Tuesday, March 19, 2013

"Being an author is all about having readership.”

There's been a lot of talk over the years about how RPG businesses are based around selling books, which is a decidedly different business than selling either gaming content or gaming experiences. In addition to the potential disconnect between what the companies are selling and what the players want to buy, there is also the current chaos that is the book publishing industry, madly in flux right now. Laura and Tracy Hickman (yes, those Hickmans) think they've figured out what works now, and what works is basically turning the old publishing model literally upside-down:
“It’s no longer about being published … it’s about being read,” Tracy told us. “It’s all about the audience today; acquiring direct contact with the reader, maintaining and growing that relationship. Anyone can get ‘published’ today. Being an author is all about having readership.”
The new model, disturbingly enough, appears to be based around loss-leaders, rather like what you see in the insurance business. Or, a perhaps better metaphor for gaming and fiction, the illicit narcotics business: "The first hit is free." This is great for readers and fans; we get a bit of fun free stuff, and then can decide which content is good enough to support with actual purchases after we've seen some of the content.

Interestingly, this is clearly the model WotC is following. With their huge, open playtest, they're not just getting feedback on the rules, but are also getting broad dissemination of the game. Lots of folks will see it, read it, and play it, and create buzz so that when the books finally appear on shelves, people will buy them instead of simply playing the free copies of the playtest docs that will almost certainly still be floating about the intrawebs. Also interestingly, I think this can work very well for the Kickstarter model as well. You give away the basic content, then based on reaction to that you can launch a Kickstarter to cash in on the interest and get the ball rolling for fancier, dead-tree books, boxed sets, whatever, with more bells and whistles like intro adventures and the like.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Review: Beneath the Sky

Right up front, yes, Dan Thompson is a friend of mine.  So it’s a relief to be able to recommend Beneath the Sky to others.

Normally this isn’t the sort of thing I read.  I prefer my sci-fi a bit more swashbucklery, and while Beneath the Sky isn’t exactly hard sci-fi, its focus on both the tragedies and rewards of a first-contact situation very much have the feel of a more cerebral read.  Which isn’t to say the book is utterly devoid of derring-do (we even get an attack by space pirates), but only that the perils and opportunities of the first-contact situation remain the principal focus.

Just over a millenium ago, a religious sect called the Masonites set out to found a colony in a distant solar system.  Travelling aboard a generational colony ship (that is, one in which the colonists live for multiple generations as they travel to their destination), they expect to reach their New Providence in another 600 years.  

Of course, things back on Earth haven’t exactly sat still in the meantime.  Humanity has mastered FTL travel and settled many worlds, including the one chosen by the Masonites to be their New Providence.  The colonists’ co-religionists were principal actors in dramatic historical events.  And neither the greater mass of humanity nor the Masonite colonists are aware of what’s been happening with the others during most of that time.  

The stage is set, then, for a series of dramatic events and accidents when a survey ship makes contact with the Masonite colonists.  What follows is both tragic and happy, and Thompson does a masterful job of weaving the two emotional reactions together, creating a surprising tapestry that is, in the end, both sad and satisfying.  He’s also an extremely efficient writer, almost too much so; while all the important threads are neatly finished, I wouldn’t have minded lingering a bit on a few of them at the end.  

If you enjoy Elizabeth Moon’s Vatta books, or Weber’s Honor Harrington universe (but wish they included a more “blue collar” point of view) you’ll like Beneath the Sky.  For myself, I certainly won’t wait so long before reading Dan’s next book.