Do PDF games show how comics can beat the recession?
Anyone who has shopped online for a tabletop role-playing game in the past few years is probably aware that many games are now available in a PDF format. In fact, there are some games and supplements which are entirely PDF. This switch in focus has had its share of controversy, with some people preferring a more traditional bound version of games. However, in tough economic times, PDF is a very affordable way to get the newest game supplements without burning a hole in your wallet.
So, what are the pros and cons of PDF games? How are sales holding up in a struggling economy? What does this mean for the future of gaming and, ultimately, for the future of other forms of printed entertainment? I talked with industry experts Gareth-Michael Skarka (Owner and Director of Adamant Entertainment and Director of Development and New Media for Cubicle 7), and Sean Patrick Fannon (Marketing, Publisher Relations and Communications Manager for the RPG division of OneBookShelf, Inc. – which includes DriveThruRPG and RPGNow – and Senior Writer/Designer for Talisman Studios). They have over 30 years of professional game industry experience between them.
When asked about the pros and cons of PDF games, both Skarka and Fannon agreed that the major draw for this format is the instant gratification of having the material you are looking to purchase immediately. They also offered further insight as to why PDF has become such a popular format. Fannon mentioned that “PDFs facilitate information searches so perfectly, both through bookmarking and a straight-up search engine built into the readers. You can selectively print out the pages you actually need, rather than having to have the whole book to lug around. You can fit literally hundreds (even thousands) of books on one laptop or in a data storage device).” Additionally, Skarka pointed out that “PDFs can also move further afield from merely being an electronic version of a physical book, by including sound, video, etc. — this isn’t something which has been explored too much in the market just yet. People are currently more comfortable with the "e-Book" concept, but once they become more widespread, the lines between the various things that can be distributed digitally (music, video, programs, etc.) will become more and more blurred.”
The lack of a more traditional book format seems to be the main downside to PDF games, says Fannon. “PDFs do not fulfill that primarily psychological desire to hold a book in your hands. People do enjoy the tangible experience of flipping pages, and being able to pull a book out at a coffee shop or other ‘comfort places’ to read through is not something easily done with a PDF. Even if you print one out and put it into a binder, that doesn’t represent the same visceral experience of holding and reading and referencing a printed book.”
In today’s difficult economy, may people are seeking inexpensive forms of entertainment and social gatherings. Gaming, appeals to both of these wants, and can provide hours of socially active entertainment at a relatively low cost. Games in PDF offer even more bang for the buck. Something many people might not realize, is that PDF games are also more financially viable for publishers. Noted Mr. Fannon: “PDF products run much less expensive than print products. Fans can get a great many more games and supplements for their hard-earned dollars, and to be completely honest, game companies make so much more from a PDF sale than they can hope to earn on a printed product, which means more money in the pockets of the creators – thus ensuring guys like me can really afford to make even more stuff for the fans.”
But what about those gamers who would much rather have a printed, bound book? What if you decide that you would like the PDF you have purchased to be in a more traditional format? Gareth-Michael Skarka says, “Yes, we offer some of our product in print as well as PDF — although that’s largely just to attract the folks who prefer the printed version. In my experience there’s not much crossover. We don’t see many ‘test drives’ — customers usually prefer one format or the other.”
The good news to gamers who would still like a printed version of a game but whose pocket money has been significantly lessened by the economy is that Print on Demand is becoming a much more viable option. Sean Patrick Fannon elaborates: “POD has already dramatically changed things for many companies, and we’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg so far. Using digital print options, it is possible to create a game product and file it on a server. When a single customer wants to purchase a book, they can file their order, pay the listed price, and only then is a single book printed, bound, packaged, and shipped. In this way, there’s no overhead, no up-front print costs, and no warehousing of unsold product. As the prices continue to come down on both printing and shipping such product, you can rest assured that digital printing will dramatically outstrip traditional print in all but the most mass-market productions.”
With RPGs picking up popularity in digital format, and with the popularity of downloadable books, I asked Skarka if he found a correlation between PDF games and online comics and webzines. He replied “Absolutely, and a growing one. Recent news out of the New York Comic Con regarding Marvel’s expansion of their downloadable ‘motion comics’ products is another sign towards the blurring of the digital products line that I mentioned earlier.”
So whether you are a seasoned gamer looking for new content at a recession-friendly price, or someone who is seeking an inexpensive form of interactive entertainment, PDF games may just be the answer.