Title generation: the bane of publishers throughout the ages. When you can’t just take anything, what do you take? There are only so many Harry Potters and Lords of the Rings in the world today, and there’s never a guarantee that even the most epic of stories will ever take off, but sometimes all it takes is the ability to make use of something that’s already got a following — something someone else has already taken a risk on, and found to be popular.
Cue video game culture. With series like World of Warcraft, Assassin’s Creed, Starcraft and Gears of War using their content to generate novelizations of their worlds, histories and lore, publishing has moved into an era where captive audiences can be capitalized on to a degree that consumers hadn’t necessarily anticipated: you’ve played the game, now read the novel–instead of the other way around. Gaming culture isn’t only making the most of literature, but it’s helping us save and garner interest in the novels and authors that stand to continue inspiring people into the future.
Pre-fab is Always Cheaper
It’s inevitable. Time is, and always will be, money. And the most time-consuming part of the publishing process is figuring out what there is out there to publish. Title generation is neither easy nor quick, and the worst part of the process is the fact that even after all of the work that goes into taking a book from the concept stage to the final stage of printing and production, there’s absolutely no guarantee that anyone will buy it. This is where what I like to call “pre-fabricated” content is as good as gold.
The hundreds of man hours that go into building the virtual worlds that have become some of the most popular escapes for millions of players worldwide has proven an invaluable resource for companies like Simon & Schuster (who have been publishing the World of Warcraft novel series) and Del Rey Books (who have been publishing the Halo novels). Not only do the stories have a nearly guaranteed readership — as of 2013, the World of Warcraft had 7.7 million subscribers — but their content is more or less an expansion of the mythos that the creators built into the game in the first place.
Literature and Gaming
Though they seem to be two different worlds, as Liz Danforth of the Library Journal so expertly puts it “gaming and literature are both about narrative and storytelling”. Game developers and authors have both made use of inspiration from earlier works since they first began their art. Not only have games been the inspiration for books — like in the case of the aforementioned World of Warcraft, Halo, and Assassin’s Creed franchises — but games have been heavily influenced by the literary world.
It’s inarguable that works like Dante’s Divine Comedy and Bram Stoker’s Dracula are literary classics. EA Games’ Dante’s Inferno and Konami’s Castlevania series, while being anything but faithful to their originals, are if nothing else jumping-off points that have contributed towards getting younger audiences interested in the classics. If even one gamer decides to pick up a classical work because he or she was inspired by a game that they enjoyed, it furthers the agendas of both art forms.
The Expansion of Worlds
Just as fanfiction provides consumers with a means of expanding on the fictional universes that they enjoy, the novelizations of games allows for the expansion of the player’s understanding of the mythos and world that are at the core of what they love, and have for the most part been authored with that express purpose.
The Warcraft novels, for example, provide fans of the series with information that fills the gaps between expansion packs and background information on the mythical figures that have been made part of the legends inherent in the game worlds that were originally included to add a degree of depth that elevated the locales and stories that fuel their existence from mere narratives to nearly cultural creations that are consumed daily by citizens of the world who have already or are just beginning to internalize them into their lives on a daily basis. They have, at times, even expanded in directions that the WoW creators hadn’t anticipated — Chris Metzen, one of the MMORPG’s creators, freely admits that some of the content in the novels isn’t strictly canon, but is kept as close as possible for verisimilitude’s sake.
Why the Model Works
So long as the novel expansions of a game series stays true enough to the original content that the fan base can be satisfied by it, any author can be contracted to create the content. All it takes is for the parent company who originated the content to provide the author with a run-down of how they want whatever narrative they’ve decided to get published to go, and the content can be cranked out with the same kind of quality and predictability as the Harlequin novels that have become, and remained, popular since they were first published. The formula is more or less a cash cow: providing eager consumers with new ways to consume what they already know they like, giving publishers easy business that is very nearly guaranteed to sell (leading to the kind of predictable return that, in the end, is more lucrative than waiting for the next world-changing epic), and providing game developing companies with feedback as to how much attention their franchises are getting, and how open their audiences might be to further expansion (i.e. spin off games, sequels, etc.)
Other Ways the Model Might Work
It’s important to note that video games aren’t the only media that could generate this easy to publish, easy to mine content. Television shows have shown success in the past for being turned into novel series — Buffy the Vampire Slayer being one of them (another Simon & Schuster title, those guys know how to sell) — and there’s potential for more than just that. With novels taking on the roll of providing fans with prequels and deeper insights into their favourite series, couldn’t it be about time for us to start promoting literacy alongside with our couch-potato lifestyle? So many of the media darlings that we find ourselves drawn to time and again — the Game of Thrones, Dexter, and Sex In The City franchises were all inspired by novels that have remained popular even after their small-screen iterations have become worldwide phenomena — have been inspired by books, it may be time for a reverse renaissance; for book clubs to read along to television series and have discussions about the twists that either don’t or do happen in one medium or another.
Learn to stop worrying and love the spin-off! Though their critics can be harsh, novelizations of popular media aren’t all bad. Not only do they promote literacy to individuals who are often more invested in consuming media they don’t necessarily need to read — teens who are invested in Halo and WoW might not want to pick up their school-assigned copy of Les Miserables, but they might choose Halo: Fall of Reach off of the shelf at their local book store completely of their own volition — but they provide fans of franchises with that much more of what they love. In a business where volume of content and quality of content are necessary to survival, more publishers could probably stand to make partnerships with Ubisoft, EA Games, Squaresoft and Nintendo to help buffer their backlists and help them reach an audience that is constantly renewed and often die-hard.
Danforth, Liz. “Games and Literature”. Library Journal. Aug. 2009. p 51, Print.
Wikipedia. “World of Warcraft”. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_of_Warcraft
Wowpedia. “Novels”. http://wowpedia.org/Novels