Random House's March 1 announcement that it has launched a property development arm, focusing in part on video games, is the latest in a raft of initiatives by publishers and authors exploring interactive games as a means of generating exposure, ancillary revenue, and creative synergies. February saw the debuts of Vision in White by Nora Roberts (from I-play), Percy Jackson: The Lightning Thief (Activision), and The Daring Book for Girls (Majesco), among others. “We're just in the early stages of authors and publishers realizing the potential of the interactive medium for storytelling,” said Tony Learner, I-play's v-p, marketing.
Book-based digital games are not new. Ubisoft's Red Storm Entertainment has developed 25 Tom Clancy games since 1997, while HER Interactive has published 21 Nancy Drew titles since 1998. But the offerings have expanded, crossing demographics, literary genres, and interactive platforms. A few of the properties that have made their way into gaming include film-driven examples such as Harry Potter, Twilight, and the Lord of the Rings; classics such as Sherlock Holmes, Dracula, and Dante's Inferno; kids' brands such as Goosebumps Horrorland; and authors such as Stephen King and Robert Ludlam.
These ventures can generate strong sales. I-play's three James Patterson games have resulted in more than 15 million downloads since August 2008 and its three Agatha Christie titles more than 27 million since December 2007. And HER Interactive's Nancy Drew games have moved over seven million units at retail.
“This is an important category because, in addition to widening the world of the particular story line, it also introduces the author's work to, potentially, a whole new, younger audience,” said Nancy Cushing-Jones, partner at Broadthink, which is helping Dean Koontz develop a branding strategy, likely including video games. Sam Saliba, Ubisoft's associate director of marketing, reported that Clancy's readers are about 30 to 44 years old, versus gamers, who are 15 to 30. “We are introducing the franchise to a younger audience and watching them carry on and extend their experiences from games to books.” Conversely, HER Interactive's primary market for Nancy Drew is girls 10 to 16. “We're a little older than the fans of the books,” explained Amy McPoland, v-p, marketing. “They kind of grow into our games.”
Digital play can deepen fans' interaction with a book. “We hear all the time from James Patterson's readers that his characters and stories live beyond the pages on which they're written,” said Michael Pietsch, Little, Brown executive v-p/publisher. “We're thrilled for the opportunity for people to experience James's creations in this interactive medium—and for the chance to introduce new people to his storytelling.”
“I chiefly saw [gaming] as a new medium in which to tell stories,” Patterson added. “Here are some characters that do well in a mystery-thriller novel. Why wouldn't they work in a mystery-thriller game? When I-play came to me with the opportunity, it seemed like an obvious fit.”
The key to a successful game, explained McPoland, is that it “must deliver on the brand just like the book delivers on the brand,” while still adding something new. “No one wants to play a book they've already read.”
Game companies are keenly aware of tying digital and print together when it makes sense. “We've been able to utilize book content in our video game marketing in a way that promotes both the book and the game,” Saliba said. Ubisoft, for example, developed a promotional calendar for the Splinter Cell series that it placed in a video game magazine with distribution upwards of 400,000 readers. The calendar included a prerelease excerpt of the first chapter from a forthcoming Splinter Cell book. I-play promotes its Women's Murder Club, Vision in White, and Agatha Christie titles (with Little, Brown, Penguin, and HarperCollins, respectively) by synching game and book releases, placing ads in books, developing authorcentric promotions and in-game videos, and working with retailers on endcaps.
Harper and I-play partnered for a free e-book download of Dead Man's Folly with game purchase, and Christie's backlist appeared on the landing page when consumers redeemed the e-book. “I-play got a great value-add, and we had our e-book featured prominently throughout [its] online ad campaign,” said Barbara Lilie, HarperMedia's director of marketing. “It was a good way to incentivize a group of people we thought could potentially be e-book customers into giving the format a try.”
Games present creative synergies, too. Random House's new venture will allow its authors to work on video game projects, and the house to publish books against its games. “The idea [for the new venture] came from us working with video game companies,” noted David Moench, assistant director of publicity. (Random's tie-ins include Halo and Gears of War.) “They were asking if we had our own IP [intellectual property]. We thought, if they're asking, maybe we should come up with some.”
The extension of literary properties into gaming promises to continue. “There's been a bit of a change in the last couple of months,” I-play's Learner said. “Early on, it took a lot of persuasiveness to get publishers and authors to understand the medium and its storytelling potential. But recently we've been approached by some very high-profile people. Our goals and the authors' are the same, to create a great experience.”