The Rise of Episodic Gaming

Affordable and Engaging, A New Era in Gaming Has Arrived


Published: August 28, 2008

In the television industry, shows like “Lost,” “Heroes” and “24” have been able to amass huge followings because of clever storytelling and cliffhangers at the end of each episode. A recent trend in the video gaming world has been to release video games in parts, somewhat similar to how these TV series tell a bigger story through small segments that reveal only pieces of a story in each episode. This allows the game parts to be sold for a fraction of the full price, and it keeps gamers occupied until the next part is released. This practice has come to be known as episodic gaming. “Sam and Max,” Penny Arcade Adventures: On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness,” the “Half-Life 2 Episodes” and the upcoming “Watchmen” video game are all examples of episodic games.

There are two forces that are driving episodic gaming: the cost of games and Internet speed. Developers can not keep up with the demands of their fans due to rising production costs and high expectations for each new game that is released. While the average new video game costs $60, part one of a new episodic game costs $20, allowing gamers to save up the rest of their money until the next part is released. Episodic gaming does not only cost less in the present, it allows consumers to start enjoying a game earlier than they would otherwise. A full game cannot be released until it is done, but an episodic game can be released when each part is finished.

Internet speed is the second force behind the rise of episodic gaming. Faster Internet speeds mean that people can download the next episode as opposed to buying it in a store. While some games like “Half-Life 2, Episode 2” are sold in stores in addition to online, most episodic games are exclusively sold online as a digital copy. By doing this, video game companies cut costs by not having a physical item that needs to be shipped or stored. This allows smaller developers to break into the industry, which is beneficial to everyone as these lesser-known masterminds have created some of the most innovative games by thinking outside of the box and using creative marketing.

While episodic gaming does have its benefits, most episodic games are not financially successful. “SIN Episode 1” was part of a nine-part series but was canceled after the first episode because another company purchased their publisher. The “Half-Life” games have been coming out one per year, so even though they have been selling well and are considered solid games, they are not profitable. Gabe Newell, head of Valve Software, the creators of “Half-Life” said in an interview with, “I think what we really want to do is have a couple of examples out there—‘Episode 1,’ and how long it was to play and how long it took to develop, ‘Episode 2,’ ‘Portal’ and ‘TF2,’ and then the third part of the trilogy; and then sit down with the community and say, ‘OK, so what do you want?’”

The most successful example of episodic gaming has been an exception to the standard rules. Telltale Games’ franchise “Sam and Max” is the long-awaited sequel to “Sam and Max Hit the Road,” a point and click adventure game where you solve puzzles to progress through the story. It was released in partnership with Game Tap, an online service that charges a monthly fee for people to pay for games cart blanche as opposed to charging for each game. “Sam and Max” was also available as a physical copy after the first series of episodes wrapped up. “Valve and Ritual, they made a lot of the mistakes we did early on, but we stuck to our guns and kept going, while they had so many other things going on at the same time. They bailed out a little earlier,” said Dan Connors, CEO of Telltale Games, in an interview with

Episodic gaming will need more time before it can find its place in the world of video games. “I would only purchase an episodic game based on the quality of game play, storyline, etc. of a larger predecessor,” said Luke Villapaz, FCLC ’11. “Though, quality of the game and price are more of a priority to me on whether or not I purchase a game, not whether or not it’s episodic or one long game.”

Charles Chawalko, FCLC ’10, said, “I myself would rather go for full video games; but, if it comes from a favorite company of mine, I wouldn’t have any qualms purchasing [an episodic game], such as ‘Half-Life 2.’”

If the industry has anything to say about it, shorter, more frequent, less graphically impressive games like “Sam and Max” will do better in an episodic format than games like “Half-Life” that take a while to produce. “Sam and Max” is more of a casual game that relies on puzzle solving as opposed to running and shooting everything that you can. The traditional means of selling a game as a finished product is the predominant way that games have been sold in the past. Episodic gaming seems to have found a niche with casual story driven games like “Sam and Max.” Hopefully, other companies will follow Telltale Games’ lead and provide well-made episodic games on a regular basis.