April 5, 2011

Random House getting into video games


For a while I’ve been suggesting that publishers looking to explore the full potential of enhanced e-books would do well to look to the world of video games for lessons. And as it happens, for a while video game makers have been tapping the talent of professional writers to develop stories that are as engaging as the graphical and technical qualities of modern games.

Still, I think the big challenge that exists for publishers when it comes to building effective, fully integrated enhanced e-books (or book apps if you prefer) is to figure out how to get the gaming side of the design process in-house so that the story geeks and tech geeks can sit down to lunch together and learn each others’ languages.

It seems that Random House may be moving toward something like this. In a report by Jeffrey Trachtenberg for the Wall Street Journal, we learned yesterday that Random House just struck a new partnership with THQ Inc., a game design firm based in California.

This partnership it seems is meant not necessarily to integrate game design into the story making process so much as to create separate revenue channels built around the same intellectual property or story.

As Lenny Brown of THQ told Trachtenberg, “The Holy Grail here would be for Random House to produce a book that sells well, with us ultimately investing $35 million in a triple-A console game backed by a $12 million marketing campaign that draws a commitment from Hollywood for a movie or television event.”

Considering the sums required to develop a single game and market it, the story is clearly not meant to be the primary achievement in this partnership. I mean, do you remember the last book that had a $12 million marketing campaign?

But Keith Clayton, director of creative development at Random House, was optimistic about the creative possibilities the new partnership will enable. “It will let us bring in creative people who can have their visions realized across multiple platforms,” he told Trachtenberg.

Regardless of all the talk of “multiple platforms,” one can’t help but think that, with the projections of e-book sales expected to rise significantly for publishers this year, part of the strategy for Random may be to test the waters for deeper collaboration among editors and game developers to see what can be created for the glut of iPads and Android tablets flooding the market this year. Obviously the book-game-movie synergy alluded to in the article is the primary motivating force here, but I’m hoping that these new partnerships make it possible for some really interesting creative collaborations. Ones that blur the boundaries between book and game to the point that an entirely new category is necessary.