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Author Topic: electronic publishing potential  (Read 2245 times)
Matt Wilson
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« on: September 17, 2002, 09:39:05 AM »

I used to really dig getting the games in the cardboard box that had all the different booklets and a map and all that neat stuff. I'm thinking that if I sell Ghosts over the web I can reproduce that effect.

Suppose you get a big ZIP file when you buy my game. In it are a bunch of separate pdf booklets. Bare-bones rules that the prospective GM can ship off to the players, along with "everyone knows this" setting info. One pdf is a map. Another is handy reference stuff.

Anyone done this already? I just like the idea of a whole pack of goodies.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #1 on: September 17, 2002, 10:29:41 AM »

Hello,

Not that much data exists at this point, but I used to sell Sorcerer as a set of PDF files. My perception, and it's backed up by some others' experience, is that electronic/program products should be a single file. I don't know why that is, but apparently the demand is much higher for a "single book" rather than a "set of booklets," and that the trend in expectations is much more pronounced than for print products.

Speaking just for myself as a customer, I agree with you that a pack of goodies is neat - and I especially like the idea that they'd include things that would allow me to customize how the game itself would print out - but apparently we're in the minority.

Here's an older thread with some relevant information:
Setting + plot packaging

Also, Jack, didn't you start a thread once about boxed sets? I remember some good discussion about that, but I can't recall the thread itself.

Best,
Ron
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Clay
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« Reply #2 on: September 17, 2002, 11:08:28 AM »

I'm a fan of the boxed sets too.  Of course, I haven't purchased one in 15+ years, which might explain why we don't see them in stores too much any more.

I wonder if this idea couldn't be brought to online rpg sales via something like Clinton's Games Bookshelf?  I also see the potential for a customers-only section of a web site where this material is available. Possibly make one big PDF where everything is contained, and downloadable files for the various pieces and parts.
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Clay Dowling
RPG-Campaign.com - Online Campaign Planning and Management
Valamir
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« Reply #3 on: September 17, 2002, 12:20:46 PM »

Hey wilson, I think that the seperate "booklet" idea could be a really good one if its done for legitimate reasons...otherwise its just a gimmick, and is only as good as people find the gimmick appealing.

But a seperate PDF for player only and GM only info would be a GREAT thing.  Assumeing you had a meaty enough product (say typical rules medium mechanics and a ton of setting) you could easily justify the "booklet" format.

1 World Book file with all of the setting information.
1 "What you Know" file with all of the setting information you want the players to have.
1 Rules file with all of the game rules.
1 quick start rules file with just the core concepts to get players started quickly.

I agree with you that PDF is even BETTER than print for this, because you can reuse the same information in multiple places without increaseing your costs from wasted paper.

Instead of 1 "What you Know" booklet, you could have a 2 or 3 or hell a dozen.  If you have a bunch of different backgrounds or location that PCs can be from you can have a customized "What you Know" for each (this could even be a regular "supplement" type of thing).  For instance "What you know as a Lord of Montrebec" vs. "What you know as a Street Urchin from Leintzag"  Alot of the information may well be cut and pasted "common stuff" that "everybody knows" but you can also go in and edit out some of the "common stuff" for backgrounds that should know less as well as add in specific new stuff or cover old stuff in greater detail.

Further you can get even MORE creative with electronic and especially web based product.  With hyperlinks, as instantaneous cross referencing.

Imagine having the bulk of your game as files on a website, and people selecting a specific combination of class/nationality/social status/religion or whatever in a form would automatically get hyperlinked to the files specific to that combination...ideally just 1 file already assembled though that would be more involved.

Seriously.  Most PDF products today are nothing more than standard print format layout delivered electronically for your home printer.  Some get more creative by having "screen optimized" vs "print optimized" versions or having art heavy/art light versions.  But few really even begin to tap into the potential of a set of game rules truely designed for the electronic medium.

I think going back a little old school and seeing how the old "boxed set" could be redone, enhanced, and reinvented, for e-publishing would be a fantastic place to start.

