Joseph Conrad, Arthur Conan Doyle and Charles Dickens are famous authors of novels in the English language. But they have more than that in common because all three wrote episodically for periodicals such as newspapers and magazines. They created a fantastic “buzz” with this. These episodes would then, later, be put together in one volume to make the novel. There is nothing to stop us doing something similar with games.
Having been involved with episodic content I can tell you that it is brilliant for marketing. You get several bites of the cherry, there is a high level of anticipation and interest in the community and with journalists for each episode. This extends the life of the game in everybody’s conciousness keeping it selling for much longer. Then when all the episodes are completed you can release a special gold edition containing every episode. You end up making more money.
But there are advantages other than marketing. You can release the game much earlier, before it is completed, or even when most of the content hasn’t been written. For instance you could introduce an F1 game at the beginning of the season with just the first circuit on it. Then as each of the other 20ish races comes up on the calendar you can release the appropriate circuit. So at launch you only need to have completed a twentieth of the circuits. A great advantage of this approach is that the game is in smaller chunks making it easier to sell and distribute online, cutting out the cost and bother of all that plastic and carboard. Even nicer is that you can use it as an anti piracy tool. You can make each download so it only works with a genuine, paid for game. More than that you can bury additional anti piracy into each episode. We did this with Operation Flashpoint and experienced a sales spike after each new episode was released as people with conterfeit copies were forced to go out and buy the legitimate product. We are talking about many tens of thousands of extra sales gained this way.
Best of all is the involvement of the community. They can vote for what they want to see in future content, you can send them perfectly valid newsletters with the latest news and there will be a high level of input on the game forum. And of course episodic content dovetails nicely with user generated content which I have already written about here: Web 2.0 and the games industry ostriches
Of course the ultimate is when you have a valid, working email address for every, serial numbered, copy of the game. Then you have enormous community power and enormous marketing power. You also have zero piracy. Customers will download free content promised as part of the game. But you can also come up with extra, paid for, content which will sell like crazy with no marketing costs. This is a powerful position to be in and after a few games you will have massive email lists running to millions of gamers worldwide that you can market directly to at the press of a button.
So have you tried episodic content, or would you like to give it a try? Maybe you think it is over rated and not worth all the work. Whatever you think, stick your comments below. Other, diverse, views really enrich the quality of these articles.