The obvious examples of Episodic video games come in the form of Telltale’s point and click adventures, all of which have been quite successful in the business sense and critically acclaimed; Due to their episodic nature, these games have quite a few advantages – and a few disadvantages – to their “complete on arrival” counterparts
The first advantage we should probably touch up on is the development time: Due to the fact that episodes are released once every few months, developers have longer to take a look at the upcoming episodes and “fix” or “amend” small things here and there; It gives them time to tinker, which as you can imagine is a privilege that many other developers do not have. You get feedback almost immediately from your previous episode, and this can quickly be turned into an improved experience for the next one.
This also brings up one of the main problems of episodic content: You can’t make it deep in a gameplay sense. For this, it may be better for us to thread back a little in time, before Telltale’s series became as famous as they are today, and into a game series that for many is both beloved and bilified, depending on their mood and the number involved in the conversation: Half Life Valve has, without a shred of ambiguity, shunned episodic content; Why exactly is it that this formula, which has worked so well for Telltale games, hasn’t worked for Valve? Primarily because Valve’s games center more around their gameplay elements than Telltale’s, which focus more on story. See, it’s easy to create and flesh out a great story when your tools are already primed and ready, but creating a fulfilling FPS experience that feels challenging and interesting is an entirely different story.
As a developer, Valve also has to worry about several other franchises, such as Team Fortress 2, DOTA 2 and Counter Strike: Global Offensive, all of which require extensive amounts of work when it comes to gameplay, which consists of several factors, all of them having to mesh perfectly with one another. Cover needs to be done correctly, enemies need to be placed and handled, not to mention path finding, balancing out the maps, creating an environment which you can freely explore, etc.
All of these limitations are not there for a point and click adventure such as The Walking Dead or The Wolf Amongst Us, where the biggest issue is, at best, the presentation of the game itself. Gameplay wise, you only need to figure out a few scenarios and what options the player should have; A wrench or button for the character to press and a cutscene to show what’s occurred in the meantime. Small situations to figure out instead of large areas and attack patterns to worry about.
But that alone wouldn’t really help out. After all, you can create an amazing story and still not get the attention of the public. This is where the genious of episodic content really comes in: Marketing practically does itself if you’ve created a good story.
See, by letting the game come out in an episodic fashion, a lot of people start talking about the cliff-hangers, the “What if’s” of the future of the story, and of course, about what exactly everyone did to get to the points they did. Several Videogame blogs and forum threads are made about the game, where it took who, and the statistics at the end of every chapter only make you wonder and question even more about “what might happen next”. Basically, without even a blink of effort, the game is all over the internet, and you get a result good enough to warrant a Third Sequel.
This isn’t always helpful, however. Take a step back to the Half Life case once more; people were actually quite excited about Half Life’s episodes, yet the long development cycle of them caused the over-excitement of gamers to become an insufferable internet meme. Just as easy as the hype can be ridden to give your game more of an edge in the market, it can backfire and become one of the worst jokes in existence (and I swear to Christ, if anyone makes a Half Life 3 joke on the comments I will break their nose)
Episodic content is, in the big end, a very case sensitive way to develop your game; it can work incredibly well if you’re creating a game like The Walking dead, where the story is more important than balancing gameplay elements, and it can work completely against you like in the case of Half Life, where balancing and anal attention to detail are necessary to create the experience your players crave for.
… Oh sod it. Third link in this article is a third sequel confirmation for a series that’s on three mediums. Half Life 3 bloody confirmed.