Starting a game company means that one faces a lot of questions. Why games? They’re hits driven, and it’s such a risky industry. Why PC/Mac? Everyone knows everyone plays on mobile devices these days. Why not microtransactions? That’s how games make money, and without them, you’ll go broke.
Wrong, wrong, and wrong.
The most frequent questions I hear are “what do you mean by Episodic?” and “Why Episodic?” Game companies have been doing episodic experiences for a while now, either by including a series of “bite-sized-chunks” within a standard full-length game, or by releasing new bits of story every few months. In the former, with games like Alan Wake, we’re getting a story told like a novel, with different chapters for the player to experience at their own pace. In the latter case, with games like “Life is Strange”, the players progress along only as new content is released, often with weeks between those experiences.
From a game developers standpoint, the “release a new episode weeks or months apart” story is advantageous because developers don’t have to create a whole game up front. They can release 20% of a completed game, see if Episode 1 takes hold, and then continue game development, releasing more episodes as they finalize new content. That’s great for developers, but pretty terrible for players.
When I think of episodic, I think about social rituals. I remember the days as a manager at Amazon where half my team would talk every Monday morning about what happened on HBO’s Game Of Thrones the night before, and the other half of the team would ask them to not spoil anything because they hadn’t watched it yet. This would continue for about four weeks, until the non-watchers would finally relent. “This sounds too awesome, I can’t not watch now!” Or sitting next to my wife on the couch on a Sunday evening, drinking a bottle of wine, and watching the latest episode of Man Men, The Walking Dead, or Halt And Catch Fire on AMC. We would talk afterwards about what happened in the episode, and it was a great way to end a weekend and reset for the coming work week.
It’s this weekly cadence that we want to capture, and we want people talking about our games every week. Yes, this makes it more difficult for us as developers, in that we can’t just release content months apart, but we know that weekly episodes works for television, both from a production and delivery standpoint. We know that customers love this, we can see the social interaction around every new episode of a television show, the passion and anticipation when a movie franchise announces a new sequel, the hunger for the next chapter in a series of novels.
We also know that when stories are told over time, they become part of the collective consciousness. When Spielberg released Jaws in 1975, it was a hit movie that spawned a series of sequels, but it was the frequent television replays that embedded the film in our culture. At least once a year, you can see Jaws on television, and for the past 40 years, it would be difficult to find someone who had not seen this film. The experience wasn’t just a one shot release, as so many games are, but was a viewing that people came back to again and again. The repeat showings lead to discussions, which lead to more viewers, which lead to greater social interactions, and so on.
When we talk about episodic, we’re talking about a weekly event for people to experience and discuss. We want our players to talk about V.Next to their friends and family, and we want them to tell their own stories, or contribute their own interpretation of what happened, or why. We know that episodic games, delivered on a rapid, regular pace, will generate a groundswell of enthusiasm, and that will draw in more players than any singular launch could generate.
We want people talking about our games, over and over again, because we intend to make some interesting statements with our games. V.Next, a cyberpunk game, is not just a “neon shooter.” It’s a game about technology, about feminism, identity, and purpose. It’s about doing things that have an impact that is bigger than ourselves, and embracing not just who we are, but who we strive to become. A story told over six months has a much deeper impact than one told over a weekend, and we know players will love the long term engagement that draws them in and keeps them coming back week over week.