Epic's Mark Rein Slams Episodic Gaming

By Chris Remo, Jul 12, 2006 9:00am PDT During the Develop Conference in Brighton today, Epic Games VP Mark Rein delivered a keynote about the economic issues of next generation development, and the outspoken executives had some harsh words for the growing trend of episodic game content. "IÂ’ve heard a lot of insane talk about episodic content," he said. "Very little of it makes any actual sense. ItÂ’s a broken business." Rein believes that the nature of episodic development will lead to too much repetition in games.
He explained, “Customers are supposed to buy half a game for $20, then wait six months for an episode? When I put a game down, I want to try a new one. Episodic games that offer faster turnaround will inevitably be using a lot of recycled content, walking through the same environments and shooting the same enemies with the same weapons.”

He said that episodic games could never compete will full-priced products. “They’re competing against massive marketing budgets. Distribution without marketing is worthless. You can’t buy retail marketing with a wholesale price of $15.” He added, “Full-price games have a cohesive start, middle and end.”

In fact, stated Rein, the games industry already operates on a proven episodic model as illustrated by the industry's frequent spinoffs and sequels. "What scares me is people betting their business on making money out of this [new episodic model]." Companies such as Valve and Telltale Games currently have business plans with a heavy emphasis on episodic content.

Some of Rein's statements were reportedly criticized by the keynote's audience. "Mark, you are a dinosaur, you are wrong," said one attendant, according to Next Generation. Another pointed out that Rein's company's flagship product, Unreal Engine 3, is heavily geared towards high-end, high-budget game development, and his comments regarding episodic content may be biased and self-serving. Rein noted that Epic offers an Xbox Live Arcade model for its engine. Indeed, Naked Sky's upcoming Live Arcade and PC title RoboBlitz uses Unreal Engine 3. However, based on a Naked Sky press release regarding the game, that situation may not be particularly common. "Next-generation game engines like Unreal Engine 3 use very large textures which make the 50MB requirement essentially impossible to meet with existing technologies," reads the statement; the developer avoided the problem by licensing technology to procedurally generate textures rather than have artists create them ahead of time. This is similar to techniques used in Will Wright's upcoming Spore.

Rein also reiterated a common opinion of his that Intel has been a prime factor in the decline of the PC gaming market by way of its widespread adoption of integrated graphics solutions rather than dedicated cards. "Intel is evil, we need to kick its ass," he said. "The difference in price in offering better graphics chips is negligible. You couldn’t buy a meal for that price. We’re talking five bucks.”

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72 Threads | 407 Comments

  • While he does have his points, I find it ironic that these statements are coming from the same guy that rehashes out Unreal series left and right and I lost count a long time ago.

    The games use the same basic weapons and character models and game modes, just mainly new maps and vehicles and little goodies and updates to the engine.

    Do we have Unreal Tourney 2K7 now? Just curious, I quit playing around 2K4 or something.

    If I'm wrong, so be it, but this is how I view UT now - a rehashed product. Not that the stuff id Software has been putting out is any better...

    Atleast Prey has some originality...

    If episodic gaming stays below the $20 mark, has the same game time as the few out now (Sin Emergnece, HL Episode 1), they will do OK ONLY IF they maintain a 6 month product cycle, IMO.

  • I'm not sure I like the idea of episodic gaming. I have a really short attention span and didn't even make it through Half Life 2. So it makes sense to make shorter games so more players will complete the entire game.

    However, I also like like the idea of purchasing full length games while offering additional content as bonus items over time. It adds incentive for game players to buy the game as opposed to pirate it. I would be much more liable to buy a game if I knew there was a possibility down the road that I would be getting additional game content down the road at no cost.

    Really, I guess if the content in episodic gaming is fresh and worth the price of admission, then I don't see a problem with it. Maybe after all the episodes in a game are released they could be packaged as a bundle and sold at a discount.

  • While we're all focusing on his episodic gaming comments, anyone catch his take on why PC gaming is "dying":

    "He also accused Intel of killing the PC games market with its integrated graphics laptops and desktops. “Intel is evil, we need to kick its ass. … The difference in price in offering better graphics chips is negligible. You couldn’t buy a meal for that price [difference]. We’re talking five bucks.”

    I'm not so sure you can actually produce a dedicated GPU for the relatively minor marginal cost of $5 over an integrated chipset. I realize this is hyperbole, but anyone else get the idea that he might feeling that his nice shiny high-end graphics engine might find itself behind the 8 ball?

  • Rein has unwittingly become the posterchild for all who curse the lack of innovation in contemporary video gaming. Episodic gaming is an interesting idea, filled with possibilities worth exploring. It's not the be-all, end-all direction for the entire industry must take as he seems to regard it.

    Personally, I'd like to buy an episode, play through it and, if I enjoyed it enough, go back to the store/website and pick up/download the next one, or at least be able to wait only one month, two at most. For this reason, even though I bought, played, and enjoyed both Half-Life 1 and 2 and SiN, I have yet to purchase any episodes. I will though, one day, when there are enough episodes available to do what I just described.

    I know, I know, this whole episodic gaming thing is just getting started, that major players like Valve are doing this with little or nothing to go by. In time, however, they will have this down pat, they will be able to crank out episodes with more frequency, but that's where I need the state of episodic gaming to be before I spend my time and money on it, and Rein should allow for some leeway in his view of the industry to let the idea grow and let it happen.