My name is Billy i.e the Fantastic Super Hobo!
I live in Ireland, a country devoid of all things in gaming, and as a member of the EU, one of the last places in the world to recieve most games.
Now Playing: - Final Fantasy 12
- Mass Effect
Favourite Games (OAT): - Bioshock
- Final Fantasy VII
- Final Fantasy VIII
- Mass Effect
- Dawn of War
- Warhammer: Shadow of the Horned Rat
- Battlefield 2
- Harvest Moon: BTN
- Pokemon Red/Blue/Yellow/Gold/Silver
- Super Mario Land
- Final Fantasy IX
As many of you are aware, I haven't been active here on Destructoid for quite a while. This was partly because of my lack of interest in a lot of games which had been coming out over the last couple of months particularly during the summer, but perhaps more due to my exhaustion with the industry in general. I literally burned out on gaming news. I was doing nearly as much work as a professional games journalist and getting none of the credit, not just here but on many other sites. Now I'm back.
I've just finished Fable II, well I say 'just', I actually finished it two days ago and have been wandering around looking for new stuff to do. I can't find anything. It wasn't as if I had blasted through the game. I've finished just about every side quest I have any interest in finishing and all in all, I've clocked up just over 24 hours of play. Twenty freakin hours? I get more than twenty hours out of Tetris! OK, I'm probably going to replay it just to see what it's like to be a completely evil/corrupt character and to get one or two achievements I've missed out on, but really and truly, for one of the most anticipated games of the year, this is completely unacceptable. Now I here that there's DLC in the works, well it had better be a completely new campaign and quite frankly, considering the money I spent on this game (€60), it had better shit golden eggs!
Now I'm not saying I didn't enjoy the game for what it was, it was a great game, really good. The main quest was well written and interesting, the characters were believable, the art style lovable and so on and so forth, and if the game had been even ten hours longer or had a few more random dungeons, I'd give it an A. Right now it gets a soft C for second hand.
So I pose the question to you, citizens of Destructoid. What now? What can I do with my copy of Fable II now that I've exhausted it's (rather lacking) resources?
It's just like a warned about in my blog post yesterday (boy am I psychic or what!), the mainstream has finally copped onto the opportunities which are provided by episodic gaming/delivery. It seems that Warner Bros. has licensed the Watchmen movie for a series of episodic games to be developed by Deadline Games (perhaps a portentious name?). Whether these will be good or bad remains to be seen, we have yet to see a screenshot or even a logo, but the fact remains: if Warner Bros knows about it, the world knows about it. I doubt it will be too long before we're seeing episodic Barbie at this stage. Okay... overreaction perhaps, but this quote by Samantha Ryan (Warner Bros exec of soem sort) doesn't exactly get me feeling all warm and fuzzy inside:
"We don't want a low-quality console game that will get lost at retail," said Warner big shot Samantha Ryan. "A downloadable game allows us to deliver the experience that fans expect."
What is she saying? They don't want low quality games to go to retail because they will get lost, so let's put them on Steam, PSN and Xbox Live. It allows them to deliver the experience we expect alright: Short, low quality and a quick cash in.
DISCLAIMER: I'm not saying that all Movie games are shit (I did like Spiderman 2), I'm not saying that these games WILL be shit, I'm not even saying that all episodic content will be shit from here on out. Confused? Read my previous post, linked at the top.
This whole concept of "Episodic Gaming" seems to have taken rather a turn into the mainstream of late, so maybe it's time we take a look at the reasons for it's success, the ways it fails and the ways it could be improved. In recent years we have seen the undeniable success (and justifiably so) of the Sam and Max series by Telltale Games, the upcoming Strong Bad series and of course the recently started Penny Arcade Adventures series. Of course these are far from the first games to use the concept of episodic delivery, they are among the first to popularise the genre (if one could call it that) outside of a niche market. The success of the Episodic gaming model brings forward a number of important questions though: Do they provide value for the consumer? Do they fulfill a real market need? Are they as fulfilling an experience?
