As gamers, we’ve grown quite accustomed to taking calculated risks. Not only do video games cost significantly more than other forms of visual entertainment, they often compel users to invest a significant amount of their free time playing. In so long as the game in question lives up to its hype, gamers do not generally mind shelling out the extra cash, but more often than not heavily marketed games fail to live up to their lofty expectations. Thus, new models emerged, episodic gaming among them.
Take for example the newly debuted and critically acclaimed The Walking Dead: The Game. Based off a widely popular TV serial drama and comic book of the same name, Telltale Games’ latest product hopes to draw gamers in through a low price point and dynamic gameplay. Gamers interested in the series are only asked to spend a modest $5 on the first episode. If it doesn’t suit their needs, they’re out a paltry sum of money – significantly less than if they opted to purchase a highly touted yet deeply flawed Triple-A title. However, if they are enthralled by the first episode, they’ll inevitably come back for more.
The success of episodic games is almost exclusively dependent on the strength of their story. Similarly to how moviegoers must be given a reason to revisit an existing franchise, gamers will only purchase subsequent titles if the story coerces them to do so. Thus, series like The Walking Dead will potentially thrive under the new model because it both offers players interesting choices and is based off a widely popular TV series known for its captivating plots and deep characterization. That’s not to say that gameplay isn’t paramount to securing new fans, but a game completely devoid of story would likely fail if released level by level. It would seem rather silly to purchase a segment of a Super Mario Brothers game each week.
How well The Walking Dead will series translate into an episodic game is yet to be seen, but given the low price point and relatively insignificant time commitment required to finish an episode, it is exponentially more likely that on-the-fence gamers will give The Walking Dead: The Game a shot as an episodic game as opposed to a full-featured one.
While certainly more than a fad, it would be hasty to declare that episodic gaming is the future. For more casual gamers it will be an alternative, and for those who enjoy serial dramas it will be an excuse to play video games. Some will succeed and others will fail – this is the way of things – but because they require gamers to take virtually no risk, episodic games will inevitably find their niche within the industry.