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Epic's Mark Rein Not an Episodic Fan 55

Next Generation reports on comments by Epic Games VP Mark Rein, a man who doesn't like the phenomenon of episodic content. At the Develop Conference in Brighton, England he railed against the trend in game design during a keynote speech. He also covered topics such as the costs of next-gen game design, and the ways in which Intel has done disservice to the game development community. From the article: "He said that episodic games could never compete will full-priced products. 'They're competing against massive marketing budgets. Distribution without marketing is worthless. You can't buy retail marketing with a wholesale price of $15.' He added, 'Full-price games have a cohesive start, middle and end.' Rein acknowledged that the game industry already has an episodic model through game sequels, such as Madden, Zelda and Final Fantasy. He said these work because they are full-price and backed by marketing."
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Epic's Mark Rein Not an Episodic Fan

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  • The BBC version of this story was entitled, "Game Industry faces Serial Killer." (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/5168320.stm ) For the life of me, I thought Jack Thompson had gone on a killing spree. They also had a story, "Brain Sensor allows mind-control," which was referring to controlling things with your mind, not controlling someone else's mind.
  • Mostly right (Score:3, Interesting)

    by andrewman327 ( 635952 ) on Wednesday July 12, 2006 @04:34PM (#15708147) Homepage Journal
    I believe that there is room for the little episodic developer, though it is shrinking daily. Sports games (like TFA's Madden) will continue, as there is a distinct point after which the data from the old game becomes invalid (after the season). Even without massive amounts of marketing, there are still people (like me) who go out of our way to look for any promising title, not just the one's I've already heard about. I appreciate the effort that goes into these games, and I do not have time to justify paying recurring subscriptions to an MMORPG.
  • I like the option of episodic games on the market though not for a reason that game companies would appreciate. Half the games I buy only hold my attention for a few levels and episodic content gives me enough of a feel for the game that it doesnt take as much for me to feel as I have gotten my moneys worth. OTOH, the few that I have played were good enough to make me want to get the next chapter.

    I think what this really comes down to is that without hype only good games will survive, perhaps that is more
    • "especially since Epic has been rereleaseing the same crap in its unreal franchise for the past 8 years."

      What? Don't you see it has more POLYGONS. And those shader effects? The new booming announcer voice yelling "SICK!"?

      To be fair Unreal has added game types with each release but these are mostly just to play catch up (see the assault mode vs BF1942 style of play). At least it's a good basis for mods.

      But oh boy am I sick of some of those old cliffyb maps.
    • Publishers will look at the numbers and say "100,000 people bought episode one, but only 40,000 bought episode two, three and four - if we had packaged all of those together and charged four times as much we would have twice the revenue!"

      They're (probably) wrong, but you know they'll think that way.
  • by Turn-X Alphonse ( 789240 ) on Wednesday July 12, 2006 @04:46PM (#15708238) Journal
    Episodes are just a buzzword and we need to stop listening to it. For years PCs have had expansion packs, these usually continued the story or did a side story. How is this any different than episodic content?

    And before anyone says "but this is continueing the same story, so it's new!!", Diablo 2's expansion pack did just that.

    Stop buying into this crappy hype and open your eyes. It's the same thing we've had since the 80s (at least) with a new name to make the headlines.
    • The thing with expansion packs is this: the full retail game usually offered closure, if it didn't, people were dissatisfied and especially dissatisfied if it didn't offer closure by the next iteration. Expansion packs may have continued the story of the previous but you could still be satisfied with playing the original game on its own. Not necessarily as much the case with episodic content. I won't bash them however, they have their pluses asnd minuses and we will see where the market takes them. I do th
    • Wolfenstein 3d (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Jakhel ( 808204 )
      Taking this a step further, I remember back when the original wolfenstein 3d came out, you could play the shareware (remember shareware?) version, then choose to buy the next bit of it, and after finishing that, then buy the final portion of the game. They were literally called episodes.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wolfenstein_3D [wikipedia.org]

      I remember this being done for several computer games of that time.

