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Episodic Content: New Idea Or Just A New Way Of Ripping Us Off?

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Remember when EA announced that they will be releasing new content for Battlefield 2? Remember 5 seconds later when you found out that you were gonna pay $10 for a few new maps? I sure was shocked. Until then developers and publishers supported their games not only by making patches and fixing the bugs (something EA still hasn’t learned) but by providing additional content free of charge. That was their way of saying “thanks for buying the game.”

It was mostly Valve that continued to make free content for the players. Maps, updates, mods etc.

Now it seems that Valve has joined EA, at least to some extent. Let me explain. You have a game and you count on, say, 20 hours of gameplay time and the game retails at $50. If you split up that game into three episodes of five-six hours and charge $20-$25, it’s a much better business than before. Not so hard to understand.

That’s what happened to Half Life 2: Aftermath, in my opinion. It used to be Aftermath. Now Valve has split up the expansion pack into at least two episodes (Episode 1 is out in a month or so) of five hours of gameplay. How long before Valve begins to charge for new Counter-Strike maps, if they continue down this road? It wouldn’t take long for Valve to lose the respect of the community like EA did with the boosterpacks.

It makes perfect business sense; the marketing departments must feel like real geniuses at this point. But with the boosterpacks from EA (and the lack of support) I swore never to buy another game from them. I hope I won’t be adding Valve to that list in a few months.

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  • http://www.booklinker.blogspot.com Deano

    There are a number of different takes on the issue. From a business side, it allows publishers to place the product on the shelves multiple times over a one-or two year period, thus, as you’ve noted churning out additional revenue, and building and sustaining the brand. The added bonus is that it would flatten the revenue curve and make your financial situation, both as a publisher and as a retailer, a more stable one.

    The gaming industry is very cyclical and competitive, with turnover being the primary driving force – don’t turn copies-> your product is heading straight to the remaindered bin. Popular titles like Half-Life or Counter-Strike probably can turn over multiple episodic based on their numbers but other, unproven games won’t find it effective. There are a number of costs associated with churning out three “episodes” a year – namely production, packaging, promotion etc. The high cost of marketing would probably negate the profit multiples associated with episodic titles fairly rapidly except for a few sustainable recognizable brands.

    Offering new game mods and levels is a proven successful practice – the half-Life genre demosntrates it quite aptly with multiple variations on the same game being rolled out, not just sequels.

    The other hidden aspect is that episodic content would probably discourage developers from releasing editing and level creation tools with the products. Mods have extended and expanded the product life of multiple gaming titles over the years but if you are planning an episodic release, the last thing as a publisher you probably want to see is that episodic market getting hijacked by free level maps that don’t really drive your direct revenues. This would, I suspect, be a serious impediment to gamers as much of the most creative, innovative level design in recent years has come directly out of the fanbase using mod tools and level editors.

    New mods and levels have a proven ability to extend the lifespan of a game (and in some cases – namely Counterstrike – to spin off as a utterly new game. Episodic game release strategies directly target and compete against this type of activity and, I suspect, will in the long-run hurt the publishers profits.