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Why episodic game will never work

By on November 24, 2011

Why has episodic gaming never taken off? It seems so simple: make part of a game, build an audience, earn the money to make the next episodes and repeat ad infinitum.

Somehow it never seems to quite work that way. The reason is basic maths.

Let’s imagine that you can keep half of your audience from one episode to the next. (Given how few people finish a traditional AAA game, this seems like a high retention rate to me).

Let’s imagine that you start with an audience of 1 million players.

  • Episode 1: 1,000,000
  • Episode 2: 500,000
  • Episode 3: 250,000
  • Episode 4: 125,000
  • Episode 5: 62,500
  • Episode 6: 31,250

In other words, by the time you are 6 episodes in, you have only got 3% of your initial audience buying your game. It’s going to be hard to make money from an audience that small.

It doesn’t have to be that way. You could be gaining followers with each episode, not losing them. Your audience could be loyal. You might be able to reduce development costs so much on the later episodes that you can be profitable with only a fraction of the initial audience.

But the habits of game developers make that unlikely. They focus on initial launch. They are poor at designing for customer retention rather than customer acquisition. They save their best for last (when few people will see it).

The maths is not an immutable law of nature. It can be beaten. But it is a long, hard and challenging slog compared to the ongoing, iterative development of free-to-play games.

About Nicholas Lovell

Nicholas is the founder of Gamesbrief, a blog dedicated to the business of games. It aims to be informative, authoritative and above all helpful to developers grappling with business strategy. He is the author of a growing list of books about making money in the games industry and other digital media, including How to Publish a Game and Design Rules for Free-to-Play Games, and Penguin-published title The Curve: