Episodic content is nothing new to the universe of video games. When done well, episodic gaming can tell a story in a riveting and complete way. However, they pose a tremendous risk to any developer because they have to be maintained and cultivated very thoughtfully and thoroughly.

From the developer’s standpoint they make sense. First, there is the financial side of it. Season passes and paying per episode help fund development for future content. This is especially beneficial for indie and emerging developers. Being able to profit from the game before the release of it in totality constitutes a savvy business model. Second, the gaps in the release dates allow designers to focus on each part of the story, generating more detail and complexity that help weave a more convincing and enthralling narrative. That narrative in turn rewards the players loyalty and patience. It makes the player feel that the game developers care about the audience and respect their intelligence. It creates the expectation the developer will tell them a story with so much texture it seems probable, likely even. The trap is, the episodic format is a delicate balance.

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Telltale Games has had a great deal of commercial success thanks to its The Walking Dead and Wolf Among Us game titles. These games are deeply complex, intelligent, and immersive. But for everything Telltale was able to accomplish in these games, their reputation is beginning to veer toward dangerous territory. Episode 1 of The Walking Dead season 2 was released on December 17th 2013. Telltale reports via Twitter  that episode 2 will be released in “early March” of this year. Episode 1 of The Wolf Among Us launched on October 11th, 2013 with episode 2 being released February 4th, 2014. It may be slightly strange to see years added on to the release dates, but it illustrates just how dramatic the distance between releases is. With Telltale taking nearly 3 months for The Walking Dead and 4 months for The Wolf Among Us, a gamer is left asking his or herself only one question: is it worth it? Telltale has earned the benefit of the doubt. Because they are producing some of the best storytelling in games in recent history they can keep gamers on the hook. But they could potentially find themselves facing a nasty situation if this trend continues.

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The Wolf Among Us recently got it’s second episode “Smoke and Mirrors” after a four month gap from the first episode.

I believe it is now Telltale’s responsibility to do something that isn’t likely: they have to outdo themselves. With the release of each successive episode they will not only have to maintain their level of quality, but they will also have to improve upon it. While all the episodes of the game are part of the bigger picture, the players experience only one part at a time and therefore each new episode may feel like a different game. If a player does not experience improvement between episodes, they may start to wonder why they should pay upfront, instead of waiting for the whole season to release. Telltale will have to fundamentally change the way they approach games if even as few as 2 or 3 episodes disappoint gamers. Because gamers are already pushing the limits of their patience they will tolerate less in terms of declining quality. This is because a downturn of quality of a few episodes is equivalent to 5-8 months of waiting. Something no one would (or should) tolerate. Especially if the product has already been bought.

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Moving forward, the situation does not look good. IGN reports that Telltale’s plan for it’s new Game of Thrones project will involve a “multi-year” collaboration between HBO and their studio. Not to mention Tales from the Borderlands Borderlands will be Telltale’s attempt to expand the story of Gearbox’s popular FPS franchise. Yet another large scale project. These are two new huge games  for Telltale to put under development, especially since they are working on TWD and TWAU as well. Since TWD and TWAU already face delays, adding Game of Thrones and Tales from the Borderlands to their current workload may not be the smartest decision for Telltale. How long will the releases have to be spread apart before customers give up on the concept? Before more is demanded of Telltale with each episode and people just stop buying in?

However, I sincerely hope that they don’t face this issue. Telltale weaves beautiful, artistic story lines that move us emotionally. They have created characters that we can connect to as individuals. These stories make us laugh, cry, and want to play their games to see how the lives of their characters change – for better or worse. Making great characters is potentially the single most challenging aspect of great writing, and I do not want to see Telltale’s quality decline because they are trying to keep up. What does it say for future projects when the fear is they are not capable of handling their current commitments? Telltale’s focus needs to be on completing projects that have already begun, maintaining their outstanding quality, and setting firm deadlines for episode release dates or their bubble will burst.  The success and respect they now enjoy is on the line from my point of view. If they can keep up with consumer demand and continue to deliver their same quality product, they will continue to succeed. Demanding is growing, though, and so is their workload. Let’s hope they can keep up.

 

About The Author

Editorial Writer

Cory has been gaming since he was 4 on the NES and later SNES, PlayStation, Xbox, PC, DS, Gameboy, pretty much whatever you put in front of him. He has a passion for smart and insightful games and love any story that has heart.