Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Bungie: Harbingers of Episodic Content?

If you are a fan of Halo 2 and haven't seen this yet, go check it out now.

Bungie has officially announced that they'll be releasing 9 new multiplayer maps for Halo 2, some for free, some for sale (though all will be free by the end of the summer). They will be released for download over Xbox Live and also on store shelves as a $19.99 disc.

First off, I have to say that it's really cool to see a prominent developer trying out this sort of business model. Others have certainly dabbled in post release, "premium" content, but to see Bungie/Microsoft pursuing it to this degree gives me hope for the future of game distribution. Although 9 new maps could hardly be called "episodic content," this model could be seen as the first step towards a distribution system that sits somewhere between retail-only releases and constantly updated MMOGs.

I can envision a day (very soon) when a player will buy a $19.99 retail box that includes the game engine and base-level assets, along with, say, the first 5 episodes of the game story. Each episode would be a self-contained set of levels. Episodes would be tied together with an overarching theme or story. After release, the developer would release new episodes for purchase (download or at retail) on a regular schedule, once-a-month, for instance. Episodes could cost $5 or less. With this model, developers and publishers would have a chance at making more than the standard $50 on a single game, and by using the same engine for what could be more than a single game's worth of content, the developer stretches technology farther.

From there, it's not to hard to imagine games that have no retail releases, just online, downloadable episodes. But perhaps I'm getting ahead of myself.

These are not new ideas.

6 Comments:

At 7:20 PM, Blogger Saralah said...

ABC.com tried to do this a couple years back with downloadable episodic games based on the show Alias:

http://www.abc.go.com/primetime/alias/underground/missions.html

They used to be free. Now the training mission is free; subsequent missions are $0.99. I think something like this could really work if marketed properly. The biggest obvious benefit is that your devs could basically go into a content-generation cycle like MMOGs tend to do, and don't have to constantly worry about technology.

 
At 11:34 PM, Blogger Clubberjack said...

Exactly.

I actually think that Microsoft is headed this way with Xenon (hell, they built the foundations with the current generation of Live). Their keynote at GDC (despite all the crawling flesh) seemed to point to the coming of online delivery.

This also plays off of Warren Spector's rant about new means for distribution and Jason Della Rocca's exhortation to buy Half-Life 2 over Steam and download some Neverwinter Nights modules from the BioWare online store. As much as MS is the evil empire, they seem to be the ones most dedicated to online delivery.

Who knows... maybe one of these days Bungie will release the ending to Halo 2 over Live...

 
At 11:40 PM, Blogger Clubberjack said...

In fact, the words "episodic content" were actually used in the Microsoft Keynote at GDC. See here.

 
At 12:32 AM, Blogger Foopy said...

From a consumer standpoint, it'd also be really nice to be able to buy a game for $20 with optional episodic content to be purchased in the future, instead of buying the game with all its content for $50. Making games less of a financial commitment for the consumer could make them more popular amongst casual gamers, at least.

Speaking of which, is there a particular reason a handful of AAA-quality games happen to sell for $20 or $30 while the vast majority of them sell for $50? For instance, the Serious Sam games, Guilty Gear X2 #Reload for the XBox, and the recent Phantom Dust for the XBox have all had release MSRP's of $20, yet they all seem to have AAA production standards. I think American McGee's Scrapland also came out at $30 retail, as did Riddick for the PC, so maybe there's some kind of competition going on to reduce prices? Or maybe these are all just exceptions to the rule.

 
At 2:18 PM, Blogger Foopy said...

Speaking of this, there's a very interesting interview on Gamastura regarding this very issue:

"...[Guild Wars] features no traditional subscription fee, with the initial purchase providing unlimited access and further investment rendered optional in the form of bi-annual add-on packs."

 
At 3:54 PM, Blogger Clubberjack said...

To try to answer the question about $20 titles:

Both the Guilty Gear title and Phantom Dust were imported from Japan and published State-side by Majesco who seems to be picking up games that get dropped by other publishers and then releasing them at budget prices. The Guilty Gear title was published in Japan by Sammy, I believe, and Phantom Dust was published in Asia by Microsoft, who declined to do a US release.

The same thing sort of happened with Katamari Damacy. Namco released Katamari in the US at the $20 price point after it had generated a ton of buzz during its Japanese release. Since Namco hadn't intended to release in the US, the sales were mostly a bonus for them.

I don't know if this is a price war, but it is an encouraging precedent. I hope to see more budget-priced, AAA titles in the future.

 

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