Gaming Companies Release Episodic Games to Squeeze Money Out of Fans

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Square Enix recently announced that two of its new games are going to be episodic. “Final Fantasy VII” and “Hitman” will both be released in separate chunks over time. However, the process is very different for both games, and I’m skeptical about calling either one “episodic.”

Square Enix decided that in order to capture the scope of Final Fantasy VII, the game will be divided into several $60 games. I feel this makes sense, considering the original game came with three discs and hundreds of hours of gameplay. But the move to divide the game up like this is new to me. It’s one continuous story split over several full-length games.

Some are comparing this to the layout of the Final Fantasy XIII series, which used the same characters over three games. The story and gameplay were unique to each game, however, making Final Fantasy XIII-2 and “Lightning Returns” feel more like separate games strewn together under the same title, much like a sequel. A better comparison would be “The Witcher” series, in which the story is already established by the books and the gameplay only changes slightly with each new increment. Yet we still regard these games as sequels, even distinguishing the titles as “The Witcher 2” and “The Witcher 3.”

We don’t know if the gameplay will change with each new game for Final Fantasy VII, so there’s really two ways to think of the game. Perhaps it would be better to think of this game simply as a $180 game that will be told over multiple discs. But the game could also feel like several slightly different games, appearing as sequels, as opposed to episodes.

Square Enix’s new Hitman game will be released in an episodic format too, but it’s a little different. Previously the game was marketed as a full $60 game. Now it’s being said that you can buy the game in chunks and that the entirety of the game will still be $60. The new Hitman game seems to be following a different direction, that of the episodic Telltale Games’ formula. Telltale Games distributes small episodes of games from famous series like “Game of Thrones” and “The Walking Dead.”

Hitman is not a story game. Square Enix even tried to make Hitman into a story game with “Hitman Absolution,” and it did not turn out well. Which leaves me confused. Will this game be episodic in that it will be heavily story-based? Considering the content Square Enix has shown off in trailers, the game possesses no story. What it does possess are seemingly massive levels. What, then, does this episodic release mean? Considering they’re still claiming that the full game (all the episodes) will remain $60, it’s hard to say.

The only thing I can think of that makes sense is that Square Enix is looking at “Destiny,” seeing how Ubisoft is able to squeeze out hundreds of dollars from its fans, who continually purchase new content for the same game. By releasing most of the game for a low price, let’s say 30 percent of the game for $20, they can release three episodes, call it a full season, and if the game is successful they begin rolling out new episodes for the same $20 price tag. In this way, the title of “episodic” is simply a mask to disguise that this is just a variation of the DLC and micro transaction business that were quickly moving towards. The reality is that to release a full game for $60 is no longer a business safe strategy. Granted, it never was, but in the competitive market of mobile gaming, businesses are often struggling to compete thanks to the development costs for “next gen” games and are trying to make extra cash wherever they can.

letters@chronicle.utah.edu

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