      The only difference is you couldn't download the episodes, and if you were from a small town you had to order the
      • All games used that at the height of the shareware era. Yes, even Epic Megagames (Jazz Jackrabbit had 6 episodes, for example, although for most games 3 was the norm). Later on episodes stopped being sold one at a time and complete game packages became more common.
    • The difference is that with episodic content there is no base game to expand, it's like you're only buying expansions. It is new, because if Diablo 2 had been episodic, they would have sold every act separately.
      • Are you saying that there is no Half-Life 2 and they just went to the first expansion pack? As far as I know only Valve is pushing the episodic content, though I wish the makers of Prey had ($50 for 4 hours of gameplay... now thats a rip off).
        • HL2 is more of an exception, and the episodes are supposed to replace HL3. The Sin episodes is a good example of episodic content.

          You completed Prey in 4 hours? And I thought Q4 was bad with it's miniscule 6 hours of gameplay!
          • "You completed Prey in 4 hours? And I thought Q4 was bad with it's miniscule 6 hours of gameplay!"

            There are usually these settings you can change that make the game longer, I think they call them "difficulty".

            The higher you set this the longer the game will take, although your mouse and keyboard might not survive the repeated bashing and trips across the room into a wall...YMMMV (your mouse milage might vary)
    • Best of all, I recall buying a game called "Unreal: Return to Pa Nali" as part of the Unreal Gold pack a few years ago.

      It's funny, Mark Rein didn't hate "episodes" when they were making money for Epic...

      And before the nitpickers come out of the woodwork... Yes, I know RTPN was made by Digital Extremes, not Epic. It still built off of Unreal, and it was packed into Unreal Gold, which WAS an Epic moneymaker.
  • by Dr. Eggman ( 932300 ) on Wednesday July 12, 2006 @04:48PM (#15708256)
    Episodic games can't compete against the mega bucks marketeers like EA can bring to the table? I had a hearty laugh! In a market as closly tied to technologies like the internet, word of mouth will always be king. It doesn't hurt that internet distribution of episodic content makes advertising cheaper too.

    When I put down a game, I pick up a new one too. But with years of development between the one I put down and it's sequel, the chances are a lot less that the game I pick up is going to be one of yours. I happen to think that recycled content is a symptom of uncreative developers, something that happens is games already anyways. Maybe buyers will wise up faster in episodic and not tolerate that crap so much and then the real creative developers can increase their market share.
  • by krell ( 896769 ) on Wednesday July 12, 2006 @04:49PM (#15708265) Journal
    "You can't buy retail marketing with a wholesale price of $15.' He added, 'Full-price games have a cohesive start, middle and end."

    I usually wait about 8 months for that $49 game I want to go down to $9.99 at Gamestop. Best Buy, Software Etc, etc... And these are the (formerly) full-price games that have a cohesive start, middle, and end. Even if the end is just like John Dvorak described: when it all comes down to the end of the game, you have to fight a giant bug.
  • 1. Make incomplete game
    2. Release first pasrt of incomplete game as full version
    3. Profit!
    4. Release final portion of game later as an 'episode'.
    5. Profit!
  • Cynicism meters (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Jerf ( 17166 ) on Wednesday July 12, 2006 @05:03PM (#15708375) Journal
    What sets my cynicism meters a-twitchin' is that episodic content seems ultimately to derive from the game companies desires to turn periodic purchases into purchase streams. I've yet to see a case where a company turns something that is naturally a periodic purchase into a stream and actually benefit the consumer more than leaving it alone. You can't create revenue streams by corporate fiat. If you want streams, you're going to need to offer products that are naturally streams, live "server access" (MMORPGS) or other such things.

    Against the little problem of "I don't think they have a customer-benefitting reason to exist", all the other problems pale into insignificance.