Check out they Myria 2.0 thread in the Riddle of Steel for how a group is using some cool web features to present a setting in a way that couldn't be done in print.
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Gordon C. Landis
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I am Custom-Built Games


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« Reply #4 on: September 17, 2002, 02:09:28 PM »

Quote from: Valamir
Instead of 1 "What you Know" booklet, you could have a 2 or 3 or hell a dozen.  If you have a bunch of different backgrounds or location that PCs can be from you can have a customized "What you Know" for each (this could even be a regular "supplement" type of thing).  For instance "What you know as a Lord of Montrebec" vs. "What you know as a Street Urchin from Leintzag

Somewhere around here I mentioned an extreme version of this - imagine everything about the game stored in a database, and a sophisticated program that let's you "build" docs based on that info.  This could include different flavors of rules, background info, scenarios/modules/adventures, artwork, multi-media stuff . . . it would be something truly new and different.  It could (maybe) be sold in different channels than the traditional RPG - computer stores, mass-market toy stores.  Hell, someone could really do something different and get Starbucks to sell it like they did that Cranium game.

It would be kinda expensive to produce, or a massive labor of love by folks with skills that could fetch, with great certainty, a lot more money elsewhere.  And there's no reason to believe it could be a viable fnancial venture, or that it would have a significant audience.  If no one except existing roleplayers who have computers and thought your ideas were cool  bought it . . . the numbers would be very low.

But it would be very cool.

Gordon
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Clay
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« Reply #5 on: September 17, 2002, 02:48:10 PM »

Quote from: Gordon C. Landis
It would be kinda expensive to produce, or a massive labor of love by folks with skills that could fetch, with great certainty, a lot more money elsewhere.  And there's no reason to believe it could be a viable fnancial venture, or that it would have a significant audience.  If no one except existing roleplayers who have computers and thought your ideas were cool  bought it . . . the numbers would be very low.


You're probably right that it would be expensive compared to a printed product.  As software products go, this could be fairly inexpensive.
The cost of development, distribution and support can be reduced by making the core of it a web application.  I'm already envisioning a database structure and a good interface to let the GM set up information packets that can be downloaded and printed as PDFs.  A few years back I made something similar that let the user pull chapters of an online serial out of a database and save them into a single PDF document.
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Clay Dowling
RPG-Campaign.com - Online Campaign Planning and Management
Valamir
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« Reply #6 on: September 18, 2002, 10:41:28 AM »

That's sweet Clay.  That's exactly the sort of thing that could take electronic publishing beyond simply being an alternate way to distribute paper.
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Clay
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« Reply #7 on: September 19, 2002, 07:14:14 AM »

Unfortunately it would take some pretty deep pockets for somebody to fund it.  Keep in mind that a cheap custom development project runs to $10k, representing roughly 1000 hours of work (figure three guys on a long weekend). That doesn't include any of the debugging that always has to happen once people start using a piece of software.

On a more practical note, I wonder if something like the master document concept from MS-Word isn't a better choice.  Make up smaller documents for individual portions of the game, then use a variety of master documents that represent the different perspectives on the game, e.g. the GM's view, the view for different character classes, etc.

This doesn't work so well for letting a GM pick and choose the parts they want to distribute, but it might make it easier for the publisher to produce these individual packets.  Obviously, MS-Word is not a desirable distribution or layout option, but the same concept still applies. LaTeX supports this concept, and can generate straight to PDF; now if there were just some miraculous designer who had the mindset of a programmer to make this look cool.
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Clay Dowling
RPG-Campaign.com - Online Campaign Planning and Management
Clay
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« Reply #8 on: September 19, 2002, 10:44:10 AM »

Thinking about the need for deep pockets, it occurred to me that there might be a way to make the costs palatable. This program could be created as a service for game designers to subscribe to. The monthly rate is something reasonable so that it doesn't crush the game designer's budget (which is usually NIL).  For the subscription, the designer gets the following:

    *Master documents stored in a database in some variety of marked up text format.
    *The ability to define "masks" which associate a name with certain parts of those documents
    *An updatable user list that controls who gets to access their material and who doesn't, based on username/password pairs.
    [/list:u]

    This is only conjecture at the moment; I don't have anything in the works. But is there an interest in this kind of service? Would developers such as yourself actually subscribe to it for the purpose of offering cool features to your customers?
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Clay Dowling
RPG-Campaign.com - Online Campaign Planning and Management
kevin671
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« Reply #9 on: September 19, 2002, 10:43:43 PM »

