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Virtually Adventurous: Exploring electronic publishing

Bigfoot, Crop Circles and Electronic Gaming - Myths Debunked

by Matt Drake & Guy McLimore
Sep 03,2002


Bigfoot, Crop Circles and Electronic Gaming - Myths Debunked

Matt Drake here again, for another installment of Virtually Adventurous. With this column, I hope to debunk some of the myths and misperceptions surrounding electronic publishing for the adventure gaming industry. I have heard many arguments from detractors and promoters, and no one side has all the facts straight all the time. So I'm going to address some of the problems I've heard with electronic publishing, and see if we can't clear this up a little.

Myth #1: Electronic Publishers Compromise Quality

A common theory among e-game detractors is that the creators of e-published games are less capable than the people who make printed games. According to this theory, we are less dedicated to our products, and tend to release total dross just to say we have a game out there. The fact is, we can't afford to suck. Our sales are ridiculously low compared to print books, and poor quality will cut those numbers even lower.

This myth of poor quality seems to assume that just because a product is in print, it has to be higher quality than an electronic product. I don't intend to make a list here, but there are plenty of games in print with bad writing, terrible grammar, horrid art, and pathetic design. Electronic publishers work hard to overcome this stigma of low production values, and the result is that e-products often raise the bar, regularly surpassing printed games in terms of production value.

Myth #2: Electronic Publishing is Easy

I have heard people say that print design is much harder than e-publishing, but this is patently absurd. Designing and laying out a professional product is done in exactly the same manner, whether the product is electronic or destined for print. Text is flowed into layout software, illustrations are processed and placed, and page design elements are adjusted for the perfect fit. We just don't send out products to the printers when we're done.

In fact, there are several design considerations for the e-publisher which the print publisher can ignore. File size is critical, and graphics must be made attractive and yet compact. In a printed product, the designer has complete control over final output, while the e-publisher must make products accessible to a much wider spectrum of customers. Flexibility is key here, and files must be quick to download and easy to read.

I am not downgrading the difficulty involved in creating printed books. Printed products require just as much talent and professionalism. My only point here is that e-products require the same dedication and professionalism if a quality product is to be produced.

Myth #3: Electronic Publishing is Cheap

First off, it should be stated right up front that e-publishing is certainly more affordable than print. However, it is still not cheap. Hiring talent costs money, and even if you do all the work yourself, there are still considerable costs involved in producing quality electronic products.

Your first cost after the business license is your website. If you can write and maintain the site yourself, you can save hundreds. However, you will still need hosting, a domain name, and set-up fees. These are not free, though you should be able to afford them for, say, $100 - $200.

Good talent costs money. The going rate for a full page of black and white art is around $100 - $120, and covers are downright prohibitive, clocking in at anywhere from $250 - $1000. Typical writing rates are $.03 - $.05 per word, which means that a 100 page book could cost you as much as $2000. Of course, everything in this industry is negotiable, but unless you can write and draw, you'll need some money to hire freelancers.

Finally, promotion isn't free. Advertisements, even at reasonably priced web sites, cost money. Your posters will not be in game stores, so your name will need some serious pimping if you want to actually sell these products you've dumped so much into already. Even listing your products at online retailers (such as the RPGnet Mall) cuts into profits, though you should certainly get your products into these retail outlets to increase your sales.

Electronic publishing is a lot more accessible to the publishing hopeful. All the costs I've discussed here may still not rival the expense of printing and distribution costs alone. However, electronic publishing still isn't free, and should not be undertaken on a whim.

Myth #4: Anyone With Word and Acrobat Can Do This

Not only is the creation of professional e-products not easy, it requires many resources that should not be taken for granted. Quark, Pagemaker and InDesign are all excellent page layout programs. Microsoft Word is not. Word is fine for receiving and sending raw text, but inadequate for layout work. It is unwieldy, and its image processing leaves a lot to be desired. Furthermore, compression is far more limited in Word, which could cause your file to be several times larger than you may want it to be.

Photoshop is the standard in graphics manipulation software, though there are other raster image programs that you can use instead. Regardless of your software preference, you will need some form of graphics software, and the QUIK PHOTO software that came with your printer is not going to cut it.

