Fan-Made and Episodic: How to Revive Dead Genres

Fan-Made and Episodic: How to Revive Dead Genres

They said it couldn’t be done: Adventure games were ‘dead,’ no one cared about the franchise, license holder Vivendi Games got sold during development and, oh yeah, there was also the little matter of that pesky cease and desist order. Still, Phoenix Online Studios (POS) – a homebrew development outfit determined to breathe new life into the King’s Quest franchise, last seen quietly departing this mortal coil in 1998’s Mask of Eternity – was committed to making miracles happen.

Debuting July 10, new point-and-click PC adventure game The Silver Lining (a free download eight years in development that’s soon to be followed by additional complimentary installments), represents the fruits of its long, hard labor. But even more intriguing than the title’s unlikely road to release (with approval from current franchise owner Activision, no less) is its chosen method of delivery. Specifically,  episodic, a business and distribution model which – while successful for other classic brands like Sam & Max and Monkey Island, plus Valve’s esteemed Half-Life 2 – as history as proven, has largely been a failure.

Curious about the decision, as well as how, against all odds, POS is illustrating how a little help from fans is all it takes to ensure that even the most moribund series or genre can still live again, we got in touch with designer/producer Cesar Bittar. Below, he explains how amateur development, digital game delivery and the episodic model can be used to unprecedented effect by game makers, marketers and fans alike:

How does episodic gaming allow even supposedly “dead” genres and franchises to live again?

CB: The model actually works great for those “dead” franchises. Episodic games are digitally distributed, which reduces production costs, but it also means developers don’t have their game on a shelf where gamers can see it in the stores. So episodic developers need a different way to gain a following, get the word out there, and get people to download their product. What better way than to revive a franchise that comes with its own fan base, hungry for a new installment?

From a development standpoint, episodic development allows teams to remain focused on one chunk of a game at a time, rather than trying to juggle the whole development. It cuts down on feature creep because once an episode is released, it’s done and you move on—before you have time to revisit it and come up with a bunch of changes, which always happens in long-term developments. It also keeps teams motivated: By the time you blink, you’re working on fresh material.

Basically, it allows for an easier production and release schedule over the long term. Rather than waiting to finish development and production on the entire game, we’re able to release the first episode while the later ones are still being worked on and finished up. This lets us draw out the initial interest by staying in the news, building even more of a following as we go along, and it enables us to control the distribution under our terms.

About Scott Steinberg
Scott Steinberg is CEO of strategic consulting and product testing firm TechSavvy Global, and a noted keynote speaker and business expert. Hailed as a top tech expert and parenting guru by critics from USA Today to NPR, he’s also an on-air analyst for ABC, CBS and CNN.


  1. The Silver Lining Episode 4 was just released. All 4 episodes are free to download. Also, check out the soundrack I composed which contains hours of orchestral music.

    We are working on a commercial game called Cognition which needs some funding via kickstarter. Jane Jensen is onboard to make this one fabulous adventure game and I will also be composing this. Take a look at the trailer and kickstarter page here:

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