I’m not a huge gamer. Well, that’s a little bit of a lie. I was in high school back in the 80’s when video games exploded onto the cultural scene. I’ll never forget the day the school bus broke down on Navy Boulevard in Pensacola, Florida. One of my buddies led me to a nearby miniature golf course that had added a video arcade. It was my first experience on Tail Gunner, and will live forever in my mind.
Over the next few years, I spent a lot of time and money at that arcade, riding the wave of the video game revolution on Asteroids, Defender, Mario Brothers, Spy Hunter, and others. But I graduated from high school and weaned myself off the games easily. After all, I had no quarters, and girls, college, and sports consumed most of my time. It wasn’t until around 2003 that my friend Ron Phillips, the owner of Digital Radiance introduced me to HALO: Combat Evolved. I wound up playing a lot of HALO with my growing sons. Man, I loved killing aliens. And exploring those virtual worlds with my boys was great, especially when they wound up taking care of me inside the digital universe!
HALO was a turning point for the video game industry and saved the XBox. Another milestone was the release of HALO 2 in 2004. It sold a staggering 2.38 million units on the first day, shattering all records with $125 million in sales. The die had been cast. And just this past week, seven years later, Modern Warfare 3 topped 9.3 million units on its first day, and many of these sales were direct downloads.
So why do I care? For one thing, a lot of potential readers are playing video games. Millions. All over the world. For another, people have plenty of leisure time. Time that creative business people are figuring out ways to fill.
For better or worse, the Big-Six publishing companies are not among these savvy entrepreneurs. Few hard copy titles in brick and mortar stores would appeal to the millions of video game players. As a group, they aren’t into romance novels, or vampire/werewolf love stories, or character-driven novels devoid of any action. They want stories they can relate to, about the problems that are facing them today or that they could envision facing tomorrow. Multiplayer, a PlotForge novel that will be released in about a month, was written for them. Not surprisingly, it is not being released through the Big-Six.
The exclusion of a massive market by traditional publishers may not be intentional. Rather, the industry focused its attention on maintaining what it had, and not exploring new products and markets. A quick look at the websites of literary agents, the gatekeepers of traditional publishing, illustrates this fact. The typical biographical blurb tells of a life-long love of great literary works, followed by a statement that they only represent books they personally fall in love with. In other words, with such gatekeepers, the publishing industry is creating the products it feels like making, rather than being driven by what consumers want to buy. In fact, after reviewing Multiplayer, one agent stated, “It is too commercial,” as if that was a negative. In what other industry would a salesperson turn away because the product is commercially viable?
Even as I type this blog, my business partners and I are getting ready for the release of Multiplayer – in eBook formats to suit the market the novel was written to reach. The first of many releases for PlotForge in the coming months. And I can’t help but think back to how the personal entertainment industry has changed during my lifetime. In 1981 I had to go to a video arcade and pump quarters into a machine that cost as much as a house. Today, I sit in my den and play Modern Warfare 3 on an XBox that only cost a few hundred bucks but is far more powerful than a Cray II. In 1981 I stopped by Walden Books and picked up the latest Piers Anthony novel, a work that required hundreds, perhaps thousands of people to create, produce, distribute, and sell. Today, well… Walden Books doesn’t even exist anymore.