Episodic Content?

Discussion in 'Game Design' started by GameGlyph, Apr 11, 2006.

  1. GameGlyph

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    With recent higher profile games releasing games in the form of smaller episodes to make up a whole (Half Life 2, SiN, Guild Wars), I got to thinking...Would releasing a sort of episodic game on an indie game site be worth it?

    I was thinking that something along the lines of a free, relatively simple, browser RPG (using Java or Flash)...something akin to the early Zelda games. By releasing a new part to the game, I could possibly keep people coming back to my site to play new episodes, or even get new visitors who come to play the game, and maybe try out some demos of the games I have for sale.

    Do you guys think that this is something feasible, or just a waste of time? Any suggestions on how I could improve on the idea? I will most likely go along with it regardless, I just wanted to get another perspective on the idea.
     
  2. PeterM

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    I think the idea definitely has good potential.

    However just in the same way as expansion packs inherently have a smaller user base than the original game, I would suspect that each episode would have fewer players than the last.

    Unless there is something cool enough in each episode to draw in new players (who would presumably start playing the first episode).

    Also there's the technical problems of state persistence across episodes, but depending on how you'd approach the project, it could be a no-brainer.

    Pete
     
  3. Davaris

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    Also there is no such thing as a simple RPG. They are one of the hardest types of games to make.
     
  4. PeterM

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    Nonsense!*

    * But to be fair, I wouldn't pay to play the game, so yeah, you're right.

    I wouldn't pay to play the original Zelda, or Zelda 2, but I would pay (and have) to play Zelda 3 or later. The Game Boy Zeldas were also very good, and certainly possible to write on PC with a small team.

    A one person team is in for a difficult time however.
     
  5. GameGlyph

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    Well, as I said above, the game would be released for free, and would mainly be used as an attraction to hopefully get a little bit more attention to my site. I would in no way charge for it.

    As for simple RPGs, I beleive that there is such a thing. WHat I am looking at right now is a combat system similar to the first Zelda, but with a heavier storyline. I plan to make the story an important part, because it is what will draw people back to the game once they have played one episode.
     
  6. whisperstorm

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    One idea that you might consider - allow users to create mods for your game, as well as new levels on their own. You could then get a community of developers helping you improve your game and you could co-publish the best levels/mods with your contributors. Many times folks will factor in how active the user community is in deciding to purchase the game from the beginning.
     
  7. GameGlyph

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    Another thing I was thinking of...if I was consistently releasing episodic content, whats to stop me from putting up a poll and having the userbase influence a specific part of the storyline progression?

    This would build a bit of loyalty amongst those that do cast votes, because they will want to see what happened, and if their vote mattered.
     
  8. lennard

    Moderator Original Member Indie Author

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    episodic gaming

    I've definitely had thoughts along this line as well. One of the problems, actually, IMHO, the big white elephant in the middle of our living room, is that we can't build games in any hardcore genre that compete with what the big guys can offer. It isn't that we don't have the skills, many of us have worked for the big guys and been part of a large team that makes cool stuff, the issue is that we can't afford to build enough content to compete with what a multi-million dollar publisher can. But I'm getting excited here because there are a couple of things we might do.

    1. Build very small, tasty episodes that bear advertising (drop me a line, I'll hook you up - I started Integrated Ads last year for this very purpose). These episodes need to be great. They don't need to be long but they need to be good enough for anybody, including us, to tear ourselves away from the latest and greatest in the genre (and I think we are all talking RPG) to have a play.

    2. Use a common tool kit framework so that we can share level editors and the like. Maybe even a common pool of artwork for heros and stuff so we aren't spending our precious scheckels re-inventing the wheel.

    3. Think about a common save file format so that heros could even move between adventures.
     
  9. Coyote

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    PeterM:

    Yeah, but that game was only written in a week! And it was my first real PyGame project :)

    Look an Cute Knight or Aveyond for an example of what can be done in the indie RPG space. Both of these games seem to be successful.

    I'm working on an episodic RPG myself, though it's taken a back seat to a game about flying cows while I learn some of the more intricate details of Torque.

    The guys at Ninjabee have potentially had a lot of success with their episodic content releases for Outpost Kaloki X for XBLA on the XBox 360. The free content releases may have increased sales of the original game, and the premium releases certainly don't hurt for fans of the original. I'm not privy to numbers, but it seems to have worked out. I wouldn't restrict it to RPGs, definitely.
     
  10. lennard

    Moderator Original Member Indie Author

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    #'s

    Can you share, even confidentially (Lennard@RustyAxe.com), your sales of Cute Knight? I know you are an affiliate but that might give some kind of benchmark.

