Old Guys and Dead Trees

I get irrationally frowny when I get the inevitable weekly-or-more email from drivethrurpg.com that one of my titles has been updated.

If it’s a game I only own in PDF, mostly that doesn’t bug me. But if it’s something I have on paper, oh jeez.

First: I get that perfect is the enemy of good. I’m all in on that.

Second: PDF updates almost never address play-important changes.

But! But but but I actively dislike the feeling that my printed copy is imperfect.

I speculate my feelings about this are tied to a couple things: the age of these creators and their relationship with e-docs, and Kickstarter.

On the first point: are these changes just not seen as a big deal by most folks? I’m asking the creators, here. And I’m talking specifically about Legacy: Life in the Ruins and The Veil, because both of those books have recently been updated. I guess Wrath of the Autarch as well, and that one has play-relevant changes from the hardcopy I have.

Is it generational to de-privilege the printed word? It might be! I honestly don’t know! In my head, and as a practical matter, my hardcopies are my reference volumes. I actively dislike fiddling with PDF readers at the table, because that means screens and screens are bad-disruptive almost every time. So knowing that my reference volumes are not the most up-to-date bums me out.

The second point I want to bring up is Kickstarter. Is there a tempo aspect to the revision and development of these games because you’ve put a date out and you super-duper want to hit it? This feels like what’s going on both with The Veil and Cascade, as well as Legacy. This is me asking the question as a potential future Kickstarter creator: do you feel actual pressure to deliver on promised dates? Where’s that coming from? What’s it costing you?

I mean it may totally be true that hardcopy is on its way out and perfecting it is now a minor concern. It was weird when the web went majority-mobile, too. Things change. If this is the actual fact, well, I guess I need to live with it. But if this is self-imposed rushing to get physical rewards out the door on an arbitrary schedule, I’m a lot less sympathetic.

A couple closing thoughts.

* Repeated small PDF updates really bug me (I’m looking at you, The Veil.) Because like…even if I wanted to order a new “best possible” printed copy, I have no idea when or if the revision process will ever end.

* Changelogs or errata would sure go a long way toward making me, personally, feel better about changes. Like if I can see stuff like “bolded some game terms” or “paragraph broke badly, changed the flow” or whatever, great, I can ignore that. And if there are major things like “changed the Empath move” then I can go and mark up my own copy with a note to see the errata. That’s great.

I do dearly wish we could treat tabletop games like software, you know? Quietly patch in the background so your run-time experience is always the most up-to-date. Heck, even have a beta patch opt-in, Steam style. But that’s not how we learn or use tabletop games. We can’t (yet?) seamlessly merge patches into the github of our brain.

Just to be clear: I’m not dragging anyone here! I’m asking questions and I’m being super charitable about what the reasons might be. Thanks.

0 thoughts on “Old Guys and Dead Trees”

  1. I don’t update our PDFs any more for exactly this reason. The physical book is canonical and there’s an errata sheet for everything important (and plenty that’s not). But mostly it feels like a waste of my time to constantly obsess over one title I already delivered. Cover price buys you the text, not my undivided attention for ten years.

  2. This same feeling tops my list for “Reasons that playtest materials should be digital, printed only as needed”.

    The Pathfinder option to buy a printed playtest rule-set still makes me goggle. I would be filled with confusion and crankiness.

  3. I feel this. I think I’m right on the cusp of this divide, too. I spent about 10 years doing tabletop RPGs with no thought of “errata,” let alone regular updates, but these days I run maybe half my games from my tablet, largely because I like being able to run a search to find a rule.

    That said, if I could be sure that a print copy was going to be the last word on a topic, I might be more inclined to always make sure I had the book at the table.

  4. So in terms of computer games, there’s a thing I’ve noticed about myself in the past 5 or so years. Note, this isn’t a principled decision — I didn’t decide to do this, it just happened in response to the pressures of the situation.

    I do not buy new computer games. I do not pre-purchase computer games. I almost never Kickstart computer games unless they may not get made if I don’t.

    This is because I sort of assume that the game will be patched several times. It may be re-balanced. It may deliver lots of DLC or none at all. I may want to buy the “season pass” or I may not. The game when it comes out may not be playable, and it will almost certainly be more playable and integrated a year after release. Chances are extremely good it will also be cheaper.

    (I mean look at the new Mass Effect fiasco.)

