With episode one’s release of Hitman and the soon-to-be release of Final Fantasy VII Remake, it appears that Square Enix wants to follow an episodic trend, especially after the success of point-and-click butterfly effect story Life is Strange that completed its series of episodes last year in October.
From what we’ve seen, the reason isn’t in making an extra buck. Hitman, for example, that just released its first episode March 11 of this year, is a $60 game that will be divided up into six different parts, each part being $10 and thus equaling the full game’s price. This isn’t a money grabbing venture, so why? There are a number of factors to consider.
Money, but not Greed
While companies may not charge extra for dividing the game up, financial reasons are definitely an important factor in deciding to make the game episodic, especially for smaller developers like The Odd Gentlemen (King’s Quest) and DontNod (Life is Strange.) Companies can use the money from each release on finishing up later chapters and adjusting the game as the developers receive feedback. With DontNod needing public funding to even start making the game, chunks of money throughout the process definitely helped them in finishing.
Of course, this can also be a game’s weakness. If part one doesn’t sell well and the developers are counting on the money to continue, future episodes may not happen if sales aren’t what they expect, especially if this episodic trend continues and more companies try to follow suit.
There’s no way that Hitman’s strange preorder packages in December and Io Interactive’s sudden cancellation of preorders shortly after were anything but game completion issues. Originally, Io Interaction bundled the first three countries of France, Italy, and Morocco together for the initial release. Now, after rearranging the game structure, players only get the prologue mission and France for the first part of the game, each country following separately after. I could be wrong, but it seems likely that Io Interactive wasn’t finished with their original introductory package and needed to adjust.
That’s not a bad thing, though, especially when fan outrage usually accompanies any delay for an upcoming game. The same would’ve happened with Hitman, but by breaking it up even further, the company avoided that and the creative team gets a more compact and focused work schedule.
Some games need to stay home and rest a wee bit more before coming out to play. There are so many patches and fixes that come out for games lately – and a ton of negative feedback for small adjustments that could be made to gameplay, characters, exploration, etc — that it seems like the game should’ve been delayed instead of released. With feedback between episodes, it’s possible to improve on certain aspects of the game.
However, this could mean more time between releases, and then possibly leading to player dissatisfaction.
For games such as The Walking Dead, Alan Wake, and Life is Strange, one of the main reasons is narrative. These games present the story in similar arks as a television show would, with cliffhangers and rising/falling action galore. This reason is for creative purposes and with Telltale Games’ success, it’s as good a reason as any.
Normally, with a standalone game, the most enthusiastic of fans will buy the game and beat it within the next few days or week, depending on the length of the game. They’ll finish it, geek out or gripe about it, and then wait for the rest to finish the game in the coming months. And then interest usually peters out until Game of the Year discussions or crazy cool DLC comes out.
With episodic releases, the game will continue to come out throughout the year and the interest will fluctuate with the releases instead of petering out after the one release.
Depending on the type of player, this could be a downfall. For those that binge video games the same way they binge House of Cards, episodic releases could be a very irritating and may cause disinterest in the game if the chapters are too far apart. In releasing each section, developers need to be careful because excitement for the next installment could quickly turn to impatience.
The Exceptional Case of the Final Fantasy VII Remake
As much as some fans protest it, this game will most definitely be in different parts. Yoshinori Kitase, director of the original Final Fantasy VII and contributor once again, even had to write a placating defense as to why the team made the choice to convert to multiple parts.
This is its own section because outside of the remake, which I know the team is making as best as they can and will be fantastic when they finish, this will probably be one of the last RPGs that’ll be episodic. With sidequests, level-grinding, and ridiculously expansive worlds, breaking up that flow between each would sever the usual fluidity of exploration and events that make up RPGs. The genre won’t transfer well for future installments.
But this game will be completely different. It will be massive and in order to fit all of the cities, sidequests, and narrative, it has to be episodic. It’s going to be a completely new game with familiar faces, but it’s going to expand on the story and bring even more of the world into the playing experience.
So while Final Fantasy VII Remake needs to be episodic, and other games benefit from that format, will more games follow suit and continue the trend? We’ll see, but with the completion of a AAA episodic game near the end of the year, Hitman will definitely tell us whether the this will work for games outside of the puzzle-adventure genre. If the format does really well for the game then more will probably follow and we may have more than just a trend on our hands.