    (Note: I speak of generalities. It's great that you love episodic content, but you are not the totality of the game market. Are gamers as a whole really clamoring to be nickle-and-dimed to death, especially when that saying translates to $5-$10?)
  • I like the idea of shorter, cheaper games. most games have about 3-4 hours of interesting, challenging gameplay, the rest of the crap is just 'package stuffing' to make it last 12 hours. that's why we have jumping puzzles in FPS games!
  • by Rifter13 ( 773076 ) on Wednesday July 12, 2006 @05:39PM (#15708663) Homepage
    There is room for blockbusters, and Episodic content. I think Rein is wrong, there. But, the episodic content will be built on engines like the Doom, Source, or Unreal engine. The blockbusters or bigger games, that come from Epic or iD or Valve, will have the time and money invested in an engine AND a game. While, a small publisher, like Ritual will take the engine, and develop an episode on it. I DO kind of find Valve jumping into Episodic content, odd. I think it is a good fit for Ritual.

    Where Episodic content reigns surpreme, is to create a more constant revenue stream for smaller developers. Spending 3 or 4 years building a game can REALLY tax resources. If you can divide that by 2, or even 4, all of the sudden you have a shorter development time, and can start making money. The other advantage I think that episodic content gives you, is the ability to have a nimble storyline. Developers can add cool new "features" to test the water. If it goes well, future episodes can get that feature. If it falls flat on its face, well, they don't have to include it in the next release. Ultimately, as consumers, we ALL win, with multiple styles of game creations. Think of episodic content as those short summer run TV shows on the cable channels. They are entertaining, and short. That is a good thing.

    I DO think that Mark hit the nail on the head, when it comes to marketting though. Valve can get away with producing an episode, and realsing it retail. I don't think a lot of that type of content will be distributed on physical medium. There are a LOT of people that do not like "virtual" assets. It also makes it more difficult to sell a "used" game, if you just downloaded it. Episodic contnet is in its infancy. I think it is an exciting concept, and I expect more innovation to come from that type of content, than I will from EA/Vivendi/Activision, and their much more costly (in terms of time AND money) blockbuster hits.
  • The second page of the story is 12 bullet points and the following paragraph which is hardly controversial:

    He also accused Intel of killing the PC games market
    with its integrated graphics laptops and desktops.
    "Intel is evil, we need to kick its ass. ...
    The difference in price in offering better graphics
    chips is negligible. You couldn't buy a meal for
    that price [difference]. We're talking five bucks."

  • by Lord_Dweomer ( 648696 ) on Wednesday July 12, 2006 @06:22PM (#15708942) Homepage
    Episodic gaming is BAAAD as I have previously discussed in detail in my previous posts here, [slashdot.org]here [slashdot.org] and here [slashdot.org].
  • by WidescreenFreak ( 830043 ) on Wednesday July 12, 2006 @06:53PM (#15709125) Homepage Journal
    I see nothing wrong with episodic content as long as its applicable to the game. I don't think that most games would do well in an episodic format, but for some games it might work, depending on the genre, cost, and time between releases. Graphic adventures are probably the best suited to this.

    Small developers certainly can use episodic releases to their advantage. For example, if a small developer waited to release the whole thing and the game was releases with a ton of bugs or other issues that gamers don't like, the company is dead, and the customer is pissed that he spent $50 on a bug-ridden piece of shit, e.g. Ultima: Ascension. (I'm not saying that U:A would have worked in an episodic format, mind you. NOTHING could have saved it from the completely irresponsible ways that EA managed that project.)

    At least with episodic content, the developers can get a bit of money up front to keep them going and the gamers get the opportunity to say, "Well, here's where you had problems" or "I didn't like..." and the developers can fix the issue or make changes based on user feedback into the next episode. Meanwhile, the customer only spent $15 or so. So the remaining episodes could be tweaked to implement the fixes/changes with less egg on the developers' faces than if they released the whole game with the same bugs and problems for 3x the price or more.

    Personally, the anti-episodic attitudes that I read about seem to stem more from a selfish "I want it and I want it ALL NOW!!!" attitude that doesn't help anyone.