The Great Value Hunt
When Telltale released the first episode of Sam and Max back in '06, they were building it on top of two important pillars:
- The relative success of the Bone games and the fact that this engine was conducive to episodic delivery.
- The value and recognition of the Sam and Max brand.
With these pillars in place, they had an obvious success on their hands. A lot of the work that goes into an episodic series like Sam and Max goes into to the first episode. Think how many times, and in how many episodes have we looked at the same street and the same office in this series? When all this work goes into the first game, are all of the following games worth as much? Why do we keep paying for the same things which have been copied and pasted into each following game?
The answer is simple, and we have seen this as true with the release of the two series since then, and especially the release of these games on the Wii. Developers make the first episodes of these games at a loss. They spend much the same amount of time developing the first episodes of these games as many triple A commercial titles, so they have to hook as many gamers as possible and keep them buying the following games in order to actually make a profit. This is why these games are real value. The developers of these games know that you could stop buying these games at any time, so they have to give you a consistently rewarding experience every time you play. In the case of the Sam and Max series, the relative simplicity of the gaming mechanics is more than made up for by the incredibly well written dialogue and sight gags. This is of course doubly true of Rainslick Precipice, which combines the off the wall humour of both Penny Arcade and the legendary Ron Gilbert with gameplay mechanics which would not be out of place in a full retail game.
Sure there have been ups and downs in this trend, some of the Sam and Max episodes were less than satisfying but for the price you pay, you never feel ripped off. How often have you payed in excess of $50 for the latest and greatest at your local gamestop only to find that you're bored of it after three hours? I'm pretty sure it's happened to everyone at least once, so even the worst 3 hour episodic game is worthwhile at less than $10 dollars. Unfortunatley, this brings us on to the awkward case of Penny Arcade Adventures, and it's $20 price tag. None of us mind paying for a quality game (which it is, in leaps and bounds), but there's no way that this game is worth its 2000 MS point price tag. Especially considering that we may well be buying one of these every couple of months! Rainslick Precipice isn't that much longer than the Sam and Max episodes, and while I can see the effort which went into the gameplay mechanics, it's just not that much better than so many other episodic games already out there. Of course, PA are lucky here in that they are widely recognised as the undisputable kings of the webcomic world, so they hardly need to look very far afield for a pre-installed market (myself included).
Mind the Gap
So is there a real market gap for these games? In a world where Ubisoft thinks it can get away with putting out any shit it wants to, I think it's obvious that there is. Take for example my own case: I have always taken pride in finishing games (if only to get the full value of my purchases) and I still do, but since I've started working nights I have a lot less time on my hands. For god sakes, I've been playing Final Fantasy 12 for the last week (yes, I only bought it last week) and I'm only just on that flying island place! I'd love to spend a single evening gaming and go to work with that satisfied feeling that I have just finished an entire game. Of course I will still play Final Fantasy 12 or whatever else as well, but it's that short term satisfaction which only short games like episodic games (or Portal) can provide.
The Sam and Max series fits into this niche rather cleverly. Not only are they completely finishable in a single evening (unlike Penny Arcade or god forbid the behemoth Half Life: Episode 2), but the property automatically attracts gamers of a more advanced working age. The type of gamers who palyed Sam and Max: Hit the Road all those years ago are now in there thirties, and they (like me and many others) just don't have the time to finish a full game every weekend or even every other weekend. This is the perfect niche for these games. It's the same kind of gamer who logs onto the sims for an hour just to check up on things and maybe buy a new suite of furniture, the same kind of gamer who plays online flash games and the same kind of gamer who enjoyed Portal as a complete, satisfying experience.
