Episodic Content – pros and cons

Call me a sucker, or call me hardcore. I’ve bought both SiN Episodes: Emergence (which I found pretty sinful) and Half-Life 2: Episode One (which doesn’t make any sense, does it? If this is episode one of half-life 2, then what was half-life 2?)
Half-Life’s episodic content was a lot more polished (not Polish) than Sin’s. You have to hand it to Valve, their games are allways extremely well thought out. I’ve played through episode one one on normal and I’m playing through it again with the commentary track. The commentary track really illistrates how much thought they put into it and is a nice feature.

The main question, however, is, “Is it worth $20?” The answer? “I’m not sure.”

On one hand, you have the marketing hype: “Episodic content let’s the game makers release games more quickly.” While I’m sure that is true, I can’t help but be troubled by the other hand, the economic reality: “It let’s the game makers suck consumers dry.” I’m glad I bought the first episodes of each game. Nothing ventured, nothing gained and all that crap. However, I don’t think I will buy Sin episode 2. I’m not sure about Half-Life 2 Episode 2.

The fact of that matter is that this episodic content is right up there with subscription model sofware for ripping off customers. Countless others have done the math: 3 episodes =$60. I don’t know when the last time I paid more than $30 for a games! –OK, atually, I do. It was when Half-Life 2 came out…

Another aspect of episodic delivery is the fact that customers will expect better and better graphics as time goes one. Sin is talking about 9 episodes or something. I doubt that gamers will be happy if episode 9 visually has the same look as episode 1. This presents some interesting challenges. It will be an odd situation where the first part of a storyline looks worse than the last part. Moreover, there is the fact that gamers will expect a new graphics advances in every episode. So what happens if the company develop two or more advances? Will they withhold one of the upgrades untill the next episode — risking fans finding out and being further pissed off?

There is also the question of continuing the revenue stream. As the comic book world knows, first issues sell better than second issues and every issue after that generally sells less and less. This isn’t the case for games. In many cases, the sequel will sell better than the original. However, by removing the one, two, or more year wait between gameplay experiences, Valve is certainly moving into the realm of comic books and other monthly entertainments. So how will they get someone to buy episode four if they didn’t buy episode three? With Valve’s habit of endlessly repackaging the original Half-Life, I wouldn’t be suprised if they didn’t offer package deals where you could get several old episodes at a discount — which makes me want to skip the rest of the episodes so I can get them for cheap.

Oh well, only time will tell if these questions get answered or if I cave in and buy episode two when it comes out…

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