Mistborn author says video game publishing is superior to book publishing

From Video Games Chronicle:

Fantasy author Brandon Sanderson has said he thinks the way video games are published is superior to the book publishing process.

In an interview with Esquire (as spotted by PC Gamer), Sanderson was discussing his work routine, and explained that he gives himself two “discretionary hours” at the end of each day to do what he wants before going to bed.

Sanderson said that recently he’s spent a lot of this time playing Elden Ring, with what he calls a “glass cannon build”, which consists of two colossal swords, no shield, no spirit ashes, very light armour and “no pants”, according to his wife.

. . . .

He then went on to explain why he feels that video games do a better job than books when it comes to publishing.

“They let you self-select your price point by getting these really cool items,” he said, referring to the special editions available for numerous games.

Elden Ring, for example, was sold as a Launch Edition (with a poster, art cards and a patch), a Collector’s Edition (with a statue, an art book and a soundtrack), and a Premium Collector’s Edition (which contained everything else plus a replica helmet).

“One thing I think [book] publishing is poorly equipped to deal with right now is letting people pick their price point,” said Sanderson, who is best known for his Mistborn and Stormlight Archive fantasy novels.

Book publishers tend to sell hardcovers and e-books as two separate products, and later release a paperback version if the demand is high enough.

For years, Sanderson said he tried convincing the former president of Macmillan Publishers to release multiple editions of his books at different prices, with leatherbound hardcovers, and bundled with original art, e-books and merchandise.

“They won’t say it, but publishers get really excited by the idea that we can get super-fans to buy three copies of the same book,” he said. “But wouldn’t super-fans be happier if they could buy one really nice edition in all formats? Give them a bundle with the print book and the e-book. Reader-centric ideals will lead to long-term success for the publishing industry.”

Link to the rest at Video Games Chronicle

PG suggests that the people who are running video game companies are a lot smarter about story, design and marketing than book publishers are. Leaps and bounds smarter. Not even in the same universe.

(And people managing video game companies make a lot more money than people managing traditional publishers do.)

Here’s the Elden Ring game Update Trailer:

Here is one person’s (not PG’s) idea of one of the best book trailers ever made. (PG doesn’t think the adjective, “best,” is appropriate when followed by the words, “book trailer.”

16 thoughts on “Mistborn author says video game publishing is superior to book publishing”

  1. He is being polite.
    The BPHs not only fall short of common publisher practices in other industries like gaming and video, they fall short of common book publishing practices of smaller tradpubs and indies.
    Through inaction they are leaving significant money on the table and hurting themselves (shrug) and their authors.
    Dreamers should take note.
    Typically they don’t.

  2. I like Sanderson’s idea, and I’ve wondered the same about why publishers don’t take up that suggestion. I’ve seen some of those special leather editions of Sanderson’s offered by Subterranean Press, which I gather is akin to Folio Society or Easton Press. Except SP is specifically going for sci-fi / fantasy / horror novels. They also do e-books at competitive price points.

    And the thing is, Sanderson sells enough that he would have been an excellent test case for his publisher. Usually you’d expect a tradpublisher to only do what Sanderson is talking about (esp. with the leather bound editions) if an author has a certain sales threshold. Which is fair enough, so it says something about his publisher that even Sanderson couldn’t convince them to try and do that experiment.

    This is where Indies are better off. Indies can easily do “DLCs”, i.e., anthologies set in their own universes. Or one-shot novellas of their characters’ adventures as prequels, epilogues or “interquels” (between sequels). Usually tradpub is resistant to short stories. Although in fairness Baen is an exception; I discovered the Vorkosigan saga via their Mountains of Morning anthology. But indies have every option on the table.

    For fantasy / sci-fi / horror there’s an overlap between fans of those books and fans of video games. A clever indie might monetize that, by offering up goodies for their bundles, e.g., wallpaper, skins, etc. I’ve seen Michael Whelan’s cover art for Sanderson’s books for sale as play mats or mouse pads. It’s something to think about think about when drawing up a contract with a cover artist, anyway. The point is, indies have the advantage of flexibility, so why not experiment? Good for Sanderson that he’s open minded.

    • Given his success, I expect Sanderson to slowly disentangle himself from his tradpub contracts and maybe ramp up a micro press for other authors. His current effort is a pilot, proving the viability of the practices.

      • I suspect he will. On MediaBistro, which is a job board for media people, I saw an ad a while back for Sanderson’s Dragonsteel Entertainment. Mostly the position involved editing Sanderson’s books, if I remember correctly … but how hard would it be to add on another author to the editor’s task list? Baby steps. Aside from that, I always suspected that he called his company “… Entertainment” and not ” … Publishing” because he intended all along to branch into other media such as video games. He’s a good test case to pay attention to.

  3. My original comment vanished after I posted. Too many links? Anyway, the alternate version is that Sanderson is correct. I once bought a special edition of “Divine Divinity: Original Sin 2” because it came with the design documents for the game, and I like studying those. I wish BioWare / Obsidian offered those documents, especially for their old school classics. Soundtracks, art, tie-in novels or short stories; I love when games offer those. I pre-ordered the special edition of Neverwinter Nights 2 back in the day because Obsidian included cloth maps and jewelry (rings) based on your alignment (I usually go for Chaotic Good, unless I switch it up with Lawful Good).

