ATTENTION: Games Are Not TV, Damn It!

ATTENTION: Games Are Not TV, Damn It!

Before we begin, I would like to point out that while the announcement of the Final Fantasy VII remake being released in an episodic format – ”multi-part series” is the phrase Square Enix used – is the catalyst for me wanting to discus this episodic games, I’m not going to going to solely focus on that game. Our Benjamin Maltbie already raised enough concerns, and I don’t feel like I need to contribute any more to the ever-growing list .

Instead, I’m more interested in the response to the news via my Twitter feed, in which some gamers claimed to hate episodic games as a format, not just for the Final Fantasy VII remake. One of the concerns I read is how the episodic nature of the game could possibly lead to a dilution of the experience; in the case of Final Fantasy VII , Square Enix could turn a once dense world with plenty to explore into a set of narrow hallways like Final Fantasy XIII .

However, I don’t think the primary concern of waiting for episodic content is how linear a game may be; rather, I think consumers are worried because the format forces them into a pseudo-meta game of waiting. Fans of Telltale are familiar with that conundrum – should you buy each episode as it comes out, or wait for the entire thing to release?

Speaking of Telltale, I respect how they release their games, even if the structure forces me to become a participant in the aforementioned waiting game. After a certain amount of time, Telltale slashes the price of the first episode $0.00, effectively transforming part one into a demo. The factor for me continuing the adventure depends on how enticing the cliffhanger ending is. Usually it works.

That said, the best time to purchase a Telltale game is upon the release of the fifth, and final, episode. By then, you can purchase a bundle, which even if you don’t wait for a sale is cheaper than buying each episode separately. You also don’t have to wait for the story to continue. Sure, there’s a weird pause in-between episodes that seems trivial once you have the whole thing, but your interest in the story-driven games probably won’t dwindle. Otherwise, if an episode is delayed, then it risks losing its customers’ interest.

Well, unless you’re Valve and people are still waiting for you to either make Half-Life 2: Episode 3 , or more likely Half-Life 3 at this point. Episode 2 was delayed beyond reason, and somehow, years later, people are still excited for Episode 3 . I can’t fathom Telltale being able to replicate this level of excitement, especially after they were criticized for the delayed episodes of The Wolf Among Us and The Walking Dead Season 2 .

But even if you’re the most patient consumer who doesn’t mind purchasing each episode, such episodes must fit a criteria to justify the format. I know critics who become frustrated reviewing these games because of how awkward it is to give the first episode of, say, The Walking Dead a high score because it started out strongly, and then the pacing comes to a crawl by the third episode, thereby earning it a middling score. Should critics wait until all of the episodes are released before awarding the series a final score? Would it be more beneficial to consumers to give episodes individual scores, even though the episodes tend to be linearly designed, making it unwise to skip one?

ATTENTION: Games Are Not TV, Damn It!

Despite these criticisms, I actually like episodic games. I’ve been replaying Final Fantasy Dimensions , a mobile game that emulates the series from the SNES era. It’s generally all right – the game usually switches between two sets of warriors per episode, meaning each one feels like a self-contained adventure. But I bring up that example to show that games of other genres besides adventure games can work episodically.

Still, if you’re going to make a game, and you decide to make it episodic, then I highly recommend this blog post on Gamasutra from 2007. According to the post’s author, Rick Sanchez, an episodic game should meet the following criteria:

  1. Each episode stands alone but is part of a larger whole.
  2. Each episode has a relatively short duration of play.
  3. Episodes are delivered on a regular schedule over a defined, and relatively brief, period of time that makes up a season.

If more series adhered to these guidelines, then maybe we won’t see such a public outcry as when Twitter heard about the Final Fantasy VII remake.

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