, primarily Hitman. I understand that it's early days for the game so far, but when it was delayed back in December last year, IO Interactive must've felt that its project wouldn't work as a full $60 release, and opted for a different approach, making Agent 47's latest adventure more of a "platform" for new levels than a game, similar to Harmonix and Activision's ideas for Rock Band 4 and Guitar Hero Live respectively.
And it's working. Seeing how gloriously good Sapienza turned out to be – ahem – shows that making a game episodic, and not having to rush out all of the content by a certain time, gives developers plenty of breathing room to innovate and craft the game that they truly envisaged in the beginning. Hitman's vague release schedule – no set dates, no deadlines – means that, though content may be infrequent, it'll always be of a good quality. The aforementioned Sapienza has a map larger than most PS2 open world games, and has plenty of content to tide players over until the next pack, with player-created Contracts and challenging Live Targets.
(I'll try to stop talking about Hitman now.)
This approach also worked for Life Is Strange: episodes for that game were months apart, yet it turned out excellently with its constant twists and constant blaring of acoustic, niche indie songs that would make even a 18 year old feel ancient. Resident Evil: Revelations 2, a big hit with many fans, also tried out an episodic format and ultimately benefited from it. Episodic releases don't just represent a new style of marketing and selling a game – they're a feature, a way for developers to innovate and take their time.
"I think that we can all afford to be just a little more open to new ideas in an industry that can often seem so stagnant"
Think about how many exhausted franchises could benefit from this. Assassin's Creed – and Chronicles doesn't count here because it isn't a mainline game (and it's also more boring than Coldplay) – would be a lot more interesting were it to have a new release schedule. Doing away with the yearly games, and instead making one big episodic title would be beneficial, I feel. Imagine an Assassin's Creed game where each episode was a different time period, with different locations, different weapons, and different Assassins at your disposal. One mission could be set in feudal Japan, while another during a World War 2 spy mission. Again, developing and releasing products this way gives studios space to breathe, because everything doesn't need to be connected – just add in a loose, overarching story and innovate to your heart's content.
Releasing games this way also allows fans and players to have more input. Think about how many titles have made bad decisions halfway through, or games that fumble with unnecessarily long, unpleasant sections of gameplay. Releasing in increments means that developers can test the waters, making sure that the next content pack scraps the stuff that people aren't happy with, and improves upon what came before. While this may be a little too close for comfort to a practice like Early Access – something that I'm really not a fan of – I think that community feedback is something that developers should be more open to, and an episodic format could help further that. Add that to the financial incentive of releasing a game this way – a constant stream of money coming in, rather than a huge burst coming in around launch – and you can see why episodic games can be a win-win for both developers and consumers.
Now, I get that some people want to wait for their games to release in full, and that's okay – a fully finished episodic game and a $60 title are often one and the same – but I feel like we, as gamers, should be more open to new concepts in general. Many of us complain about games not innovating enough – myself included – but so many of us are so resistant to change that we deter companies from trying new things. I'm not asking people to throw their money at all new concepts, but I think that we can all afford to be just a little more open to new ideas in an industry that can often seem so stagnant.
Do we need to be more open to industry experimentation? Could episodic be the way forward for some of gaming's biggest brands? Spread your opinion across a series of posts in the comments section below.