Why is it so damn hard to find good gaming fiction?
I think we can all agree that fiction based on licensed properties tends to be… how do you say… lacking. Sometimes, however, there are books that rise above the rest. Maybe they improve our understanding of a world that we can only otherwise access through a video screen. Maybe they fill in the details between roleplaying game supplements, or drive metaplot in an interesting directions. Fiction definitely has a place in the gaming space.
I just wish it was easier to find…
I’ve clearly been in a Shadowrun mood lately /link/. So, after rereading “Dunkelzahn’s Secrets,” I decided to track down the Dragon Heart Saga (I know, I know, love that name…) to get more details about the Big D’s demise, the return of the drakes, and shed some light on the direction that FASA had originally planned to take the game with respect to their other amazing property, Earthdawn. I figured that I’d have no trouble finding the classic Shadowrun novels in ebook form, but no such luck. The vagaries of multi-party licensing have left dozens of novels in limbo, unavailable in print and or digital. While the lawyers earn their bread, the supply of Shadowrun novels is wholly dependent on online resellers. I managed to find my novels, but at no small expense–and they’re in paper (which I don’t really need a lot more of).
The foo around the Shadowrun novels is somewhat understandable. With so many stakeholders–licensees, licensors, authors, publishers–its understandable that the details may need to be resolved in court or arbitration. After all, there are people who deserve recompense for their work. But there is recompense and then there is recompense…
David and I have both had a hankering for Warhammer 40K inspired fiction of late. In my case, I’d love to reread Dan Abnett’s amazing work for that brand, including Eisenhorn, Ravenor, and the Gaunt’s Ghosts novels–but I own them in omnibus print editions. Those bastards are just north of phone book sized. Not exactly good train reading on the way to and from work…
Consequently, I turned to the internet (like you do) to find digital editions, only to find that Games Workshop’s fiction arm, the Black Library, is essentially an island. There are no Kindle editions here, and you can stuff your Nook. No, the Black Library has hegemonic control of their digital distribution. It’s annoying, but understandable, I guess. If you have the capacity, why not keep it in house? Where they cross the line is the price.
Take the Eisenhorn/Ravenor ebundle for instance. It is seventy bucks. The lion’s share of it consists of the omnibus editions of Eisenhorn and Ravenor, which can be purchased for ten bucks each. Fifteen if you want to talk cover price. So you’re spending $40 for a handful of short stories and the privilege of a digital copy–and those monies probably aren’t making Mr. Abnett any richer, you can rest assured.
To quote Eric Cartman, “You could kiss me before you **** me.”
That said, for all their excellent work, the Black Library is on the losing side of history. Many traditional publishers maintain that they have to charge exorbitantly for epubs, to make up for the losses incurred by piracy. Consider Wizards of the Coast. Just this year they have announced a return to epublishing, after their embarrassing retreat a few years ago. Eventually the powers that be realized that there was more money to be made keeping products evergreen (in a digital sense) and letting the vast majority of their fans pay a fair price for goods that they want. I think this development denotes a sea change.
Though the Black Library/Games Workshop may persist in pricing obscenely (and it doesn’t stop at their novels–start comparing their minis with the competition. Woof), eventually their model will fall to the wayside, and the last holdouts will start pricing fairly and making their works more widely available, but that doesn’t mean I won’t bitch in the meantime.