Perhaps one of the stranger developments in gaming these days--and it seems like there are plenty of them to go around--came from a rather unlikely source, a book publisher. No, it's not a book about games, it's not even a game
about books. What it is is the strange part, and may well be one of the strangest things you've heard lately.
Random House recently opened up signups for "Black Crown", what it's describing as "the first free to play online narrative game" Random House has ever put out. Registration is open, but reports indicate that the game won't go completely live until May. Those who do sign up will be subject to a bizarre questionnaire involving, among other things, 19th century epidemiologists. The game is set up, as mentioned, on a free to play basis, which means users will be able to get in on a basic level, but extra content can be had with extra purchases. The story itself, according to reports, involves the research into cholera, and is said to be written in something of a humorous tone overall.
Random House is also keeping the author's name quiet, at least for now, and calls him a "debut writer".
This is what's particularly interesting. Games are big business, and casual gaming is exploding as a part of the movement. To see a company like Random House get involved in the picture is wildly out of the ordinary, and makes for an interesting twist. How long until other publishers go this route, combining games and books in one handy package to make the "Choose Your Own Adventure
" series of our youth look like a shoddy antique by comparison? Will more books set themselves up like games, with clearly defined possibilities and plot points? Will graphic artists find themselves increasingly in vogue, drawing the supplementary art that makes such books possible? And what will this mean for the e-publishing industry?
There's every possibility that this will require the smaller publishers to change either their structure or their product lest it be overshadowed by powerful game / book hybrids.
It's also entirely possible that Random House's
new wonder will wind up a flash in the pan, with no one particularly caring about the ability to read and play at the same time. Developing such things will be a difficult and complex task, which likely goes to explain at least some of why more of these things don't come out. It's one thing to write a book, but turning it into a game--even one heavily text-based--would be much more complex.
With a wide variety of possibilities involved here, it remains to be seen just which of those possibilities will actually come to pass. It could means some very big changes for the wider industry, and may well change the face of books as we know them.