Not only is there a gap at the consumer level, but even more wide openly so at the developers level. How many developers make these kinds of games today? Hothead, Telltale, Valve? (though you could hardly call those "Episodic" considering their production cycle). The market is literally wide open! Of course I'm not advocating a flood of copycat developers, eager for the next cash cow (Ubisoft and EA, I'm looking at you), but this market certainly does lend itself to smaller independant companies. Just look at the delivery methods, sure we might get the odd season box set from Telltale (and I'm sure the others will follow suit), but in general these products are best suited to download services like Steam, Xbox Live and PSN among others. But are developers limiting themselves? Telltale's Sam and Max has yet to hit the Xbox marketplace or PSN (if it ever will) and Rainslick Precipice doesn't seem very likely to hit the PSN store, despite it's apparent platform-agnosticism. Whether these are development issues or financial ones are not yet known, but either way, these developers are both depriving themselves of huge prospective markets.
I can't get no Satisfaction?
So far the episodic gaming market has been dominated by the adventure/rpg and point and click genres, but there is undoubtably a whole world of untapped potential. How about a Hitman mission every month? Or a new Spyro series, a level a week? It looks like the Ratchet and Clank series is already headed this direction with the rumour of an upcoming Clank series on the PSN. The problem with this diversification within the market is the problem of cross polination with one of the hardcore gamers greatest hates: micro-transaction? Are we going to be charged $10 a month for a sub-standard Clank level? That could add up to triple the cost of simply buying a retail Ratchet and Clank game with the same number of levels! It's a worst case scenario, but it'd be enough to give Episodic games a bad rap nonetheless.
After Nintendo's disasterous (yes, I do mean disasterous. Toys are not videogames) press conference the other day, there was one thing on every gamers mind: Have Nintendo completely lost touch with the hardcore gamer? Do they really care about us? Do they even know what we want? It seems like this proves just how out of touch Nintendo is with the hardcore gamer. Choice snippets include:
"Also items that we didn't talk about yesterday, like Wario Land: Shake It. Which is a great franchise for the core. It's Wario in all his gross wonderfulness, shaking the Wii remote, and that's going to be tons of fun." Because shaking a Wii-mote like a wanker really makes me feel core.
"what core gamer doesn't love Mario and baseball and finding out which combination of characters are going to do what kind of crazy things in the field?" This one.
"Just tell your blog that I'm really a genuinely smiley, nice person." Because talking at your "blog" is what core gamers do.
... And there's nothing wrong with that! They are including the origin stories feature which affects the story of your character, as well as the option to be a "hero, tyrant or a martyr" (think Paragon, Renegade or... dead I suppose...). However, they are apparently taking the whole concept a step further: in this game you will live the origin story and then presumably meet up witht he overall plot at some stage in the middle. I guess that's why they're calling it origins. So far so good. It's the same trailer that was posted before but despite that, I am VERY excited for thios game now, as I am still getting over my Mass Effect addiction, not to mention the 140+ hours I've already clocked in on Oblivion!
I can see this game becoming Bioware's fantasy RPG. In the same way that they created their own Sci-Fi IP to escape the confines of licensing Star Wars, perhaps they are creating Dragon Age as a way of making the next Baldurs gate, without the need to license D&D properties. Quite a smart move as far as I'm concerned, we're getting all the great storylines and gameplay and Bioware is making more money: Everybody wins!
In the scoop of the century, it seems that Sony has confirmed that the PS3 will not be recieving a price drop in the near future. According to GameIndustry.biz, Nobuyuki Oneda (I didn't know who he was either) has stated that Sony is committed to profitability for the PS3 rather than market domination. This hardly comes as a surprise to anyone, and it seems to just confirm that Sony has admitted defeat (at least to the Wii) in terms of being the top selling console this generation.
And you know what? Fair fucks to them! They are absolutely right in taking this position, they have taken far too much of a loss already this generation, and I think that the apparent decision to focus on the more "hardcore" gamers that they already have will stand to them in the long run. While I can understand where Microsoft is coming from, and if they feel that they can still make a profit with the upcoming reduced price then fair play to them, I can't help but feel that Microsoft is grasping for straws here. This is all the more apparent when we consider the apparently upcoming Avatars and Motion Controller for 360. I mean come on MS, you're not going to beat Wii at it's own game: for once take a que from Sony and stick to what you do best.