    Indie writers can be as flexible, with their own version of “DLCs / expansion packs”: anthologies, one-shot novellas of prequels, epilogues, “interquels” (between sequels) etc. Sanderson’s experience is proof enough there’s no point in going with tradpub. They will not be as nimble as a shrewd indie writer / bog standard video game company.

    • Sorry about the loss of your first comment, J.

      I do have an app to prevent commenters from stuffing a comment full of links to all sorts of places, including Chinese sites, porn, scams, etc., etc..

      • This app seems to be set a little bit too tightly (it may not be user selectable). A third link sends posts to moderation; it’s not even enough to operate the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch! (Or to cite to both two sections of the Copyright Act and a case trying to interpret those two sections and how they operate.)

        But that’s a quibble. There is no perfect system; I’m just very, very good at being an outlier (like, say, having both law and laboratory science degrees).

  4. My approach is to give each link its own comment.
    I know it clutters the thread but (I think) it’s less moderation work for PG.
    No clean solution that I can see.

  5. In case anybody doubts that taking cues from gaming publishers is useful:

    “Last year some 3.2bn people played video games, about four in ten people worldwide. The number has risen by about 100m a year, with a big jump during covid lockdowns in 2020. In rich countries two-thirds of people play, nearly half of them women. And though gaming is disproportionately a young person’s hobby (nine out of ten British 16- to 24-year-olds play games) older folk are picking up the habit, including half those aged 55-64. Worldwide, there are more console owners aged 35-44 than aged 16-24, says Karol Severin of midia Research, an entertainment advisory firm. As he puts it, gamers are no longer just “young guys covered in crisps”.”


    • Yes, although worth noting is that when most people talk about video games and game publishing they’re not talking about things like Wordle and other “casual” games, but CoD, Mass Effect, Assassin’s Creed, and Total War. Even so, that only mitigates the point; those games see sales numbers that book publishers can only dream of.

      • That is changing.
        As the article points out, the bulk of the massive growth in global gaming is precisely in those casual games on mobile.

        The segment is where Apple Arcade makes billions. ($7B by 2025)
        Take Two spent $12.7B to buy Zynga in 2022 while Embracer got all of Square Enix’s western Studios and IP (Tomb Raider and 50 other IPs, past and future, 1000 developers) for only $300M.
        Microsoft is spending close to $70B for Activision which yes, to Sony’s apoplexy includes CoD, but *more importantly* includes KING, creators of CANDY CRUSH. For which Activision paid $5.9B in 2015.


        Most of the industry growth in the next few years is coming from younger gamers, and non-western gamers and those are on phones and tablets, which can’t natively run AAA games. For 2023, that market will bring in $83B.

        I favor big RPGs myself but the rest of the world really likes mobile.

        • I’ll have to keep that in mind about mobile; I don’t consider mobile games to be “video games” personally. They’re just ways to pass the time when I’m stuck in a waiting room or some such place.

          However, I just filled out a customer survey for Amazon re: how I use my Kindle Fire. The questions suggested they’re going to try and compete with GamePass (perhaps) with a cloud gaming service called “Amazon Luna.” I gather the games in their library can be played on a Fire as well as a TV, etc. Curious to see how that’s going to work out.

          • This the first you hear about LUNA?
            It was announced in Sept 2020 and released in March 2022.
            You can try it through PRIME.

            Here’s a full breakdown:


            It runs mostly off browsers and mobile apps.
            No downloads in the subscription: it is a pure cloud gaming play and IIRC all the games it streams are unmodified PC games.

            Its main competitors are GeForce now (mostly streaming only but it will let you cloud-play *some* purchased games) and Game Pass’s cloud gaming feature.

            However, Game Pass comes in 3 (soon to be 4) flavors. At $10 it is a download-only subscription for XBOX or PC. At $15 it is both, plus cloud gaming of console games. It has a native Android and Windows app and runs in a browser on Mac and everywhere else. Native TV apps are on Samsung (announced) with others coming. Also unannounced is a $25 Friends and family plan for up to 5 gamer currently in test in Ireland, Colombia and NZ.

            Unlike Netflix, Game Pass lets you buy at a discount games you like. First party games are permanently listed so it’s only the others that need buying if and when. (And why most developers see higher sales on games that launch day and date on Game Pass.) Because it supports downloads, GP includes way more AAA games than casual. Which is one of the reasons they’re buying Activision: KING. (The others include the fallow Activision catalog and getting a distressed but profitable bussiness cheap.) Getting one of the most profitable casual game catalogs and the skilled developers is worth a lot.

            BTW, Netflix is also ramping up a casual gaming sideline to their subscriptions. $83B a year is awfully enticing.

        • I don’t disagree with your analysis of the overall game market; however, I would contend that learning from how game publishers handle AAA games is more relevant to book publishing than how they handle “casual” games, simply due to the differing natures of the games.

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