Home > business, marketing, publishing > Publishers need to think like Games Developers

Publishers need to think like Games Developers


Publish to several formats

Exclusively everywhere

The publishing world is going mad. Digital technology is disrupting everything that they used to hold dear. Newspaper publishers are seeing their printed paper circulations dropping,  along with the advertising revenues that went with them. At the same time, having given away their online versions for free and keeping them subsidised by the online advertising, the online revenues are not keeping pace with the decline of the offline versions. This is not news and it is well documented in the well written article about the demise of the newspaper as we know it by Clay Shirky

There is a lot of talk in the publishing world about what the industry does not want to be. It does not want to be like the music industry which is trying to keep up with its customers who want to download music. The publishing industry does not want to lose control of its content. It does not want to see authors going direct to consumers and negating the need for their editorial, production and marketing skills. Nor does it want to be in the situation of the newspaper publishers. 

The publishing industry is in a position where devices are starting to become good enough for people to buy eBooks in significant numbers now and publishers are becoming increasingly anxious to adapt to the changing scene amongst their consumers. Their concerns over which format to use and which device will be the ‘killer device’ are growing. Unlike the music industry, publishers have never needed to think about which device to publish their books for. The device was the paper and print. If you publish regluar novels which just has text and no illustrations there is one format for you. If you publish cookbooks, for example, then you need a format which can handle the more complex text and images.

Amazon looks like it will introduce its Kindle 2 device into the UK soon for which publishers will have to provide their eBooks in various formats for Amazon to add in its own digital rights management. Waterstones favours the Sony Reader device and they require eBooks delivered in a format which only really suits novels which contain plain text. There are numerous eBook reading devices on the market and several different formats into which a book can be turned into an eBook. 

Publishers are now having to adapt their skills in print to digital skills to ensure that they are prepared for when their sales of digital books move from being a noticeable item on their top line to a significant part of their bottom line. And, instead of thinking about what they don’t want to be, they should start to think about what they want to be. And there is a model which they should consider.

Computer games developers and publishers have always needed a device to be purchased on which their games can be played. In the early days, it was a computer. Then specialised devices came along and the manufacturers of the devices started to battle it out for domination and Sony was the early winner with the Playstation. Microsoft brought out the Xbox and Nintendo discovered a new market with the Wii. 

But the games publishers and developers learnt fairly early on that the platform did not affect their development and publishing of games. The games developers (the equivalent of authors) created ever more immersive and graphically stunning games to make the most of the power of the games consoles which could be played on either an Xbox or a Playstation. They just developed ‘compiler’ programmes and ‘architectures’ through which their games adapted to the platform for which they had been purchased. Games publishers want to be able to distribute their games onto as many platforms as they can.

The good thing about books unlike a newspaper is that they are likely to be read again. Not read as many times, perhaps, as often as a track is played on a MP3 player, but an eBook has a longer life than a newspaper article, nevertheless. A game is likely to be played several times before it swapped or exchanged. Of course, most games come on a disc. But, increasingly, games are being played online and soon they will be downloaded to consoles when broadband speeds increase. So, in that sense, publishers will be ahead of games developers. 

A game can be rented from Blockbuster for a few nights, or purchased from the store or online. eBooks will need to be adaptable enough to allow different forms of ownership and payment such as borrowing from a library, renting from an online store, as well a perpetual licence when bought outright. 

Book publishers should think like this too. They just need to carry on finding good authors, and marketing the books well and let the device manufacturers fight it out amongst themselves on which device will be the most popular. In the meantime, they need to grow their digital capability to be able to deliver eBooks in several different formats and study how companies like EA Games work to get some ideas.

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  1. 14/04/2009 at 1:03 pm

    I’m a huge proponent of format-agnosticism in digital books, but I have to say that the games industry is one of the worst possible examples you could have used. It’s entire history is one of incredibly damaging format battles, with exclusive and lock-in deals between hardware and software developers that have adversely affected quality on both sides. The economics of the industry is based on making format-agnosticism as difficult as possible, with each hardware manufacturer trying to lock the best developers into their system and gain market share. Some developers are trying to change this, but they’re still in hock to the hardware. As just oe example, it’s still virtually impossible to play most bestselling PC games on a Mac.

    And please, please don’t study EA – a company with appalling working practices, employee care and customer relations, which, among its endless sports sims is responsible for some of the worst, least imaginative games in history.

    • 14/04/2009 at 1:22 pm

      Hi James,

      Thank you for your thoughtful comment. It is good to get opinions.

      I am not advocating that publishers treat their staff badly as you suggest with EA. Far from it. I only speak from the point of view of my time working in Microsoft there was a sigh of relief amongst the game developers who saw that there was going to be a break on the virtual monopoly that Sony had with the Playstation in the market when Microsoft brought out the Xbox (there’s some irony there!). Finally, there was another route open to the games developers and publishers.

      And publishers of books are very similar to games publishers in their wish to sign an author exclusively in their country. It’s a way to ensure they can secure their investment in the book or the game. But a games developer will want to get their game onto as many formats as they can, which they are increasingly able to do. Many households have more than one games platform, and there are increasing numbers of games available on both Xbox, Playstation and PC.

      The games industry is by no means perfect but the main point is that book publishers have to become far more technical in their skills and look at what they want to be and move to embrace the changes in the book market which are happening. Games developers are good software developers and can enable their game to play on different platforms. Book publishers need to get their eBooks onto as many platforms as possible to give their audiences choice and availability.

  2. LBmatt
    15/04/2009 at 3:06 am

    Agree w/your post. Ultimately, it comes to adaptability. Because, like you pointed out, publishers need to be more technical. I guess you can also substitute book publishers with newspapers; like games, news and literature are always going to be in demand…just in a different way.

    • 15/04/2009 at 6:33 am

      Yes, it comes down to adaptability and a willingness to make positive moves to learn new skills. For instance, the traditional production department is going to need to change dramatically from buying print, for instance, to managing eBooks on servers. Designers will need to learn how to develop eBooks through testing them in different devices to ensure a consistent look just as our web developers have to do for a new web site project which they test in differetn browsers and operating systems.

  3. eveda
    13/05/2009 at 6:43 pm

    No! “Digital technology is disrupting everything that they used to hold dear” No! Digital technology is deweloping everything that they used to hold dear!
    “Publishers are now having to adapt their skills in print to digital skills to ensure…” Again – NO!
    Publishers are now having to use their skills in print to digital skills to ensure…

    It is impossible to transfer techniques of the paper edition to the electronic world. The main thing, remains invariable. Books are published for the reader! First of all it is necessary to develop contents of Ebooks. Not to take a paper stuffing, but to create multimedia contents. And then it will not be necessary to think as games dewelopers. Only as electronic books dewelopers.

  1. 14/04/2009 at 2:23 pm

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