As console gamers we are conditioned to accept iteration. To wait and want for the next entry in a series, games and consoles alike. PlayStation 1, PS2, PS3, PS4. Xbox, Xbox 360, Xbox One. Call of Duty 27, Madden 2017, NB2K17, Battlefield 5, Assassin’s Creed 300, etc. We understand that a new version of whatever console or game is always around the corner and we understand that we are expected to accept it and ultimately purchase it. And usually we succumb to that expectation. There is perhaps no better example of this than our willingness to buy the newest entry in a number of popular series year after year – Call of Duty, Battlefield, NBA 2K, Madden and many more.
This is the way the console world has worked for a long time now and it’s what we as gamers have come to expect and learned to accept. But the world of console gaming is in the midst of an evolution of sorts, what the end result will look like remains to be seen, but there are a number of big changes becoming rapidly apparent to the way we play video games.
One of the biggest evolutions we have seen with this console generation is the broad implementation of digital games. While there was a bit of an uproar at the beginning of the digital age due to the perceived loss of value with digital games vs physical/disc based games, digital sales and digital only games are becoming more and more widely accepted and appreciated.
And one of the biggest side effects of the more digital nature of gaming nowadays is the change to the way game iterations are handles. Sure we still are bombarded by yearly sequels of popular franchises, often offering nothing more than a new coat of paint and some new achievements to unlock, but we are also seeing quite a few games released that either take an episodic nature or rely heavily on DLC to further the life of the title.
Destiny is a great example of the latter, for better or worse, taking the approach of releasing the foundation of the game and then building on it with add ons and expansions. Opinions of the Bungies game and post-game release model with Destiny vary wildly and we all know that a full release of a Destiny sequel is on the way but it’s certainly been interesting to see how such a big budget title has moved away from the norm of release followed by release followed by release.
Games like Telltale’s The Walking Dead have gone the episodic route and have generally seen no major complaints with their release model. Furthermore we are starting to see more traditional titles eschew the “normal” release/sequel model and move towards an episodic or even (gulp) free-to-play model.
Killer Instinct is one such game and has been wildly popular amongst fighting game fans. The core Killer Instinct game is free for all Xbox One owners and from there can be played as a “free-to-play” game where you purchase certain characters or levels as you please. Concurrently Killer Instinct has taken on an “episodic” nature with new seasons being released ever so often. Each season can be purchased individually and comes with a full slate of new fighters and arenas that are added into the core game. But each new season also offers improvements and changes to the core gameplay and this most recent season, Season 3, did something that is usually reserved for a full sequel release, it improved the graphics. In the past we would have seen Killer Instinct released at full price with a full roster of fighters then followed up later with a sequel, bringing with it new fighters and arenas, and then that followed up by another sequel and so on and so on. It would be hard to say that the old model would be prefered to the current “season” based model for Killer Instinct that we have now.
Perhaps the biggest boon to the “episodic” model has been the release of the most recent Hitman game. Hitman is for all intents and purposes a AAA title so it came as quite a surprise when IO Interactive said that Hitman would be releasing as an episodic title, with new locations and missions coming to the game about once a month for a few months at a small price to players until the season concluded. It’s a bold move for a game that we would normally associate with being released on a physical CD for full price and then being followed up a year or so later with another full priced sequel.
With the general acceptance of the digital, episodic and season based models for game/content distribution and the prevalence of DLC and Season Passes attached to nearly every big release we wanted to ask the question, “Should more games adopt a one release with constant DLC model?”
Straight away there are a number of series and genres that we could see benefiting, at least where gamers are concerned, from such a release model. Nearly every sports game would be a perfect candidate for this model. Instead of gamers having to shell out full price year after year for the newest Madden or Fifa or NBA 2K, that typically seem to only offer minor changes to the previous years game, perhaps a new feature, possibly improved graphics but mainly just an upgraded roster, gamers could instead purchase new seasons at a mucher lower cost, providing them with the newest team rosters/players/etc.
Call of Duty is another prime example of a game that has milked the standard release model. Even the most die hard Call of Duty fans would find it hard to argue that they are essentially paying full price for a new set of maps and weapons each year. Most gamers would love to be able to pay a much lower price for a new “season” of Call of Duty that included new maps, new weapons, even new story missions.
Of course no matter how great that all sounds for gamers it may not appear in such a fine light to publishers and developers who rely on constant expected iterations of popular franchises to keep their doors open. One benefit developers may see by taking the episodic route was voiced by the head of IO-Interactive Hannes Seifert when he told PC Gamer that, “Part of that decision is for that little bit of extra time to ensure every location we release is at the quality level fitting for a Hitman game.” And with the amount of new releases this gen that have been plagued with launch day and even persistent technical problems and the ensuing wrath of angry gamers developers would be wise to take advantage of any model that let them ensure their game doesn’t suffer from technical/gameplay problems.
What do you think? Should more games adopt an approach that sees one core release followed by continued support and updates via DLC or new “seasons” or “episodes”? Or do you prefer the standard, yearly release model we’ve grown accustomed to?