Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Books vs. games

I've just finished writing the first draft of a novel - a project I've been working on off and on for seven years. Now that it's done, I've been doing what I should be doing, namely having people read it and give me feedback, and of course, doing what I should not yet be wasting time doing, namely looking into publishing options. I was struck by the similarity between the process for books and the process for games.

 For both, you have two basic options - try to get a traditional publisher to put it out, or try publishing yourself.

 The big problems with the traditional route, for both books and games, are:

  • Only a tiny fraction of games/novels get published 
  • Whether you get published or not, the path there is fraught with rejection, expense, and heartache 
  • It takes forever 

The big problems with the self-publishing route are:

  • You have to invest in printing up your book/game up front
  • You may never, ever attract an audience, so your print run and the money that you put into it will be wasted
  • Your work will be perceived as (and may well be) lesser quality than the published route, which comes with editing, consultation, and revision built in.

In both industries, there are new, inexpensive options for print-on-demand, which is awesome.  With games, there's The Game Crafter, SuperiorPOD, and others.  With books, there's Lulu, CreateSpace, and many more.  These options offer a chance to sell your books or games one at a time, so there's no big investment up front - that's a huge sea change from even ten years ago.  Unfortunately, they're also somewhat expensive, so there's not much room for a profit margin going this way.

There are two big differences, though:

  1. With books, there are now e-readers like the Kindle and Nook.  The customer already has these things.  That's great for authors, because you can send them a digital file at essentially no cost to yourself, so even at a low price, you get a good return per book.  It's good for readers, because they can get books for very low prices (after they've shelled out for the reader, that is) if they're willing to buy from indie authors and risk the chance that the book is crappy.
  2. With games, there's Kickstarter, which has become a big new funding mechanism for games.  Actually, it's really more of a pre-sale mechanism, which gets the game designer or publisher the money they need up front.  That means there's no risk of financial ruin for the designer/publisher, because they already have the money.  The risk is distributed amongst many customers, who have less money at stake and risk only that the game will suck.
So, what's the lesson here?  Two things.

First, it would be awesome if there were some kind of widely-used standardized e-game platform (like the Kindle or Nook) that you could have people buy and then distribute games to.  I know, in a lot of ways this is just a software problem - almost everybody who buys games has a computer or iPad or xBox or something, and there are boardgame implementations for all of these.  But most of those platforms aren't ideal for boardgames, and the coding is nearly all one-off, customized.  If you had a standardized platform that could handle typical game-related mechanics (large board, cards, dice, tokens, etc.), you could design a game, implement it for the platform, and distribute it to everybody who has one, for a low cost.  There are attempts to do this online - boardgame simulators, places like SpielByWeb and Yucata.de - but these are still web-based, and not usually something a family would sit around and do together.  There have been some efforts to do something like this (e.g. http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/468008685/global-gamespace) but I'm not familiar with any that have succeeded to the point of having dedicated hardware and a real boardgame feel.

Second, it would be cool to use Kickstarter for novels. A number of book projects are in fact funded via Kickstarter, but the ones I've seen usually books with very high production costs, like books of photos, or comic books, or that kind of thing.  There is a fiction section on Kickstarter, too, though, and it has some novels listed.  As a novel writer, if you knew you had sales lined up for a book, and you had the money in hand from your Kickstarter campaign, you could use that funding to support yourself while you worked on the book, allowing you to dedicate more time to it and finish faster.  You'd also cut out the commissions you have to pay, either to a traditional publisher or to Amazon and Barnes and Noble for distributing e-books.  Given that e-books are on the rise, and that printing books is pretty cheap, I think  Kickstarter is probably far less important to getting a book published than it has been to getting a game published.

Just spitballing here, but it's been an interesting thing to consider.

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