Taylor Morris

game designer & programmer

Portfolio and blog of Taylor Morris, game designer and programmer

Editorial: A Plea for E-Books (Lost Levels 2014)

This is a five minute talk I did at Lost Levels 2014 in Yerba Buena Park, San Francisco. It was basically my first public talk ever an I think it went okay. Hopefully I'll get to do something with these ideas and at least develop some resource pages for people interested in this topic. OK, on with the show...

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So! Before I came here, I had been rethinking my talk quite a bit. Recent events and further research has shown that there already is an audience out there for serious, paid, writing content about video games. There are a small handful of publishers popping up recently, even one as recently as a few days ago with Unwinnable launching their Kickstarter for a weekly digest of games writing. Sidebar- This is exactly what I want! Go support them!

But I digress. The original thinking on this came several months back when I had just started a Game Design certificate program. I received a branded backpack containing a number of books related to making video games (though none of these have ever been used in class). All of the books were either technical recipe books or design manuals offering an obvious and safe path for putting together an above-average character action game. And I already owned half the books! And so this disappointment reminded me that there is not a lot of critical or academic work on games being assigned or even read by the people organizing these types of schools, and doubly so for art schools and computer science programs.

Well, then. What can we do to introduce some kind of alternative thinking when there is an insular loop in academia? How can we get future entertainment industry professionals to think critically and inclusively instead of just technically?

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I don't really have enough of a background in publishing to back up these criticisms. My entire history with that world is a summer internship with McSweeney's over ten years ago. One thing I did learn there though, was that it is totally okay to not know quite how to accomplish the things you want to create and then just go and do them anyway. In fact, it's probably better! You can accomplish a lot of strange and wonderful things with an outsider's perspective and a lack of understanding what "can't be done."

So I say, with very little experience and a lot of loud opinions, that everyone can become their own mini-publisher.

Amazon is convenient and they usually pay on time but I think we can do better. The same goes for Steam. These services should not be the only homes for our work. We always need to diversify the ways in which we are compensated for our work and try to make that process as easy as possible for everyone involved.

Some questions for everyone here:

  • Where is the itch.io of games writing?
  • Can we get interactive fiction working on a Kindle? (edit: yes, apparently!)
  • Where is my "Best Independent Games Journalism of 2014" collection? I want to pay $5 for that.
  • We've got Twine games coming to Steam but can we get a Twine marketplace that fairly benefits creators on mobile? What about Twine on the Playstation Vita?

These are pie in the sky ideas, yes, but we are in an age where that doesn’t matter nearly half as much as it used to.

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Just as an aside for a minute, here are some minimum expectations for direct sales. Well, this goes for any e-book publisher really. Not everyone wants to do business and marketing and that is totally fine!

  • EPUB & MOBI formats for e-books.
  • PDF's for anything with images (with EPUB and MOBI as well).
  • CBR's or CBZ's for anything comic or visual art related.
  • YouTube or Vimeo for videos. Charge extra for downloads.

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Again, we can do better than relying on mega-corporations to facilitate our living wages. Keep money flowing in the community, encourage direct (or near-direct) selling of art, games, and writing. Patreon is a huge step in the right direction.

We are at the point where you can package any digital thing you want into a download of an archive (ZIP/RAR) file and ask any amount of money ($$$) you want for it. That's pretty neat.

The more we own our own work, the more we can do with it. Games and games writing are getting super weird and awesome, you guys!

Let's commit to being even weirder and continue to stop fucking asking for permission.

[insert thanking and running away here]

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Some examples of people doing cool, innovative things with form and remuneration in games writing:

  • Leigh Alexander spreads her excellent writing far and wide across all media, digital or print. Her work ranges from in-depth features on games and their creators to the far reaches of other topics like “life.” She recently released Breathing Machine, a memoir of growing up with the internet in the 1990's. I can't wait to see a long form critical work from her in an e-book format. Perhaps a Symphony of the Night book for Bossfight Books?
  • Cara Ellison is one of many great game journalists who have taken to Patreon recently in a quest for fixed income. The project she chose to lead with, a series of long biographical examinations of video game creators and their creative habitats, looks sharply focused and is already producing some great work. Let's hope there's a collected edition at the end of this as I think that would be a great gift for any non-games people to get a wonderful peek inside the world of game creation.
  • Anna Anthropy led the way with her instantly accessible Rise of the Videogame Zinesters. She continues to blur the lines between writing and games through her recent work, sold directly through Gumroad.
  • Aevee Bee's been writing some incredible short critical essays on her Tumblr and elsewhere. She's now assembling Zeal, a writing and art magazine.
  • Tevis Thompson's mega-essay on the Zelda series. He's now putting those thoughts and feelings into a comic book story with art from David Hellman.

copyright 2017 taylor morris
taylor@collapsingspace.com