The Waiting Game: What’s the Best Model for Episodic Releases?

The Walking Dead 2

Whether it’s once a month, once a week, or whenever the developers can squeeze in time to finish the product, episodic games require one thing from all their customers: patience. Despite the stereotypical gamer’s inability to accept over-exhausted waiting time for game releases, companies like Telltale have thrived on episodic games as well as paved the way for other companies to test out a similar approach. To those fans of the episodic formula that buy each episode as it releases rather than waiting for the entire game to release, these games offer the same sweet payoff one gets from tuning into their favorite show on a weekly basis. The wait creates excitement for what’s coming as well as buzz among fans as to what could be in store from them.

But when does the wait become too much? How delicate is the formula and is it possible to do it wrong? What is the best way to get all the benefits episodic games have to offer without losing the consumer’s attention? For a while, Telltale answered many of these questions. Its breakout hit, The Walking Dead, was released with just enough space in-between each episode to build excitement and allow fans to obsess over their choices and ponder the fate of their favorite characters. With The Walking Dead, Telltale was able to capitalize on all the benefits of episodic gaming while maintaining fan satisfaction with timely releases. But as fans of Tales from the Borderlands will tell you, Telltale has seemingly lost its sense of time when it comes to releasing its games. With new projects and partnerships a seemingly weekly announcement for the company, many fans have begun to worry for the quality and timeliness of the Telltale games.

After four months of hiatus, Tales from the Borderlands episode 2 was just announced for release on March 17th. Many, myself included, have deemed this lapse between episodes unacceptable and harmful for what I believed was an incredible start to a new and promising series. A four-month break between episodes not only depletes the benefits of the episodic formula, but also justifiably creates newfound worry for the quality and even future of Telltale’s brightest projects.

As mentioned, some other companies have taken notice of Telltale’s success. Dontnod, creator of Life Is Strange, has taken a different route when releasing episodes of its five-part series by confirming to fans that each episode will be released within a month of each other. With a recent announcement that episode 2 of Life Is Strange will be released on March 24th, Dontnod seems committed to upholding its dedication to its game, which is a big plus in the eyes of gamers still feeling irritation with Telltale’s whimsical releases. Capcom has also gone the episodic route with Resident Evil Revelations 2, and has upheld its promise of releasing a new episode every week. In regards to timely releases and upholding promises of releasing episodes, Dontnod and Capcom have the potential to outshine the very company responsible for the episodic craze that made its games possible.

Tales from the Borderlands

Answering the question of which release method is best ultimately falls to the consumer’s preference. Personally, I find Dontnod’s monthly releases to be a perfect balance between hype-building and timely delivery. The most important thing when releasing episodes of episodic games, to me, is to keep your costumer. Time is both the enemy and the savior of these types of games, so it’s important that companies make sure releases are carefully thought out, announced in a timely manner, and are able to give the consumer just enough of a break from the game without losing them entirely.

I truly hope that Telltale can step up their game in this regard, as my Tales from the Borderlands season pass is feeling more and more like a regretful buy despite my love for the first episode. On the other hand, I’m more confident of my season pass purchase for Life Is Strange, as I know that what I’m paying for is only a short length away.

It may not seem like a huge deal, as the game will come out eventually, but allowing the length between episodes to become so large without proper warning communicates a lack of dedication and professionalism. The waiting game is one I love to play, as the payoff for patience is well worth it, but with so many other amazing games constantly coming out, it’s getting more and more difficult to maintain dedication to an episodic series that itself doesn’t seem all that dedicated to even being released.


4 thoughts on “The Waiting Game: What’s the Best Model for Episodic Releases?

Add yours

  1. Sometimes it can’t be helped.

    To use a Telltale example, “The Wolf Among Us” took a 4 month release between episodes 1 and 2, but that was because fans figured out the mystery of who the original killer was and then Telltale had to halt production and rewrite the entire storyline, so much so that Episode 3 that was supposed to have an original subplot about Detective Brannigan discovering the world of the Fables was cut out at Bill Willingham’s request on account of it deviated too much from the original source material.

    Personally, I’m fine with waiting. If it takes longer to put out a quality product, I’ll play the patient game. (That’s not to say that delays are necessarily a good thing or that a game in ‘Development Hell’ will be a masterpiece. One glance at ‘Duke Nukem Forever’ can tell you that.), but chances are Telltale takes its sweet time to polish out a product. (I was actually caught by surprise when I learned Game of Thrones 3 was being released in the same month as Tales from the Borderlands.)


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