The Escapist Roundtable

The Escapist Roundtable
The Escapist Roundtable #1: Episodic vs. Downloaded Content

Tom Endo | 14 Jan 2009 19:41
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John: The other thing to keep in mind about DLC is that it is inherently optional, and so you really can't rely on it to tell the game's story. If I get to the final act of a game and then find out that I have to pay $5 to fight the Big Bad and see the ending, I'm going to be pissed off. Whereas if I buy HL2 Episode 2 without playing the previous games and feel like I've been short-changed because there's no real beginning and no real ending, well, that's basically my fault for only experiencing the middle part of a trilogy.

Susan: I'm glad you brought up the HL2 episodes. Because when I look at that series I see that a huge obstacle to doing episodic content well is timing. If you take too long between episodes you run the risk of your audience losing interest or simply forgetting what the heck is going on. And by the same token, if you release them too close together your audience might not be done with one before you're offering them the another one.

Tom Endo: I definitely agree that the timing of episodic content is crucial to its success. The other day when we were talking about this, Jordan said to me that in terms of length and plot advancement, HL2 Episode 1 and2 are very much what you would expect out of an "episode." But the time between their releases is far longer than what you would expect for something that's designed to flow together. I remember one series that had really well planned releases was the .hack series for the PS2. I think all four games were released almost within the span of a year.

Julianne: Yeah, timing is absolutely key. If you want to pull people into your new series, you have to remember you are making a deal with them: They will purchase and download the episodes in a series, but you are promising your customer a regular service. Take TV programming, which is set to a weekly timeslot where fans can get their weekly fix of AwesomeEpisodicProgramX. If that show's timeslot is left empty too many weeks in a row, the consumer feels like the deal is broken and finds other things to do.

Tom: I think one burden for episodic content, and maybe it's just endemic, is that even with great execution, episodic content quickly makes us into experts. TV networks deal with this all the time, how do they get new viewers for a show like Lost? And in some ways this goes back to what John said about experiencing the HL2 episodes from the midway point. By the time I found out about the .hack series in May of 2003, it was too late. I knew I would have to go back and play the first one to get anything out of the second game that had just been released, and that's not even considering all the hours the third and fourth games would require. I mean, with each game clocking in at roughly 25 hours, and the carry-overs between games, it was just too much to think about starting. That's what I love about DLC; because it's optional, no one's left out of the club and everyone is free to join it any time they please.

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