FTP software is affordable, but requires some knowledge of online protocol. Web design can be done in Word Pad, but you either need lots of knowledge or lots of software. Obviously, you can't make PDFs without Adobe Acrobat, and for all our sakes, learn how to use it.

So to sum up, we're not rookies, we're not cheapskates, we're not lazy, and we're not slackers. Electronic publishers work hard to create quality products. Several sites have been mentioned in these columns - do yourself a favor and check one out. To get you started, check out Cumberland Games. S. John Ross has been making great stuff for years, and sets a great standard for electronic publishing.

Guy here with my usual addendum. I agree with Matt that consumers need to learn to distinguish truth from myth regarding e-publishing. But so do beginning e-publishers! There are a vast number of great resources available to learn about the realities of e-publishing, but most adventure game e-publishers haven't even begun to explore them. (And yes, Matt -- one of the first ones they should explore is the Adobe Acrobat manual...)

Here are a few of my favorite e-publishing resources:

About.com's e-publishing resource page has a lot of great links. Many of them are most applicable to scholarly and how-to e-publishing, but much of it is useful to anyone putting information into e-readable formats for sale to the public. Warning: about.com has lots of annoying pop-up windows...

The University of Michigan Press' Journal of Electronic Publishing often goes beyond discussions of scholarly e-publishing into articles of interest to all commercial e-publishers. A great place to see what is going down on the bleeding edge of e-publishing philosophy and practice.
Electronic Book Web (EBW) aims to be a hub for the entire e-publishing community, and it certainly has made a promising start toward that goal. EBW was founded by Glenn Sanders and Wade Roush, the founders of the original eBookNet.com, when the duos former employers (makers of the GemStar e-book platform) decided that the original site's broad appeal to all sorts of e-publishing formats detracted from the company's desired focus on their own platform's marketing efforts. Sanders and Roush mingle the latest e-book tech news with commentary, community discussion, and lots of tutorial information. A great general-interest site for the e-publisher.

The primary Adobe Acrobat site is a little harder to navigate than it should be, but it is still an essential source of information about the PDF platform that is too often missed by beginning e-publishers.

PlanetPDF offers the latest news about using the PDF e-publishing platform, as well as access to the most comprehensive list available of PDF-related software tools and developer resources. If you haven't explored this site, you have no idea how much PDF can do!

This is the home website of the newly-formed Digital Publishers Group, a consortium of adventure gaming e-publishers. Though the group is just getting started, it shows promise as a forum for exchange of info among e-publishers of adventure gaming products, as well as a place where such publishers can gain exposure for their products. Publishers interested in joining (and gaining access to the group's lively email discussion list) can contact the group at membership@digitalrpg.org.

Matt Drake is sole proprietor of Spectre Press, and couldn't produce a wooden nickel without all the incredible freelancers who prop him up and make him look good.

Guy McLimore is Executive Editor and CEO of MicroTactix Inc., which is a fancy way of saying he's the Face Man for a coalition of adventure game designers, writers and artists who are too busy cranking out great products to keep him from stealing the spotlight. He and his compatriots at MicroTactix invite you to visit them at the RPGnet Mall booth at GenCon Game Fair 2002, August 8-11, in Milwaukee, WI.

Links to previous installments of Virtually Adventurous
Part the First: In which the Humble Narrator gets,
if not the Last Laugh, at least a sigh of relief...

Part the Second: It's like Lewis and Clark, only geeky...

Part the Third: Everybody's got one...

Part the Fourth: In which the Humble Narrator discusses why your e-published work should be "more than print" -- even though comparison to print is not, in the long run, the point at all...

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  • Part the Sixth: In which the Humble Narrator hears the voice of by Guy McLimore & Matt Drake, 07oct02
  • Bigfoot, Crop Circles and Electronic Gaming - Myths Debunked by Matt Drake & Guy McLimore, 03sep02
  • Part the Fourth by Guy McLimore & Matt Drake, 05aug02
  • Part Three: Everybody's Got One by Guy McLimore and Matt Drake , 15jul02
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