When the video game Far Cry 5 hit the market at the end of March, it earned $310 million in a single week for developer Ubisoft. The first-person shooter follows the adventures of a police deputy battling a cult in the wilderness of Montana, employing 20 motion-capture actors and 96 voice actors, who produced 74 hours of in-game dialogue. This “open world” game has 144 scripted missions but gives players complete freedom to explore a massive stretch of virtual countryside.
Prima Games, a 25-year-old imprint at Penguin Random House’s DK division, has adopted a hybrid publishing model to evolve along with the video game industry. The day the game was released, Prima published Far Cry 5: Official Collector’s Edition Guide, priced at $39.99. The hardcover includes a detailed map of the virtual Montana landscape, bonus concept art for fans, and a code to access a web-based version of the guide. The web version is available separately for $9.99. Prima sells print editions of all its strategy guides and offers $9.99 e-books for certain guides. The imprint began publishing these internet-based supplements with the Halo Wars eGuide in 2009.
“When I explain it to people who aren’t as savvy about video games, I say that my job is to create a travel guide for places that don’t exist,” said David S.J. Hodgson, an author who spent four months playing Far Cry 5 and writing Prima’s guide to the game. He has spent 18 years writing for Prima and worked on more than 100 strategy guides.
Before social media, e-books, and sprawling game environments like Far Cry 5, Prima built its reputation with carefully crafted strategy guides for video games. These licensed print books stood as the official, definitive guides for players, and the imprint earned the trust of the game industry’s biggest developers.
“We’re using 16th-century technology, which is fine for regular books,” Hodgson said. “But for strategy guides, some people want to see it online first.”
Most gamers use strategy guides while playing games on consoles or computers. These digital offerings allow players to read hints, watch videos, and explore maps online while playing the game.
Developers frequently update blockbuster games with “patches”—programing changes to fix bugs, add features, or create new challenges for players. In the two weeks after the release of Far Cry 5, Ubisoft released four such patches. This update cycle creates a unique challenge for Prima.
“We don’t want the book to be immediately out of date,” said Julie Asbury, Prima’s digital publisher and a 23-year veteran at the imprint. So Prima updates the digital guide when game developers release patches. “Players now have this enhanced product, in addition to the physical product with glossy print pages and lovely artwork,” Asbury added.
Last year, Prima published print and digital books for about 30 games. Beyond these print books, e-books, and digital guides, Prima also publishes hundreds of free articles on its website. These features tackle a long list of popular games, many of which aren’t covered by Prima’s licensed guides. This strategy produces a steady stream of new video game articles, reinforcing the imprint’s reputation among gamers.
“It’s not a print-first or digital-first approach,” Asbury said. “It’s a content-first approach.”
Online video has become a major channel for general content about video games. The week after Far Cry 5’s release, its fans streamed more than 55,000 hours of gameplay on Twitch, an Amazon-owned video platform for gamers. Far Cry 5 gameplay videos received more than 117 million views on YouTube that week as well.
To take advantage of the power of Twitch, Prima headed to the platform to reach these gamers. In January, marketing manager Jeff Barton launched an informal and friendly Twitch talk show for the imprint. During the livestream, Prima staff discuss upcoming releases and play video games for hours. The team goes live about twice per week. The channel has had 1.4 million views so far. “Publishers can market directly to their audiences,” Barton said. “You have a direct line to real-time engagement with readers.”
On a recent video, Barton introduced cohost Gwardo Jones to the then-forthcoming God of War: Official Collector’s Edition Guide (which was released April 20), teasing his Twitch audience with the hardcover while concealing the contents of the embargoed book. Throughout the segment, messages from fans appeared in the chat feed that runs alongside every Twitch video. “I need that book,” one viewer wrote. “I’m so stoked for this” another added.
Barton calls this “a circular loop of content”: chatting with readers, linking to buy buttons for Prima books, promoting Prima social media accounts, plugging Prima’s web-based articles, and getting feedback from Prima readers—all in the same live feed. In order to stand out in a crowded marketplace, Prima’s publishing model maintains the same constant engagement for gamers that they expect from their favorite games.