Episodic Games, Here to Stay? A Look at Penny Arcade

futurelab default header

by : Alex Eperjessy

Today on Business&Games, Penny Arcade Adventures: On The Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness. It’s an adventure game, it has a title long enough to raise one of your eyebrows and it might just spearhead a new generation of episodic games created and published outside the sphere of big name companies. Let’s see what perspectives this could open for both developers and advertisers. But first, a quick brief to acquaint you with the game’s creators, before we move to talk about the game.

Penny Arcade is one of the best known webcomics, dealing primarily with video game-related subjects and doing so in a rather humorous way. They’ve been around for a good while now and it doesn’t look like they’re going anywhere. Besides, the comic’s creators are busy people, having cyclical events such as the PAX gaming convention and Child’s Play, a charity that’s nothing short of awesome, under their belt. They did artwork for video games, they picked a tooth with a certain luna- erm, a certain lawyer known as Jack Thompson and then there’s more. And now, they made a game. And called it OTRSPOD (see the first paragraph).

Developped by the PA creators (Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik) together with Hothead Games and Ron Gilbert, the game presents itself as an oldschool adventure game, vaguely reminiscent of old-school LucasArts titles. That is to say, the humorous tone made me think of Grim Fandango here and there. Good times.

In business terms however, OTRSPOD is the perfect example of capitalizing on an IP properly. Like one player put it, this isn’t some cheap flash game with the Penny Arcade logo slapped in, this is Penny Arcade. And fans love it. According to Mike Krahulik, as far as Xbox 360 launches go, they’ve had the third best launch yet, measured in units sold over a period of three days. It also doesn’t harm at all that the game is multi-platform, playable on windows, mac, linux and the Xbox. And according to a thread on the Greenhouse (the Hothead/PA store) forums, said fans found the 20 dollars price to be more than worth it, in terms of play time and quality.

One question popped up about On the Rainslick though…fan reception aside, does the game have enough of a kick to a) attract players not familiar with Penny Arcade and b) make a second episode viable? Penny Arcade thinks so, but some reviewers disagree, saying the game might be lacking the openness needed to attract Penny Arcade outsiders. For my part, I’ll say that the game is indeed rather hermetic, using humour and refferences that those unfamiliar with PA might even find…disturbing. However, it is a damn good adventure game and, between broken MMOs and glossy but dumb shooters, I’m certainly welcoming it.

Whether the game being so accurate in targeting its audience is a good or a bad thing, I’m not sure yet. I know that my mom wouldn’t appreciate it for example but then again, they didn’t make it for her. And sure, it won’t be as widely popular as Wii Sports for example, but it’s a thrill to the Penny Arcade fan base, base which might even grow as the game spreads. Like they say, to each their own.

And if the game has anything, it’s individuality. Of course, it’s easy when your brand has a very strong and unique identity and operates in a medium that neighbours video games. But even so, it gives that feeling of certainity (oh yeah, this is definitely Penny Arcade). And frankly, anything short of that would’ve been pretty disappointing. So kudos to them. Think of the difference between "this is that <brand x> game" and "this is that game with the <brand x> logo". The latter doesn’t quite cut it, does it now?

So can the model that OTRSPOD and Sam&Max adopted grow? It certainly can, and there’s room for everyone on board. Advertisers will realize that the episodic nature of the games leaves room for a lot of creativity. And then, self-published games by small developing houses would get some wind in their sails. Of course, I’m not talking about simple advergames here. I’m merely imagining the amount of experimenting that could take place within such a model (episodic games with short development circles, produced outside big name houses, hovering in-between the small casual games and the megastudio-pulling locomotives). Indeed there is much potential here. Already there are news of MMOs that try to take content delivery beyond the release-patch-patch-patch-expand-patch formula and this should be interesting to witness, to say the least.

Original Post:  http://www.futurelab.net/sites/default/files/bgblog/2008/05/minireview_penny_arcade_advent.html