Mobile gaming company Pocket Gems is taking a new approach to telling stories on smartphones with the launch of a new platform called Episode.
CEO Ben Liu hinted at this last month when he talked about the company’s growth, saying that this year would see a big launch focusing on what it means to “experience a story on mobile.” Apparently, Episode is what co-founder Daniel Terry has been working on since he stepped down as CEO and became the company’s chief creative officer at the end of 2012.
Terry told me that he saw a big opportunity in mobile storytelling. After all, stories drive many forms of entertainment media, and even at Pocket Gems, when the company added story elements to its games, he said, “Players just love it, and it really enhances engagement.” Yet stories are either minimal or nonexistent in mobile games.
With Episode, Terry and his team have taken an approach that’s really focused on stories, to the extent that some might not even consider the app to be a game at all. At points in our conversation, Terry compared the approach to an interactive, animated TV show and to a “modern, mobile-first Choose Your Own Adventure.”
The demo that he gave me was pretty simple. Two animated characters were having a conversation at a club, which the player mostly just watches, but at one point the other character offered to buy me a drink and I got to choose what kind.
More exciting than the individual story is the platform that Pocket Gems has built. Using Episode, story writers can choose their settings, customize their characters, then use a simple scripting language to determine what happens, what choices the players will face, and how those choices will affect the rest of the story. Each individual chapter should only take a few minutes to finish, but as the name implies, they’re usually just pieces of a larger narrative. Users can what chapters are available in the Episode smartphone app, which functions as a sort of library.
Pocket Gems has been testing out Episode on iOS, and the company says users have already played 10 million chapters. Today, however, marks the official launch, which includes the release of an Android app and the opening of the scripting platform to anyone who wants to use it. For now, Terry said user-generated chapters will only be shareable with friends, while the public content will still come from professional writers paid by Pocket Gems. But eventually, the company could create a tiered system and start recruiting paid writers from the broader user base.
Players can play a limited number of chapters every few hours, and will have to pay to consume more. However, Terry suggested that the business model is still very much in the experimental phase. He added that the Episode platform could potentially be used to create content for other Pocket Gems games, though there are no specific plans in that area.
You can download the iOS app here. I’ll add a link to the Android app once I have it.