One thing about the video game industry, just like other major industries, is that it’s dominated by trends. In recent years the safest bets are first person shooters and sequels; both of which have become redundant and the main catalyst behind the lack of originality in the current gaming landscape. However while playing Epic Game’s latest title on the iOS platform, Infinity Blade i realized that the next major trend is finally upon us. Analysts and Public Relations folks alike coined it as “Episodic Content,” but that’s not going to work. I’d like to call it: pay-as-you-go gaming.
The way this idea came about when I was fishing through the Infinity Blade’s settings and checked out the “coming soon” tab. In it, it was described that the game would not only be receiving new weapons and updates (which isn’t much different from DLC that is currently offered on consoles), but also a multiplayer mode as well as more dungeons to explore.
Obviously the addition of new maps or expansions isn’t anything new. Titles like Elder Scrolls, Fallout, and Mass Effect on Consoles have been doing it for sometime now with DLC. However, under any other circumstances you would usually pay a premium for the title and then be given the option to purchase more if you wanted it. The difference here (and for which I applaud Epic Games) is that the title is only $5.99, giving you hours and hours of gameplay and at that price making it the ultimate impulse buy. Sure, it’s very possible that after the addition of multiplayer, and buying every dungeon that they release it will bring the total cost of ownership probably somewhere around or above $40 but for me and I’m sure plenty of others who may not want to even play the multiplayer the initial price is perfect.
Let’s use an example that we can bring over from the console arena. Your friends are telling you about this game that “everyone” is playing. For the sake of this example, let’s say the title starts with “Call of Duty” but those games aren’t exactly your cup of tea. You don’t want to spend $60 on a game that you probably won’t play without your friends but also don’t want to miss out. If the multiplayer was sold as a standalone for a third or maybe half the price, wouldn’t you rather shell out less and in the process only pay for what you use or want?
What if you started enjoying it a little more and in order to get a taste of the campaign, it was only a few bucks per level?
This form of episodic delivery isn’t exactly a brand new idea. Games like 2008’s Siren: Blood Curse on the PSN have tried to go this route, but have yet to capture the sales success they are looking for. Currently, everyone’s favorite blue hedgehog is taking a toke from the episodic pipe with Sonic 4: Episode 1. By having launched on everything with a screen, Sega and Sonic have seen substantial success but the fact that they’re using an iconic character for this form of delivery didn’t exactly hurt their chances either. I doubt that an episodic game starring Big the Cat (google him) would have been received to similar fanfare.
So what did Epic Games do that makes Infinity Blade different? One can only hope that everyone after them also follows suit. It’s simple; they made the initial cost of ownership nice and cheap. Sure, Epic Games will throw every feature they can think of along with extra dungeons and levels (for a price), and they may even get me to bite at some of them. What makes that decision easier is that in the back of my mind, the cost of ownership (that gave me plenty of gameplay) was initially a measly six bucks. If I need more, I’ll buy more.
This is why the idea of episodic content was wrong to begin with. The structuring isn’t too terrible, but it’s all about the initial purchase. People never think about total cost of ownership, just look as cell phones as a great example. When someone enters a cellular store they want the initial purchase to come at the lowest price possible while paying little mind to the fact that their iPhone will cost them the equivalent of a semester away at a State University. With “pay-as-you-go gaming” (which I’m totally going to trademark) you buy what you want and play what you want, with all of the satisfaction and none of the risk. Now we can all just sit and wait to see who makes the first move on consoles with this same idea. Publishers, the ball is in your court.