    And need I remind you that PJ's Lord of the Rings trilogy was episodic with two books released in movie format every year. (LotR was actually six books, not three.) Yet no one seemed to bitch about how that was handled. I never heard anyone complain that PJ should have finished all three, then released them. But video games, which are no more or less of an entertainment medium, are held to a completely different standard. Interesting.
    • Books are not games. Remember this before you start to compare them. Different crowds.

      Also you pointed out why I don't like episodic content. I have no problem with short doses (infact it means you get the fun-hyperactive-brand-new-game-feeling 3-5 times more so it means you enjoy the game more and grind to the end less. But my problem is exactly what you pointed out, the fanbase has too much power.

      Lets go nuts here and say we look at the FF7 fanbase, if they got their way they'd just want a remake of FF7 a
    • Actually, LoTR was originally only ONE book. The publisher told Tolkien that it was too big and that he had to cut it. Tolkien just took the number of pages and divided roughly by three (which is why vol. 1 and 2 ends weirdly. Vol 1's doesn't have any sense of closure as it ends in the MIDDLE of an action scene, [Boromir he dies in the first chapters of volume 2], volume 1 ends just abruptly). As for episodic games, the thing is completely different than a book. Books usually have closure between it's vol
  • You market the original title extremely well, then the rest is all gravy. If your game is good, gamers will flock to the next episodes until it gets bland. Regardless, he doesn't have a leg to stand on. He assumes by default that episodes won't be properly marketed. Whose to say a company can't market each episode well?
  • He said that episodic games could never compete will full-priced products. 'They're competing against massive marketing budgets. Distribution without marketing is worthless. You can't buy retail marketing with a wholesale price of $15.' He added, 'Full-price games have a cohesive start, middle and end.' Rein acknowledged that the game industry already has an episodic model through game sequels, such as Madden, Zelda and Final Fantasy. He said these work because they are full-price and backed by marketing.

  • Mark's a nice guy but I have to call him out on this:

    "Rein acknowledged that the game industry already has an episodic model through game sequels, such as Madden, Zelda and Final Fantasy."

    Odd to think he didn't mention the Unreal series, which if you count Unreal, the Unreal expansion pack, Unreal 2, Unreal Tournament, Unreal Tournament 2003, Unreal Tournament 2004, and the up-coming Unreal Tournament 2006, has had more releases than Zelda or Final Fantasy in the past several years.
    • Odd to think he didn't mention the Unreal series, which if you count Unreal, the Unreal expansion pack, Unreal 2, Unreal Tournament, Unreal Tournament 2003, Unreal Tournament 2004, and the up-coming Unreal Tournament 2006, has had more releases than Zelda or Final Fantasy in the past several years.

      Damn, got me all excited, but alas, I think you meant http://www.ut2007.com/ [ut2007.com]

    • In all fairness Ut2007(i belive thats what you meant by 6?) doesnt ship for a while yet. Though you could argue that there was also Unreal Championship 1 and 2.
  • I believe Mark Snoodlegrass said something very similar about episodic television:

    "I've heard a lot of insane talk about episodic content. Very little of it makes any actual sense. It's a broken business.

    Customers are supposed to watch half the story, then wait a week for the next episode? When I watch a show, I want to watch a new one. Episodic shows will inevitably be using a lot of recycled content, walking through the same sets and filming the same characters with the same actors.

    They're competing again

    • The point of Episodic content is to sell you on the characters and story. THis has been a long raging debate in the game industry, as to whether story has ANYTHING to do with the creation and promotion of decent game. Personally I like stories in which I can develop characters and then transfer them to the next "episode", but they're rare, and they require a type of "retcon" (as the comic biz calls it) because characters and scores tend to get so high that starting characters can't compete with these autom
  • This is exactly the sort of blockbuster-obsessed thinking that is currently strangling the industry, making the barrier of entry too high for small companies, and ultimately stifling innovation. The "blockbuster" line of thinking gives us thrilling games like "NFL Roster Update 2006." Whee.

    The cost of game production is increasing faster than the revenue being made from games. The reason so many companies are currently investigating episodic content is because they are desperate for alternative models --

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