Quality over quantity: Episodic video games

With the season finale of Telltale Games’ excellent “The Wolf Among Us” finally out, it’s apparent that episodic video games have once again taken a place in the industry. Telltale Games works almost exclusively with this format.

The developer’s most well-known titles, “The Walking Dead: Season One,” “The Walking Dead: Season Two” and “The Wolf Among Us,” have five episodes released bi-monthly. With this schedule, the developer can create a sustainable engine, apply it to each episode and focus on character development and story.

The result has been staggering. “The Walking Dead” is an emotional gut-punch through and through and the world of Fabletown in “The Wolf” is endlessly fascinating. This is also thanks in part to the excellent source material Telltale has worked with — Robert Kirkman’s comic “The Walking Dead” and Bill Willingham’s comic “Fables.”

Unsuccessfully, Valve attempted this episodic model with the releases of “Half-Life 2: Episode One” and “Episode Two,” with “Episode Three” so absent and under-wraps that it’s become a bitter joke in the industry.

One of the bigger problems with episodic video games when they first arose was price. After buying all the episodes to a series the cost might exceed what a gamer would pay for a new full game. With the advent of the “Season Pass” system, wherein players pay something like $24.99 for all current and future episodes, this problem is all but solved.

Adding wait time between releases also adds a new dimension to the games. With TV shows having their own forums and subreddits on Reddit, viewers from all around the world can gather after an episode airs and speculate on and critique the series.

Rather than speculating on or critiquing an 8-20 hour experience like “Spec-Ops: The Line,” gamers can discuss on an episode-to-episode basis, engineering hype for the next installment. Combine this with Telltale’s signature approach, “the story is tailored by how you play,” and players get a myriad of different stories, paths and choices elucidated on release day. Waiting is one of the best tools for gamers and developers alike. A little breathing time between experiences is essential to the experience. And what an experience playing a well-crafted game is.

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Buy into the episodic experience. It’s well worth the price and will keep you entertained for days to come.