This also opens up another possibilty:  Custom designed games and source material by request from clients.  This may seem a little far fetched, but it is an idea that's been sorta hovering in the back of my mind.  You build a "generic" set of rules as a framework for a variety of settings, and then sell it out to people (probably packaging it with a freebie setting or two), and then offering a buch of other settings availible for purchase.  A client can also request a custom setting, (probably a costly process), on the understanding that you are free to distribute the setting as you desire.
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"Know thyself,"  the master said to me "lest I verily clout thee over thine head with a really big stick and take thine shoes, thine coat, thine hat, thine wallet and thine watch."

And thus I was enlightened
Clay
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« Reply #10 on: September 20, 2002, 03:44:33 AM »

Kevin,

It sounds exactly as if you're describing Gurps, d20, and to a lesser extent Sorcerer.  The only difference I see so far is that there isn't a "Custom Setting" service for these.

I think available evidence indicates an excellent market for such a product.
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Clay Dowling
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« Reply #11 on: September 20, 2002, 07:31:38 AM »

Quote from: kevin671
This also opens up another possibility:  Custom designed games and source material by request from clients.  This may seem a little far-fetched, but it is an idea that's been sort of hovering in the back of my mind.  You build a "generic" set of rules as a framework for a variety of settings, and then sell it out to people (probably packaging it with a freebie setting or two), and then offering a bunch of other settings available for purchase.  A client can also request a custom setting, (probably a costly process), on the understanding that you are free to distribute the setting as you desire.

This has ultimately been the idea of choice for the playtests of Scattershot.

So far, few people have taken the 'bait.'  What I've been running into is a lot of blank looks when it comes to 'describe the setting and we'll build it for you.'  I guess most people fall into the group targeted by the System Matters essay.  This crowd was (or is) convinced that all that matters in published materials is setting; they can put any system they like on something they buy.  To them, a game is just a source for a new setting.  Trying to get them to playtest Scattershot means offering them a game with 'no substance.'

Alternatively, there are people who have settings they like with games that match, especially in the 'System Matters' crowd.  I believe their opinion is that if the system isn't geared to support a specific something, be it GNS mode, setting, or otherwise, they feel they'll be compelled to 'do the work' the designer didn't.

Then there's the do-it-yourself crowd.  Usually, if they're willing to create the setting by themselves, coming up with a system isn't a big problem.  At least not so much of a problem that they'll 'hunt for' an untried system.

Ultimately, as far as 'custom settings' go, what this vends is a product for people who have a setting they want to play, but with a system they've never tried.  This is a frustratingly small target audience.  The only way I've seen it work is for GURPS; once you've learned the system, you can go to another setting.  Good for return business, but without a few really smashing examples, hard to get new business (and probably why GURPS doesn't appear to offer 'custom settings').

Which brings me back to the position I'm in.  HEY ANYBODY!  Wanna try a playtest of Scattershot?  We don't have any settings ready, but I'll be more than happy to carve out one for you straight away.

Well, until we get one done there isn't much we can do.  Unless anyone else has any ideas on how to make a 'new context-free system' an attractive proposition for new playtesters, we're just going to keep plugging away at what we've got coming.

Fang Langford
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kevin671
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« Reply #12 on: September 20, 2002, 08:39:52 PM »

Good point about Gurps.  I still think that it could work, so long as an actual system "shipped" with a couple settings (like 2-3).  I would also have "generic" settings availible for purchase (ie:  specific historical periods) but the custom setting idea might work better over the Internet as a Zip or PDF.  Could be a licensing nightmare, though....what if someone asked for a setting based on a movie, or an existing game.....

Here's another possibility:  create a gaming system and a couple dozen settings and then allow the purchaser to choose which settings it comes with.  After they've choosen 2-3 settings, the other settings are availible for purchase.  And you leave the option to purchase a "custom" setting, if they want.  The fact that they might not want to purchase a custom setting doesn't mean that you can't offer the option.....
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"Know thyself,"  the master said to me "lest I verily clout thee over thine head with a really big stick and take thine shoes, thine coat, thine hat, thine wallet and thine watch."

And thus I was enlightened
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