Monday, September 23, 2013

ePublishing's Potential

It seems to me that epublishing has the potential to change the way wargames are distributed and played.  Wargamers and wargaming companies currently spend a lot of energy on printed army books -- which then usually last for 5-6 years before seeing any revision.  If army books were exclusively electronic publications, this cycle could be a lot faster.

Right now, printed army books act as a drag on games like Warhammer 40k or Flames of War.  Once publishers have printed a book, they are naturally reluctant to modify it. They may have stocks of the book which they want to sell.  They may want to prevent confusions among players.  They may not want players to feel their purchase is incomplete or outdated.  Few publishers correct mistakes between printings.  If a company issues errata or FAQs, they try to keep them as short as possible.  People who own the book don't want to have to carry printouts with them, or modify their books.

There's a huge drawback to this model, however.  If there is a problem with a rule or a balance issue revealed with a unit's cost, these errors can persist for years before the book is revised.  That's a crazy long cycle in this, the age of the internet.

It's especially crazy when you consider that there are huge internet forums, filled with thousands of gamers, who will mercilessly dissect a book as soon as it is released, looking for loopholes, bargains, and killer combos to exploit.  We gamers usually find the balance problems in any book within about a week after it is published -- none of which typically be addressed until the book is revised, at which point you can be sure you'll be paying another 50$ and find new, different exploits.

Most of the balance problems, in army books or in rules sets, are well-known.  Right now, every 40k gamer knows that the Helldrake is deeply undercosted.  So is the Vendetta.  Certain units are overpriced.  When was the last time you saw a Mutilator or a Howling Banshee on the table?  How long did Flames of War players wait for a fix to the Brummbar price point or revised flamethrower rules?  Sometimes pricing is obviously inconsistent across books.  Why do different Space Marine books pay different costs for the exact same tank?  Why don't they just add a friggin flakk missile to every army with a Missile Launcher for 10 points?

Because companies don't want to mess with their legacy printed books too much.

What if all army books were electronically published? Exclusively.

Last week, I reviewed Games Workshop's ibook codices for Warhammer 40k.  One of their most interesting and revolutionary features is the ability to "push" Errata, FAQs and other content directly to a book on the iPad. You could use this technology to push periodic updates to all existing books, without worrying about invalidating a printed product.

I propose that army books should be a periodical publication.  So instead of buying a printed Army Book: Free Martians, you would purchase access to a digital file.  Maybe this would take the form of an ebook.  Maybe you would purchase a subscription to the company's website and download PDFs.  The book would update every few months.  (Every quarter sounds about right.) The game designers could regularly revisit the books to fix known balance issues across the entire game, balancing all released books against each other using feedback from their online community.

Ideally, these balancing updates would be free or monetized for a small subscription fee.  So rather than selling you a big colorful printed book every few years (the current model), game companies would be in the business of selling you a more responsive and pleasant game-wide meta-enviornment.



Dale said...

The question is: do the electronic versions get updates? I don't think they do because then the electronic versions would be out of sync with the paper versions which do not get errata updates. That would be a disaster, I think.

Tom de Mayo said...

The idea is for there to no longer be printed versions at all. That way you dont have to worry about legacy printed books.

Unknown said...

Updating would be much easier and cheaper with digital docs.

The issue is control; there is no difference between a bootleg and paid for version of an electronic doc (unlike a glossy, bound hard document). Many more people will simply steal a digital document than if the official version is hard copy.