It may be a new year, but it seems that AAA publishers are just as determined as ever to show the depth of their contempt for their paying customers. Okay, maybe that’s a bit harsh but after everything we’ve seen from the likes of Konami, Activision, and Square Enix last year, one might have cause to feel like there’s a little bit more going on here than companies simply trying to stay profitable. This time however, my focus is entirely on Square Enix (hereafter referred to as “Square”) and their distressing interest in making their games into “truly episodic AAA [gaming] experience[s]”.
Recently, Square made the announcement that the next entry in the Hitman series, “Hitman”, is now going to be a fully episodic experience. The details they’ve released so far state that the initial “episode” will launch on March, and will include the prologue chapter and a single mission location: Paris. The price for this initial installment will be $15. Additional locations, Italy and Morocco, will be released in April and May respectively for a price of $10 each. As for the rest of the year, Square and the game’s developer, Io Interactive, promise to deliver monthly content updates along with weekly live events and “additional planned content”. Players will finally have the option to purchase a disc-based version of the full game at the end of 2016 for $60. Their stated reasoning for this is supposedly to give developers more time to fine-tune each location and to deliver a “a living game that will expand and evolve over time and establish a foundation for the future.”
I’ll just say it: everything about this worries me. If Hitman were the only game on the horizon that was going to be following this model, I’d probably take Square’s statement at face value and move on. The thing is, Hitman isn’t the only game that Square is planning to release in this fashion. They’ve already announced that the Final Fantasy VII remake is going to be released episodically, and there’s rumblings that they’ve even cut back on the scale of Deus Ex: Mankind Divided in order to sell it as a trilogy instead of a single game. All it’s going to take to convince Square that this episodic model was a good decision is for Hitman to be a hit. That’s it. If Hitman sells well starting with its prologue pack, or sells enough season passes, then we can expect to see a lot more of this sort of thing from Square. Oh, and every other AAA publisher as well.
At the end of the day, or even the beginning and middle, AAA publishers care about one thing and one thing only: sales. If they see that we’re just as willing to accept our games piece-meal as we are full and complete experiences, is it really that much of a stretch to think that they won’t exploit that? Selling games piece-by-piece means making as much or even more money than selling games as single releases, and they could make that money sooner and on a more regular basis. It’s a slam-dunk situation for both them and their developers, but I’m not at all convinced that this could be a good thing for those of us who enjoy playing video games.
Really, I see maybe one positive here among a whole host of negatives. The positive of this is that we will potentially get a taste of the new games we’re looking forward much sooner than we would have in the past. That’s great and all, but I doubt I’m the only one who likes the idea of shelling out 15 bucks for what amounts to a demo. Those that buy each episode will likely end up paying more in the long run too. Hitman is already at $35 for a prologue and thee locations, how much more will the remainder of the game cost for those who buy it episode by episode? Then there’s the potential of what this will do to the overall experience. Hitman fans are already going to have to wait until the end of the year if they want to enjoy the game and its story like they have for every other entry in the franchise. Imagine if the new Tomb Raider had followed a similar model. A month between chapters is a long time to wait. Such a wait would spoil any kind of investment we’d have as players, not to mention what it would do to the game’s sense of pacing. In short, it would be a more expensive, but less interesting experience for just about everyone who isn’t able to wait until the eventual compilation release.
This method of episodically releasing games is not good for us players. It’s potentially more expensive and could water-down the whole experience quite easily. All it’s going to take to make this the next ‘bold-step-forward’ in game delivery is for us to support it. All it’s going to take is for Hitman to be a hit. I’m admittedly not a fan of Hitman, but I don’t want to see the likes of Deus Ex and Tomb Raider following this model in the future. I won’t tell you to boycott the game or anything, but rather to just consider waiting for a little while before you buy it. Let Square sweat a little bit before enjoying your next outing as Agent 47. Perhaps that will be enough to show them that not all of us want our games broken up and sold to us piece-by-piece.
What’s your take on episodically released games? Do you feel like it’s something to be shunned, embraced, or perhaps received in some other way? What do you propose we do about it?