    BTW, I listened to the audio tape of Chickenhawk a couple of years ago - blew me away. Finished quite a few projects listening to Rush as well.

    Peace,
    L
     
  11. whisperstorm

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    You know on another tack - have you looked at browser based games like Travian? http://www.travian.com Appearantly they are having quite a bit of success. I'd love to play a web based rpg with some great writing and 'casual' style via the web...

    Here's an interesting article about casual games ~= social software using Travian as an example:

    http://suttree.com/2006/03/23/casual-games-social-software/
     
    #11 whisperstorm, Apr 12, 2006
    Last edited: Apr 12, 2006
  12. C.S.Brewer

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    I really like the idea of an episodic rpg. I think one of the problems with losing the user base is the time between releases. TV can have a nice new episode everyweek for a while so you can get into it. But if they only released a new episode every year it'd be hard to tag along since your ideas and interest change so much over time.

    If I were doing it, I'd have a nice epic story with a series of cliffhangers, plan out all the episodes. Make all of them almost to completion except for a little pollish, things I could do it a weeks time. Then release them bit by bit.

    But if I was going to take the time to make them all ahead of time I might as well just finish the one big game no? Maybe there's side benefit from stringing people along at your site over time vs. giving them one huge product. You keep their eyes longer.

    seems like a relatively difficult thing to pull off. Another way to do it would be to have a multiplayer type game you can change as you go along, add new things to a persistent world. That way there's always a game there being played keeping people interested and you can add little surprises / continuations of your story to the persistent world. Now maybe you can tie that into a single player game? That could be an interesting experiment!
     
  13. revve

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    The only way episodic content will work is if (1) each episode is cheaper than a full game (you wouldn't buy each Sin episode for $50) and (2) it must be the best game ever released.

    For 1, it's obvious - if you are a (casual) gamer, if you know you are paying full price for one of four episodes of a full game at normal game price, you will probably go somewhere else, where you get the same perceived value (game wise) for less money and quicker (one full game upfront)

    Number 2 is my main concern with episodic content. Your game has to be absolutely brilliant if you want return customers. The problem is a lot of your work (especially with an RPG) will go into the first episode - developing your world, the "base" art and sound, etc. If for whatever reason your game isn't successfull (like the large majority if I understand correctly) you are going to have a problem. You would have already done all the development work to get the project going, you would have lost out of money, because if you released the game in one go, you might have made $20 out of each sale, instead of $5 or $10. Also, if the first episode wasn't good enough, you won't be able to convince people to get the second episode, no matter how good it is.

    Episodic content is a big gamble, especially for indies. I feel most people buying indie games won't be interested in buying a game in episode format. Very few games can support this sort of distribution - an RPG (as you mentioned) or something like DROD (an excellent game). The problem with this type of game is that it has a very small user base compared to something like Fairies or any other match 3 game. You probably also won't get any portals to accept it, especially if it's sold as episodes, so most likely won't get the volumes or exposure.

    Lastly - assuming your game is at the top of it's class - if you release it in episode format, even then you'll have to do something pretty special to get most people to buy all the episodes. Heck, I predict even Sin: Episodes, which is a large, big-budget game will have only a fraction of the sales of the first episode when it reaches number 10, if they ever finish (due to the project being cancelled, due to low sales).
     
  14. MikeRozak

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    I'm working on a virtual world (MMORPG) development kit that's a bit different from the norm. See http://www.mxac.com.au/mif. It can also be used to produce a single-player CRPG or adventure game. Of course, you could create episodes.

    But here's the neat thing, and an idea you might want to apply to your own CRPG code...

    The MMORPG part will automatically download content (models, textures, sounds, etc.) as they're needed. This means that a user only needs an initial 30 MB download, but as they wander around the world, bits and pieces will be downloaded. A user who goes through the entire game might end up with 100MB-1GB downloaded.

    This is a nice feature from the user's POV since they don't have to download as much to get playing, and if they try the game and discard it after 10 minutes, they haven't spent all day downloading 1 GB.

    Since most users are just browsing, and will give up playing after 10-60 minutes, this is advantageous for the author too, since it reduces download costs.

    Now here's the icing on the cake... If (almost) all of the MMORPG space is instanced, the game feels like a single player game, since each player has a copy of their own world. (Like Guild Wars or D&D online.) However, it still uses the data-on-demand feature, reducing the initial user download size, as well as data costs.

    And there's another advantage: If users play online, the author can secretly watch what they do, and fine-tune the game as appropriate.
     

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