Kojima sees episodic content as next-gen solution

Metal Gear creator advocates TV pilot approach as a remedy to AAA challenges on new systems

The next generation of consoles presents AAA developers like Metal Gear Solid designer Hideo Kojima with a number of problems. In a new interview with Edge, Kojima discussed the difficulties the new systems will present, and how developers might adapt.

"It's possible to make many things more realistic, but that doesn't mean you should," Kojima said. "You have to prioritize, and that is what's going to separate the teams that succeed from the teams that don't. A very deep, 20-30 hour game might need a bigger team and take three or four years... I think there's a different way of tackling this problem: something similar to a TV series, where you can use pilot episodes to test the waters before you jump completely into the project."

Kojima suggested such efforts would take advantage of digital distribution, with pilot episodes being completed in about a year. The episodic approach would also feed into another change Kojima sees on the way, a "more interactive" style of game development. He said the next-gen systems will turn the development process into a back-and-forth between creators and players, with companies regularly incorporating fan feedback into their efforts as a game comes together.

Although a number of developers tried the episodic approach this generation, few found success with it. The most notable of those would be Telltale Games, which experimented with a number of licensed adventure games before producing last year's critically acclaimed The Walking Dead.

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Latest comments (8)

Adam Campbell Product Manager, Azoomee9 years ago
He's not the only one looking into episodic game development ;)

I think its a great idea. If executed right, you can have game that delivers great content in a much shorter dev cycle, a game that can evolve based on technical innovations and customer feedback and it has potential implications for lower game pricing too.

There are many benefits of episodes but of course it has to be well executed and those behind it must have the legs to carry the series to the end...
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Greg Wilcox Creator, Destroy All Fanboys! 9 years ago
Well, that screws folks on low connections this next console generation. Millions who CAN'T get episodic content won't be playing those games until they get a retail compilation. See The Walking Dead for a good example, i suppose...
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Adam Campbell Product Manager, Azoomee9 years ago
Well, that screws folks on low connections this next console generation.
What makes you think episodes can't be released on disk? They have before. The general rule doesn't necessarily have to follow one example in the market.

Though episodic content probably does make digital distribution a bit easier in itself compared to large games, which is a potentially interesting implication.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Adam Campbell on 11th March 2013 10:59pm

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Andy Samson QA Supervisor, Digital Media Exchange9 years ago
The cost of publishing a physical copy of a single episode won't be cost effective since we're not simply talking about putting the game on disc wrapped in an envelope.

The Walking Dead with 5 episodes on XBOX 360 costs $30 USD, that's 6 dollars per episode versus $5 if you get it digital. Putting that single episode on a DVD would roughly, make it at least cost double that amount ( printing, logistics, etc.). Sounds affordable but not practical, it's bound to fail.
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Adam Campbell Product Manager, Azoomee9 years ago
How much were Half-life 2 Episode 1 & 2 at retail? I can say it was more than $5 or $6. I'm not too sure about the general comparison between a retail episode and a digital episode cost however. I've yet to see a PC or console game or episode that hasn't got a marked up digital version considering so much of a saving is supposed to be made by NOT releasing it on disc.

Its interesting to think about. Blu-ray like priced retail game for around 5-10 hours or so game play in an action title. I'd be up for that and I think it would be cost effective when we're not looking at quite as low as $6 for an 'episode' of a game. There are no real finite conditions here. So there's a lot to be tried and explored.

My personal angle but counter arguments are equally valid.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Adam Campbell on 11th March 2013 11:52pm

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Greg Wilcox Creator, Destroy All Fanboys! 9 years ago
I'm looking primarily at the Telltale model, Adam. They've done episodic downloads, but have generally released disc versions that bundle all the episodes after the final episode is over. I've seen other compilation discs for the Xbox 360 that feature XBLA content and of course, Journey: Collector's Edition was a godsend to myself and the friends I have who simply couldn't buy the game on PSN.

Hell, I can think of a few dozen cases where my money as the money of many others went elsewhere because we couldn't get some of those digital only titles that have never seen the light of day as physical copies. I finally played The Walking Dead a few weeks ago and was relieved because it was terrific AND I could give someone else who COULD use them those episode codes I had no use for that I was gifted.

Single Episode content would be (as Andy noted) too expensive to get out on disc unless and until someone figures out how to get it done even cheaper than it is, but in a packaging that will stand up to resale and general handling. Also, I've noticed that outside of North America, some PS3/360/PC games DO indeed get disc versions, but turn up here as digital-only releases, none of which can be purchased by low/no broadband users. Yet another issue not discussed by the people who need to figure out HOW to get more gaming dollars from those that have it to spend...
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John Bye Lead Designer, Freejam9 years ago
People have been banging on about episodic gaming since the late 1990s, but since then Telltale are the only company I can think of off the top of my head who have had any notable success with the model in its purest form, and it's taken them several attempts to perfect the formula with Walking Dead. Although you could argue that a lot of retail games these days are effectively episodic, releasing a core campaign in the box and then adding big chunks of paid DLC every month or two after that.

I think the main advantage of true episodic games are that they let you get a relatively small product into players' hands sooner, as you only have to finish the first hour or two of the game before releasing it. That brings in an incremental revenue stream and user feedback much earlier in the development process than normal, which is certainly a benefit. But you're still planning and building content well ahead of release, it's not like you can really (as Kojima seems to suggest) release a pilot episode and wait to see how that does before even starting work on the next episode, or there'd be a huge gap between the first two episodes and you'd probably lose a big chunk of your audience.

I can't immediately think of any episodic game series that has been cancelled mid-season, however poorly it sold and reviewed. It's like cancelling a TV show - by the time you know it's doing badly you've already shot half the series, have sets and props built and scripts written for later episodes, and the cast and crew are on contract, not to mention all the money you spent marketing it. You might as well soldier on and finish the first season and hope you make some money back on DVD sales and syndication.

I imagine the same's true for episodic gaming to some extent. Even though episodes are coming out every month or two instead of every week like on TV, a lot of the expense of developing the series is still going to be upfront and you're always going to have people working on content at least an episode or two in advance, whereas your revenue is spread out across the series. You'd have to be doing really badly to make it worth throwing all that work away and losing the goodwill (and money) of the remaining audience.
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The issue for AAA episodic games is very much the huge initial investment for technology and tools. Memorable game experiences like this require very specific, dedicated tech solutions. It would have been unfeasible to blow 3/4 of an AAA budget on the slicing tech of MG:R, plus the rest of the engine and the huge amount of mocap, animation and art that is necessary for even 1-2 hours of gameplay.
It can work as a spin off or mini sequel to a main game, but I don't expect to see "pilots" for technically sophisticated types of games happening any time soon.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Felix Leyendecker on 14th March 2013 5:50am

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