    So the choice I end up with is: pay more, get the game in chunks, have it maybe not work or not work well — or wait a year, get a better game, cheaper, and have better reviews and insight if I actually want to get it at all.

    So yea… I wait.

    And now in TTRPGs there are similar pressures starting. If I wait a year do I get a better game? If I wait until it’s in a bundle of holding do I get a better game at a tenth the price? If I wait a year — or two — before buying a print copy will it have fixed errata?

    And considering I have my next two years of games already qued up, I’m not likely to play it before then, so why exactly should I get it now…

    I still Kickstart shit these days, but honestly, the only reason I’m doing it is to support specific creators and specific types of games that I want to see. And I do understand that in a volitile demand-driven economy that changes in buying habits can be devastating, and I don’t want to devastate people making games, but…. I’m starting to feel some systemic push to wait until I can buy fixed and final games cheaper.

    Note: I have no solutions. I just have worries.

  5. Oh, yeah, Brand Robins’ computer games analogy is hitting the nail on the head. I Kickstarted Darkest Dungeon, which is a game that rewards a lot of mastery, and literally every time I’d start to master it and develop a strategy, they would make huge changes. I stopped playing it to wait for the day when it would be considered “complete,” by which time, I had lost all interest.

    Given the high level of system mastery required to run an RPG, I think the same logic applies. And maybe even goes a bit deeper? Because even if the changes are superficial, they imply that the system I’ve learned, and the one I’m prepared to bring to the table, is still full of incorrect assumptions.

  6. As a note, this matters less (for whatever psychological combination of reasons) for games I’m hot on than for those I’m warm on.

    Like, get me a new game by like, Becky Annison and I’ll be like “SHUT UP AND TAKE MY MONEY AND FIX THE TYPOS WITH MY BLOOD IT IS FINE.”

    But the reason I still haven’t bought a print copy of DCC? There may be a new printing with some fixes in a couple months.

    I like DCC. I have the PDF. I’ve played and liked it. But… you know… I can wait until they’re done to buy the book.

  7. and because more opinions is always better…

    As a publisher, I definitely do feel the pressure to hit publicly announced deadlines, or at least have very good communication about why not.

    What does it cost me? The reputation of my company, the goodwill of fans of our games, and my own sense of accomplishment. I’ve seen enough posts here on G+ about “I’ve now waited X years for this Kickstarter to deliver…” to drive those points home.

  8. Okay but weeks aren’t years.

    I honestly can’t remember any of my BPG titles getting the rapid fire update treatment. I suspect your editors are catching more and earlier than crowdsourcing the effort after the print edition is already delivered.

  9. It’s sometimes a new creator thing. So for my first self-published RPG, I kept doing this, sometimes once every few days, until a purchaser asked me very kindly and privately to please stop. I did. They were correct; every correction was really tiny and niggling, and it’s not worth an update just because I’ve missed out a comma.

    Also, this is related to the reason I avoid pre-release Kickstarter drafts; just give me the final book please, then I’ll play (or to be honest, read).

    And Becky’s brilliant, I knew her before she was famous, you know, and I can’t wait for Bite Me!

  10. It reminds me of knitting in some ways. I was explaining to Josh the other days that the ‘good’ knitting patterns are test knit by someone who is not the designer and who has to carefully watch that they knit to the pattern and don’t subconsciously adjust to fill in gaps in the pattern.

    Much like playtesting.

    But they also go through a technical editor who does a paper exercise ensuring that the pattern is logically correct, technically accurate, uses consistent terms and symbols etc. Usually a knitter who has done design

    This I assume is like the copy-editing stage of a game where you have someone looking for logical inconsistencies, typos, areas lacking in clarity. This job sounds kinda like my hell ( I will always pay someone to do it on my games – probably always the same person if I can get him!) and the bigger and more sprawling the game with more and more cross -references then the harder this will be for anyone (no matter how good) to get it right. Pretty sure my favoured copy editor will kick my ass sideways when/if he agrees to edit the game I’ve got going out to playtest on Friday.

    But I feel you, I buy all my games digital and then upgrade to print when I’m definitely going to run them (unless it is a KS dear to my heart) I can’t run from digital copies at all. If I can’t stick post it notes and underline bits then I’m not going to be able to run it.

