Who Needs Hollywood?

For many years, the model that we game designers all aspired to was the movie model. When designers dreamed big, they dreamed of Hollywood. Someday we were gonna be somebody! And that somebody was a Hollywood kind of somebody.

Over the years, our industry has grown and now, lo and behold, our dream has been realized, at least in one dimension: money. Total revenues in the games industry are now roughly comparable to movie theater receipts. Hooray for us!

But we’ve got to keep moving. The time has come for us to stop thinking in penny-ante terms. Our industry is ready for the bigtime. Let’s talk about making some real money. Let’s talk about books.

Say what? I hear you say. Books?!?? How can the book publishing industry possibly compare in power and glamour with Hollywood?

I don’t know about the glamour aspect, but I can certainly speak to the money aspect of book publishing. In 1994, the book publishing industry, not counting magazines and newspapers, just straight books enjoyed gross revenues of $24 billion. That’s nearly ten times as much as the games industry took in. It would seem that those of us who aspire to be movie moguls have set our sights too low.

And if you’re telling yourself that book publishing may be big, but it’s a dinosaur, doomed to extinction, think again: over the last four years, book sales per person have increased by 20%, and are projected to increase by 7% annually through the rest of this decade.

It’s not just a matter of the book industry publishing more titles. Individual titles in the book industry can be far more lucrative than anything in our business. A single best-seller can move 2 million units in hardcover. That’s not much more than a really big hit in our industry, but consider the differences: although the bestselling book sells for perhaps half of what the bestselling game sells, its development costs are a tiny fraction of the development costs of a game. What does it cost Stephen King or Michael Crichton to write a book? Certainly not the millions of dollars that the best-selling game will cost to develop.

No matter how you look at it, book publishing is a much bigger business than the games business.

Moreover, games are culturally small-time stuff. Games are played by kids and nerds. Even movies are primarily for teenagers. But books have a much wider appeal than either games or movies. Golly gee whillikers, there are books for just about every taste, interest, and perversion on the planet. If there’s something you’re interested in, there’s almost certainly a book about it.

So let’s drop this small-time fascination with movies. We’re ready to move up to the big leagues.

Aren’t we?