Adventure Games' Selling Points in the New Age

Adventure Games' Selling Points in the New Age

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When it comes to understanding games consumption, the evolution of marketing has been made harder to explain. For most games, the essential storytelling nature of it is self-contained, naturally whole. The idea of a serialized structure for one game’s narrative is less heard of.

Now that DLC is much more commonplace than it was before, the idea of purchasing a game and then purchasing more of it as time progresses seems to be constrained to aesthetic enhancements instead of a tried and true expansion of story content. What those content packs usually contain is explained as cosmetic packs or time-savers for slightly increased enhancements. It’s the difference between Dragon Age: Origins‘ Feastday Gifts and Awakening, one being about in-game gift giving to speed along the favoritism system and the latter offering something bigger than closure, its own adventure for your character in the aftermath. The option to choose between the two is decreasing, game after game, and so people are expecting it less and less.

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In games like The Sims, it can be a combination thereof, where the functions of your gameplay allows for few more variations and actions such as activities or add-ons like pets. Elements such as these used to be free, in content patches, skin libraries, or user-created mods and the like.

Unfortunately, the popularity of this popularization of content distribution overrode the keywords to describe continued chapter-driven releases. Now, after the game’s ship date, instead of one or two continuations based on the same game, some adventure games have episodes or chapters strung together to form a greater narrative segmented over months.

Given the size and expectations of games we have these days, we expect chapters to already be featured in one shipment. When there isn’t, there is this perception that it is an incomplete game ready to sell its future parts as additional material. It’s a marred model of constant streams set in place in order to keep invested parties paying. Meanwhile, there are ways a story can still be told. Stopgaps in development from a one-time payment in the beginning so that the next episode can be written is another such way. The deadlines are shorter, the expectations set, and a tentative audience awaits more.

So what about all those who remain believing that getting a season pass just means map packs and therefore refuse to give the game a go? Are they really missing the point?

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While not all adventure games can necessarily fall under the umbrella of an unbelievable first act, so much so that the wait until the next ones are worth it, a quick look at Kentucky Route Zero is very telling. For an admittedly short mood piece that utilizes a vague highway and dialogue trees, plenty are offered in terms of ambiance and satisfaction. Kentucky Route Zero is a completely nonsensical game. You begin with vectors of characters, no more than silhouettes, and one out of two of them doesn’t even speak. But somehow it finds its way into a stem of empathy, which it desperately needs to carry weight. The abstraction of character motives is more calculated than direct correlations which require a more expansive base of storytelling, but when minimalism can communicate volumes to the player, filling in the pieces is the last component necessary, and it is a fulfilling note.

The length of just one-fifth of a game suffers less. You’re not left wondering why there isn’t more but rather when there can be more in a different direction. Knowing the next component will happen eventually in continuation to what you’ve just experienced in an embodiment that isn’t a full-on sequel (and that which you’ve already paid for) is slightly harder to communicate on the box art.

The whole subscription model is exactly like the in-game item purchases put into a pack that’s been used ever since multiplayer, always-online games and Facebook-only titles have popularized the concept. Revealing all the episodes simultaneously is already picked up for big budget premieres like on Netflix Instant and the audience might expect such in the high speed age. The concept is becoming closer to the zeitgeist even for serialized television in the instantaneous age. Soon, to wait for more story will seem absurd.

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It seems almost counter-intuitive that in spite of the linear nature of visual storytelling, more and more players expect the entirety in a non-linear format laying about on their hard drives until it’s picked up, though they have yet to get to it. It can be that other mediums afford more forgiveness in terms of their rate of being produced, creatively speaking.

But is it necessary? Yes, as Telltale Games’ first season of The Walking Dead points out. In collecting immediate polling data, many players chose suspense in real-time and were able to uniquely shape experiences they were forced to reflect on before moving on. The forced linear progression over the course to the finale was par for the mutually shared experience. Waiting for the series to unfold on a timetable independent of skill level proved to bring the discussion thereof, and as a result, the deconstruction, over the matter of months, and not days. Starting off from a save point or not, there was enough padding in between episode releases that the game was patented for players to catch up and experience the reveals together.

As outdated as sitting around the old television set or listening to the radio at a certain time is, there is still a shared comprehension for broadcast and premieres. When we pay money for value in a game that will be more complete the more time you invest in it in-game or not, that kind of process is less about competition more than it is differentiation. Instead, the diversification of content is something that needs to stay in the vernacular rather than fade away. Let it be explained, let it be debated, even, but it would be a shame to see more purveyors judge the idea when it’s got such a long way to go.

Special thanks to Kalis de Vals for the excellent illustrations!



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