What Video Games Taught Me About The Power of Episodic Content

I’m not a huge fan of mixing work and pleasure – it’s not that I don’t enjoy my job, but I believe strongly in maintaining a clear work/life balance. However, there are times when I’ll be doing something completely unrelated to work – such as playing a video game about zombies – and can’t help thinking about how it relates to what I do on a day-to-day basis.

Which brings me onto an important lesson about content I’ve learnt from playing ‘The Walking Dead’. An offshoot of Robert Kirkman’s titanic zombie soap opera which now spans a TV series, a series of comic books and some novels I didn’t even know existed until I started writing this post, ‘The Walking Dead’ video game is about a bloke called Lee who ends up facing off with nasty brain guzzlers.

So far, so videogame – what’s this got to do with marketing? Well, the most intriguing part of ‘The Walking Dead’ lies not in its actual content (although there’s quite a lot of lessons about narrative for the budding content marketer to learn there too) but in the way it was released.

See, unlike most video games which are released in their entirety, blown through in a weekend and then never thought about again until a nostalgic conversation five years down the line and/or film adaptation, ‘The Walking Dead’ was released as a series of five episodes.

The Power of Episodic Content

Episodic content is a rapidly emerging concept in video games, but is also something that I feel could be well applied to content in general, if not necessarily for the monetary reasons the videogame industry is adapting it for.

In the case of ‘The Walking Dead’, the episodic content model has been a roaring success. The first episode came out way back in April and quickly became one of the most downloaded games ever, probably owing to the power of ‘The Walking Dead’ brand (another topic for another day).

Since then, episodes have been released approximately every two months culminating in the final part being released last week. My personal routine over the course of the ‘season’ – and one I’m sure most other people playing the game as episodes were released shared – went something like this:

  • New episode is released, rush home and download immediately
  • Finish new episode in a single sitting, tell everyone how great it was
  • Go online  and on social media to read what other people were saying about the episode
  • Wait mournfully for the next episode, checking regularly for updates

So in total, the time I spent actually consuming each piece of content was around two hours. Yet factor in the time I spent thinking and reading about the game and you’re looking at a hell of alot of engagement with a single piece of content over a half-year period, and the sort of engagement most content marketers can only dream about.

Oh yeah, I should probably mention that since I’ve started playing ‘The Walking Dead’ games, I’ve also bought numerous comic books from the series as a result. So it’s worked directly as a marketing tool too.

All of which has convinced me that episodic content is an extremely powerful tool when done right. It’s also relatively easy to apply – if you’ve got an epic blog post planned, why not divide it up into five smaller chunks and release it on a regular basis? If it’s well done and has good initial engagement, you’ve more or less guaranteed yourself an audience for next four posts. That won’t be a dormant audience either; the chances are they will share the initial post with their friends and encourage them to start reading as soon as possible. This means more backlinks from a diverse range of locations so it’s a pretty good idea in SEO terms too.

Of course, planning out a series of ‘episodic’ blog posts would require a lot of research and forward planning, but the initial hard slog will undoubtedly be worth it in the long run and the value you derive from the series will probably outweigh that of drawing up five or so entirely unrelated blogposts. It’s a concept I’m certainly going to be looking to apply to my own work in the future.

  • Written by on 28th November 2012 at 14:48
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