When I was growing up I wanted to be a doctor, it took me 30 years but I finally got my shit together and now I’m on my way to becoming one. Why did I want to be one? That’s not the important thing, what is important is books! My family had a close friend who was a doctor, he had a really cool house with a pool, a game room and a bunch of other impressive “I want my neighbors to be envious” stuff. When we would visit this friend one would not find me playing in the game room, or in the pool; I was,99% of the times someone was looking for me, in my favorite room of the house. To get to this room you had to go through the living room and down the stairs that lead to the game room. From the game room you had to go through a small hallway past a bedroom, a guest bathroom and through a very large and heavy wooden door that looked like it belonged in a dungeon.
Through this wonderfully out of place door was an immaculate room with wood ceiling panels, a really old leather couch and a huge wooden desk filled with all the things little boys want to play with but know they will get their hands slapped if they touch. It was the study, something no house I had ever been in had and I have, since that day, wanted.
The walls of the study were covered in books, hundreds of books! I always asked the same question of our family friend whenever I would get to see the study “Did you really read all these books?” And the answer was always the same “Yes, some of them twice!”
Ever since my discovery of this wondrous study having my own has been my idea of “making it”, you know getting to that point in life where you know you have gotten “there.” Mind you I know idea what “there” is or what the fabulous “it” is but I know I want to be “there” with “it!” When I bought my first house I knew exactly where the study would go once I had accumulated enough wealth to design a lavished room of solitude that would meet my rigorous standards. Every time I have moved I have had to haul far too many boxes full of books; books I have been saving to fill my inset, built-in, oak, hand-crafted book shelves. Books I should have donated or sold by now but have held onto with the desire to one day answer the always innocent and some what naive question “did you read all of these?” With a some what smug and playful “Yes, some of them twice!”
So what does this have to do with gaming? Books! The print industry is facing sweeping changes and content providers such as Wizards of the Coast, Evil Hat, Piazo, and many others face many of the same tidal wave of change and required evolution. All this change has definitely affected the way these producers are offering their content. This change is sure to affect my dream of full book shelves and I don’t know how to feel about that.
I’m no industry expert, and many, many bloggers, authors, and forum trolls have written about the possible death of print and the future of content distribution. I’m not going to get into the logistics of it. I just want to look at how I as a player and DM am being affected by this new/upcoming era of digital distribution and diminished print.
1. No Books? Nope, I don’t really subscribe to the idea that books will altogether disappear in my life time, though I also didn’t buy into the idea that I would be walking around with StarTrek-esq data pads that would allow me to video chat with friends all over the world on high speed wireless networks. Hello mr. iPad way to kill my confidence in my ability to predict the future.
But in all seriousness, with the install base of e-readers being what it is, 8% of American adults according to Cnet, I doubt the end of books will be a viable option for most publishers for decades to come. Schools around the world would have to quickly adopt e-readers, entire supply chains would have to be dismantled and confidence in DRM technology would have to increase tenfold. Many publishers would have to see e-book sales overtake printed books by such a large margin that they would drop books out of fear of profit loss, and this looks to be a long way off. Again I have been wrong about the future before.
But many publishers with smaller markets, such as game companies have the ability to adapt to this new form of distribution with much less hassle. Wizards of the coast has already down shifted their print release schedule and pushed 3-4 of their scheduled release from 2011 to their online DDi subscription format. This could be a sign that smaller companies could make a run at the online e-only content in my lifetime. Scary to me, but also some what exciting.
Perhaps more realistically what we will see in the gaming industry is what it looks like Wizards of the Coast and Piazo have already begun to do. Publish the core game to a print format (I know Piazo and Evil hat offer both print and digital), from there publish only a few print format titles and support the core online with e-format. This could be beneficial to both players and the game companies. Content could be provided in smaller easier to manage chunks giving players and GMs the ability to use only the content they want with out having to wade through everything that does not interest them. It could also mean less delay in content. If a new rule set for, lets say, a class were to be released in a book gamers would have to wait for all of the content for that book to be finished then printed and distributed. With an online e-content format once the class is finished it can be directly distributed with out waiting.
2. Quality Gap? One fear I have always had with the move to online e-format for publishing is the gap between the quality of printed products and online publishing. In a print world publishers must make pain staking care not to allow flaws in their published product to reach the market. Quality builds reputations, and shabby flawed products garner the ire of the mass market. Once a product has shipped any flaws remaining in the product are there to stay, and if a company prints in large scale that can be a painful thought.
If this is true though why is the game industry plagued with incomplete products, easily found and corrected “See pg.xx” errors and text that needs clarification multiple times in a single year? Perhaps the gap in online vs print quality is only a perceived gap, and as the format grows and matures the gap we think we see might diminish or turn out to be non-existent.
Imagine e-readers with an option to allow push updates to your game content. If an error in the product is found the publisher has the ability to send an updated version to your e-reader. This might make for some lazy publishers who would follow the suit of the video gaming industry of shipping flawed products and getting it right in the “next patch.” But it would also allow for evolving games to continue to be fix and edited if the opted to allow it. One might even be able to keep an unedited version backed up in case the changes are not to ones desire.
3. The death of Gaming Stores! Where to begin with this? First not all content for games can be distributed digitally. Maps, tokens, figurines (see Wharhammer 40k, Warmachiner et al.) board games, dice, cards and on and on, would have to have a venue for purchase. Like content providers and publishers gaming stores would have to evolve. Perhaps many stores will close if this new digital future takes hold of the industry, but many will evolve and survive, and they will most likely give rise to new stores following a successful model.
For many the gaming store represents the heart of the hobby, being a meeting place for many a gaming hour. Any change that could negatively affect these havens of hobby and game play would certainly raise the gamer in me to want to defend the FLGS (Friendly Local Game Store) in any way possible. But any change that affects my wallet and perhaps the growth, future, and quality of the gaming industry might be cause get behind even if my poor FLGS might have to suffer for it. To be honest Amazon has become my preferred method of buy print games over the last year. The discount offered allows me to buy 3 books for the price of 2 and that is huge when you live life on the college kid budget. But I still buy all my supplies, paint, minis and what not from my FLGs. If digital distribution helps to grow the gaming hobby, FLGS could benefit from increased sales of their physical stock, perhaps enough to offset the drop in book sales. I’m no business expert though, I can’t predict the future for gaming store, I can only muse and hope for the best.
#4. Lack of ownership: This is one I struggle with and I have yet to really solidify my thoughts and feelings about. As many gamers pay their subscription fees for online content such as DDi many fear that at the end of their subscriptions the content they paid for is no longer theirs. No more character builder, no more monster editor, and no more virtual table. Unless readers meticulously download every article released at the end of their subscription access to all that content ends, poof.
Will digital books face the same fight digital music? Can I have multiple copies on multiple drives? When I’m done with them can I give or sell them to others? If I were to leave the hobby right now I am sure I could get a few hundred bucks out of my investment. If my collection was digital would I be able to reap such a return? Would anyone actually be willing to buy second hand digital content if they can just torrent it? Scary for me to ponder, what value do e-commodities on a second hand market if any at all?
How will gaming be affect by this new era of digital distribution? Who knows, but my fear of not being able to fill my ornately carved bookshelves in my lavishly decorated study (which smells distinctly of rich mahogany and book dust) have diminished as I realize there is still life in books; at least for now.
Expect more to come on this topic in the near future.
Part idiot. Part old man. All geek. Thadeous can't think of anything interesting about him self right now. Know this though if he could it would be creative and funny as well as thought provoking.