Week 5 was presentation week, where group 6 (my group) were tasked with creating a poster and presentation on a research question of our choice, the only restriction being that it had to be on the subject of episodic/iterative games development. We decided to ask what changes are necessary to the games development process in the development of an episodic/iterative game. I don’t have a note of the exact question but it was something along those lines.
My part in the process was to research. Each team member did this, though some then went on to design and print the poster or do the presentation. We took all our research and jammed it into a Google Docs file then it was made into the aforementioned poster. Daniel did the presentation and everything went as planned.
What exactly did I write on the poster? Here’s my contribution:
While similarities between the episodic delivery of television programmes and videogames are obvious, there are other similarities which are often overlooked. These impact the development process in significant ways and relate to costs and asset reuse.
The explanation for the first of these – risk – is obvious. To develop a smaller game initially, even when planning to create more episodes at a later date, requires less initial costs. It is argued by Jason Kraft and Chris Kwak that this reduction in development time does not necessarily equate 1:1 with cost, though this is largely due to the larger pre-production costs of the initial episode.
“Games, like movies, have lots of assets that need to be established pre-development (production teams, sets, equipment, tools, software assets, story line, architecture, actors, etc.). There is an amortization schedule for these investments. We are not even factoring the potentially higher variable costs of episodic game development.”
Episodic Gaming in the Age of Digital Distribution, 2006. Gamasutra. [online] Available at: http://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/3462/episodic_gaming_in_the_age_of_.php [Accessed 17October 2011].
David Edery acknowledges this view but feels the potential gains of episodic development are still worth pursuing, stating that “development costs are front-loaded. Yes, if you chop a game in three, the first episode costs much more than the second and third. It still costs far less than an entire AAA game. And that means if the project fails, the developer and publisher aren’t quite so screwed.” Moreover, the difference between the cost of a AAA game and a pilot episodic game are such that those developers who cannot fund the former are still able to take a chance on pursuing the latter. This scenario is best illustrated by Ritual and the episodic game “SIN Episodes,” a Steam-distributed first-person shooter made in response to the studios inability to fund a much larger project.
Both Nolan Bushnell and David Becker return to the metaphor of episodic games as film series installments or television episodes as a way of illustrating another of the benefits of episodic design: that of asset reuse and recycling. While Becker describes the ruthless reuse of audio and visual clips in the films of Roger Corman’s films as a simple means of maximizing profit
Both articles use the film/television metaphor to describe how games developers should be using the episodic distribution model to re-use as much previously created content as possible, the implication being that this keeps costs to a minimum and increases the likelihood that the end product will make a profit. Bushnell describes a far more utopian view of an idealized episodic game, one in which “we will find that games, if you build them like an engine, and run scenarios through them and take some good authoring tools, I think there will be the equivalent of Seinfeld and Friends in the video game industry.” [Bushnell, 2011] Whether done for idealistic or practical reasons, it is clear that the development process of an episodic game series should take into consideration the potential for asset reuse and plan accordingly.
Here’s a bunch of links I’d used in my research. There were others but I’ve misplaced the articles.
- Gamasutra – News – GDC Online: Bushnell On Future Opportunities In Game Storytelling
- Gamasutra – News – Interview: Telltale Games Bets Big On iPad
- Gamasutra – News – Take-Two’s Zelnick Talks Diversity, Longevity Through DLC
- Gamasutra – Features – Episodic Gaming in the Age of Digital Distribution
My biggest annoyance with the presentation was that I’d forgotten all about ethnography, a research methodology that would have been ideal in this kind of research.