Ever since the announcement regarding how the recently released stealth game Hitman would deliver its content through use of an episodic model, some confusion has left consumers and gaming enthusiasts with multiple questions on why IO Interactive (the developers of Hitman) had stepped away from a usual launch strategy. What are the benefits of episodic content, and why would a development company switch to it?
After the release of the previous title Hitman Absolution, IO Interactive was met with some criticism in terms of the direction the series was headed. Many fans were left upset with the level design of the game. Most levels were straightforward and didn’t allow much player freedom, something the Hitman series was well known for. While these critiques were well thought out and valid, IO Interactive couldn’t just simply change the game’s DNA overnight. Once it shipped, that was it. Nothing drastic could have been done to alter the core mechanics of the game.
Since a niche of the series was player interaction, a choice was made to be more directly involved with the players. Before the official reveal of the latest installment (simply titled Hitman) IO Interactive flew in some of the best players from the Hitman community to test and give feedback on their first episode of content. Not only did this become a learning experience for the fans and developers alike, it showed a clear strength of having a game be episodic.
When a developer decides to tackle the episodic model, it changes the entire experience of the content. Usually, a game is made from start to finish in a development studio. It is a time consuming affair that typically results in blindly shipping a game with developers nervously awaiting to see how well-received the game will be. Instead of delving into something blindly, why not communicate with the fan-base and develop a game in chunks based on player feedback?
Episodic gaming allows feedback based development. If a developer releases one section of the game, it allows them to listen to their fans’ feedback about what worked and what didn’t. This results in higher quality content which then makes the whole experience stronger.
There has been some notions that the whole game is done, and IO Interactive has split the game up purposely in order to make a higher profit. This conspiracy could have potential merit if the pricing structure was different. With an episodic model, potential new fans can dip their toes in the water by purchasing a selection of game content (The introduction pack is listed at a $15 price point) and essentially seeing if it’s worth the full $60 price tag.
Because of the constantly evolving hardware, some game developers are treating their games more like a platform of content by allowing constant iterations to the project. Not only do the staff maintain their jobs, consumers also get constant updates to their favorite games. It’s a winning situation for both parties.