Even more amazing, with the introduction of internet compatible consoles, we no longer had to rely on the cartridge we purchased being the final product. Game developers no longer moved from completed project to completed project, but spend hundreds of hours developing and redefining games that already existed. Direct contact through social media, reviews, and forums allow a brand new, never before seen connection between fans and creators, giving and almost democratic popular vote to a people who never before had a voice in the industry they were so devoted to.
In an effort to keep with the times, developers have begun reshaping the way they release their games. With games like Destiny and the Witcher III, we’ve begun to see the development and release of subsequent expansions of the game, growing the culture and world. Console games began to look more and more like our old PC MMORPGs, patches for games looking completely new rather than mere glitch fixes.
While the growing and changing market shaped these progressions in an easy-to-track timeline, a few unexpected branches have also started growing from these roots. The beginnings of complete, 100% consumer driven products began popping up on Indiegogo and Kickstarter; consumers suddenly had the power to halt game development in its tracks, choosing products based on interest and merit rather than studio names. It broadened our horizons to include independent developers without a marketing team to get on equal footing to the big-named monolithic releases.
The news of Final Fantasy VII’s highly anticipated re-release has introduced us to yet another, even stranger, upgrade stirring in the market: episodes. While episodic games aren’t brand new, mainstream, big-named gaming giants have never used this particular release style ever before. Square Enix announced that the game will be split into tiny, marketable chapters, mostly likely sold as individual episodes for a small price, or a “season pass” that allows you to pay up front. It’s one of the most positive developments the gaming industry has seen for hardcore gamers, newbies to the gaming world, and studios alike
It Keeps Gamers Engaged in Long Term Projects.
Since the consumer than can download the sections as they are released, it expands the timeline. The recently resurrected Sierra Games used this method for their release of the newest addition to the King’s Quest series, a series that last released a game in 1998, releasing each episode for a small portion of the total price or a season pass to save you a few dollars by buying all five chapters in bulk. This kind of slow release schedule gives a flexibility to the developers without straining their resources, preventing long delays in releases for big projects.
Watchdogs was a game that could have benefited from the slow release of episodes. Hype was high for a new hacking-style game with Metal Gear-style stealth missions. The initial release date was November 19th of 2013, which was pushed back. Then pushed back again. The game was delayed by whole months, and that’s not even the worst of them. Delays can last years. Pushed back release days, delayed content and watered-down versions of promised games are commonplace (we’re looking at you, Destiny). Episodes can help alleviate the strain of impossible deadlines while still keeping big, sweeping worlds and stories from being shredded down to shadows of their former selves.
Episodes Give the Developer Time to Respond to Negative Feedback
This particular model gives Sierra and Square Enix both an edge never before seen in the market. With pressure building on ever smaller developing studios to release even more complicated and broader worlds while still staying in budget, the episodic releases give the studios more freedom and broader timelines while still holding dear the very vocal fans of their titles. This system will give the developers time to react to negative and positive feedback alike while still in the process of world building, making huge patches after release a thing of the past.
Giving the Consumers Just a Taste
This system seems to be beneficial to the consumer as well. Dividing the game into several pieces will not only allow gamers to taste each game without diving in headfirst and possibly throwing away $70 to $100. It’ll make titles more accessible to those with small budgets and those unwilling to throw down that much money on a title they might not love.
Distributing the base game over long periods of time will keep players engaged, glitches to a minimum, and will drive consumer interest over long developmental periods. While waiting for the next chapter of a game can be a little harrowing, especially when some of us have been waiting for this Final Fantasy VII remake for 15 years, it builds a tighter relationship between consumer and developer. That can only mean good things for us gamers in the future.