With Sony recently announcing the PlayStation Plus relaunch to include new tiers offering expanded subscription options, it is very clear that these types of services for games are here to stay.
Game Pass and PlayStation Now have been around for quite some time and while they certainly offer a lot of value to many consumers, I personally have never been all that interested in signing up. It’s just not really for me. When possible, I still like purchasing games physically and having a hard copy displayed on a shelf.
I have always taken a lot of pride in my physical collection, and have worked to hunt down perfect copies of many classic games, complete with the manuals, and devoid of those ridiculous stickers GameStop loves to plaster all over the cases. I have been buying games like this for well over a decade now, and have amassed quite a collection, so the libraries provided by these subscription services were never really a selling point to me.
After all this time it’s pretty safe to say that if I want to play a game I likely already have it on the shelf. Now I certainly realize that not everyone has the luxury of such a personal collection and many people don’t want to bother keeping all these game cases around. I definitely understand the appeal of the subscription services, it just isn’t something that I personally would get enough value out of to justify the monthly fee.
While I could potentially save money by slowing down my game purchases and leaning into the digital future, the idea of a rotating library of titles I can’t keep gives me a good deal of anxiety. I keep imagining a scenario where I started an RPG, had to set it down for a few months due to a busy schedule only to eventually come back and find out the game is no longer available on the service.
Such a possibility seems like it could easily happen and would absolutely infuriate; I already get frustrated when I go onto Netflix and something I’ve had in my queue has disappeared right as I finally carved out time to watch it. The whole thing just never appealed to me and I’m certainly not the only one hesitant to start paying for another monthly service that I never actually use. But it got me thinking, what would make me want to sign up? Ironically enough the answer is something else thing that I also said wasn’t for me: episodic games.
I missed out on much of the episodic game trend that was popular a few years back. This model for game releases still exists today, although it has fallen out of the prevalence it once had. The first half of the PS4 and Xbox One’s lifecycle was filled with plenty of episodic adventure games like Life Is Strange and the entirety of the Telltale catalogue.
Despite my interest in the content itself, I ended up playing many of these games long after they came out or missed them entirely. Because I prefer to buy games physically, I would have to wait until the entire season had finished and the complete collection went to print. By the time I actually sat down to play the games any conversation around the titles had long since evaporated from the public discourse.
Much like a television show, the most enjoyable way to consume that method of storytelling is to play into the community aspects that are facilitated by its lengthy release schedule. Hopping on Twitter after each episode to discuss the current outcome of events, as well as theorizing where it could be going next, is half of the fun.
Not to say that everything isn’t perfectly enjoyable on its own but there is an element of the episodic appeal that is undeniably missing after the fact. However, it’s not just the online conversation, even when isolated to the solitary experience itself, the design of these stories are meant to be experienced piece-by-piece.
Time in between each episode allows you to digest your choices, think about what the future may have in store, and stepping away from the gameplay helping to ensure that each episode feels fresh. Now, nothing is stopping me from completing episode one, setting the game down, and coming back a week later, but realistically that isn’t how anyone would play the game given all of the episodes at one time. I very much wanted to play these games as they were coming out but I also wanted to have the box on my shelf, and I wasn’t going to pay full price for them twice.
Combining two things that I don’t particularly care for, episodic games and subscription-based distribution services, actually makes me more interested in both of them. An episodic model isn’t right for every type of game, but for the ones it does work for, it could be an incredibly compelling way to capitalize on the subscription service’s strengths.
Similar to the hype and anticipation that comes with the weekly episode of a TV show coming out, the idea of being able to hop on to PlayStation Plus and have instant access to the next episode of a game that I’m invested in, then being able to immediately jump on Twitter or Twitch to participate in the online conversation around it, is incredibly appealing to me.
While my issue with not owning the physical copy isn’t inherently solved, depending on how many concurrently running episodic games are released each week, in addition to the other added benefits of the service, the additional cost being applied to experience these games would be mitigated drastically.
Since I would be able to play the games right as they were coming out, I could justify waiting for the eventual physical edition to drop in price years down the road considering there is no longer any urgency to pick it up.
Truthfully I wouldn’t be opposed to Sony or Microsoft publishing first-party episodic games that are exclusive to their respective services and are never released as a stand-alone purchase. This would help solidify the unique value of the service by providing a unique experience that I can consume in its intended format, without the stress of having to “double-dip” at some point in the future.
How do you feel about the potential for episodic games to make a comeback? Would a consistent release schedule of episodic games encourage you to sign up for GamePass or the new Playstation Plus? What franchises could benefit from an episodic structure in the future? Let us know what you think in the comments below!