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Would you like to read that book, or play it?

Ebooks might not be the only way for authors to enter the digital age: At least one major publishing house also sees opportunities in video games. Earlier this year, Random House announced that it had established a team to create original content for video games, and to consult on game stories with developers.

The first project to receive Random House's touch will be Elemental: War of Magic, a strategy video game developed by Stardock Corp. that is due out at the end of August. With the help of author Dave Stern, who has penned a wide variety of fiction and non-fiction titles, including books related to Star Trek, The Punisher and The Blair Witch Project, Random House is simultaneously helping to write the story for the game and overseeing the development of a novel.

This is the fourth article in a series on the future of books.

The publisher has even more ambitious plans: to develop entire fictional worlds, from scratch or by expanding on existing books, that have enough depth and intrigue to support telling a range of stories across different media.

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Keith Clayton, Random House's director of creative development, is leading the effort. We recently caught up with him in New York, to discuss the intersection of books and video games.

What's the vision behind your team, which is exploring the creation of original content for video games? For us, it really goes back to two things: Using the existing skills that we have by applying them to storytelling in other media, and being able to give our authors another layer of opportunity. It's really about being able to work with authors to enrich the value of the worlds they create.

So it involves more than just writing scripts for video games? Yes, exactly. In some cases, as with Stardock, we are helping them write the content for their game, as well as an accompanying novel. But in other cases, it's more of an intellectual-property-generation thing, and working to build those larger worlds so we can partner with game companies and other media.

What do you mean by "building larger worlds"? It means enriching the framework of a fictional world so it can support stories in multiple areas. There's not just a book. There's a piece of the story that's reserved for the game. There's a piece of the story that's reserved for future episodic content, whether that's television, comics or even online webisodes. And there's a piece of the story that's reserved for a film. So you're not just, for example, making a game out of a novel.

Given all the changes happening in the publishing industry, do you see this sort of activity as an important trend for the future? It could be. I think the core business is always going to be there. It's just about using our editorial, marketing and publicity talent in a slightly different way. I don't necessarily think it's going to be the whole business. This could be a complement.

How long have you been working on a video-game strategy? There have been a lot of hurdles, and a lot of changes to our approach over the last few years. We've also developed a lot of important contacts in both the games industry and other industries that are becoming key in realizing these types of deals.

What is Random House's involvement in Elemental: War of Magic? It's our first partnership deal, in terms of us working on another company's property. It isn't something that Random House created; it's a world that Stardock had, and they wanted us to help write the game and the book, ensuring it was one singular editorial voice for the whole thing. The author that we hired, Dave Stern, helped the writer of the book and also helped write the story for the game, so it was a good crossover.

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So there's a second writer for the book? Yes, the main writer for the book is Brad Wardell, who is CEO of Stardock.

I understand you've also been working on larger, original stories. We have. We're also working on a business structure that can incorporate authors' properties into a chain like this. We want to do it in a way that's fair to authors, and that can help them make their worlds bigger than just a book. Not every property is going to be right, and not every author is going to be interested. It's about assessing things on a case-by-case basis.

So it's about reaching larger audiences? That's exactly what it's about. It's basically working with authors to reach bigger audiences, and to give them more of a mass appeal, if that's the right thing. We want to scale up in a way that really incorporates our authors, because we know that they're our bread and butter. Content is still king.

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