Bigfoot, Crop Circles and Electronic Gaming -
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
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
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
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
proprietor of Spectre
, and couldn't produce a wooden nickel without all the
incredible freelancers who prop him up and make him look good.
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
Part the First: In
which the Humble Narrator gets,
if not the Last Laugh, at least a sigh of
It's like Lewis and Clark, only geeky...
Part the Third:
Everybody's got one...
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