The decision to turn Orwell into a TV-style episodic serial was a bold, risky move. It had the potential to get people talking and elevate the game experience to greater heights, or create the indie game equivalent of a black hole.
In this, the second in a series of posts about the development of Orwell, we talk about going episodic: what went right, what went wrong, and why we’ve decided to do it all again and release Orwell: Ignorance is Strength episodically.
On October 20th, 2016, with our hearts in our mouths, we released the first episode of Orwell via Steam. Over the following four weeks, we continued to release a new episode every Thursday, creating a five week season (“Season One”). As far as we know, Orwell was the first game to release this way on Steam, and the second game ever to attempt this release structure.
When it was first conceived, Orwell was intended to be a single date release. But as development progressed and our publisher–Surprise Attack Games–came on board, meetings about what Orwell was trying to achieve led to numerous discussions about the game’s structure, how it was broken into “days”. Orwell felt like a Netflix series, or an old-school radio play. And we talked a lot about the influence that This American Life’s audio show, Serial, had on podcasts.
When viewed in those terms, creatively, Orwell really suited an episodic release.
Orwell is a thriller with suspense and plot twists being a critical part of the game. By forcing players to wait between episodes, we hoped to accentuate that feeling of suspense and encourage players to really savour the content in each episode rather than rushing through. We wanted players to think about the game’s theme and how we balance privacy, connection, security and freedom in the age of the internet and social media.