  11. I always assumed those constant PDF updates were a way to use Drive thru as a stealth drip marketing tactic.

    Every couple of weeks I get reminded of some game in my library that’s been updated. It may be a game I don’t even remember buying (like from a bundle or something) but now I’ve been reminded of it’s existence.

    I guess I’m cynical but I just figured those “change one comma and generate an update every week” deals we’re done intentionally as a strategy to keep the game top of mind.

  12. Yeah, we avoid doing incremental updates, even though no matter how well we edit, there are always, always typos. We will update the digital edition sometimes but print changes go into an errata file and wait for a possible second printing.

  13. Argh! I posted this huge long thing and then it got eaten when I went to plus someone in. Well, blah.

    Anyway, I don’t have answers, but there are many variables. The big ones: how large the publisher is and how complex the game is.

    This thread is making me think about how often to update a pdf. I was in the “all the time” camp, but now I’m realizing it’s probably better to do rare updates.

    Really interesting to hear Brad Murray mention that you didn’t pay for lifetime support. Because that’s not how it feels for me. I do feel obligated to answer any questions someone has and then update the pdf if there are clarifications and add to an errata.

  14. Phil Lewis I’ll happily engage on rules issue but it’s not because I feel I owe maintenance. It’s only because it’s good marketing to have a positive relationship with your customers.

    That’s different, though, than updating a laid out document. That’s potentially hours of new work depending on how much my text flow changes. That’s not happening with any regularity.

    I do keep errata sheets and if there are enough errata of sufficient severity to warrant a change, I’ll change both the physical and the PDF. But also note in the errata when these are fixed where.

    Most fixes are just not interesting if you finished the game properly before releasing. The other case is where you publish a work in progress (which I have also done — clearly indicating to the buyer of course). A work in progress changes on a whim and I would never offer a print version. Also the layout is not going to be so tight that changes are a monster.

  15. Many updates are PDF features. I had a happy example this week where one publisher finally bookmarked their PDF, making it ten times more useful. Even correcting typos and such is useful for the publisher: they update the PDF in preparation for the print run or POD order.

  16. On that front, I generally don’t download a PDF until it’s gone to print these days. Because cool on adding good stuff! But I don’t want to dig in until it’s mostly done.

    (I will always give people slack if they add bookmarks though. That is so very nice.)

  17. Bookmarked pdf seems to be the default in my Adobe workflow now so I don’t have to remember it any more. But yeah I’d update the PDF for that since it has no impact on the print variant.

  18. There is a definite pressure to deliver on dates, and as big as it is, it’s generally not the reason for updates to PDFs.

    99% or the time, it’s typos that need to get fixed. For The Veil The update is actually a second printing PDF because there were some mechanical changes as well as some edits. Fans don’t generally look at or scrutinize the text at all until the final thing is released, even when you put up typo hunting docs for folks that are willing to help the editing.

    I also think the RPG community in general is very vocal and has pretty unrealistic expectations from small indie games, especially for first time creators, re: typos and text perfection. Having so many academics in the industry means there are a ton of folks who simply can’t abide a typo.

    I think pdf updates are pretty common practice for even the bigger companies or people with access to way more resources. How many versions of_Blades in the Dark_ do I have sitting on my hard drive?

  19. Kyle Simons Oh man typos. As far as I’m concerned that comes under due diligence: we do what we can to eliminate them but after release I just don’t care. There WILL BE TYPOS always. You live with it.

  20. Brad Murray Yeah, I did the same with Worlds in Peril – there are still some typos in there because I was fine with it being reflective of the printed text, but The Veil was Fraser’s first book and experience with the community-as-consumers so he was/is pretty anal about trying to appease people.

    Kickstarter backers will recall we had an issue with printer where they actually printed an earlier pdf version of The Veil by accident so Fraser wanted to fix all the issues that that entailed with the second printing.

  21. I’m with Brad Murray To be honest it never really occurred to me (or I think Josh) to update Lovecraftesque on Drive Thru for minor edits when the final text was locked in. We are happy with it, there are probably typos but I can live with it.

    Can I plus Josh into this discussion Paul Beakley – he would probably have some thoughts. Likely they would be interesting thoughts.

  22. My bottomline is, I’m not going to complain because my PDF version is being improved. In a number of cases, however, I wish publishers were able and willing to take more time and care with their review and proofing process for what they send to print.

  23. I fear that Becky has unduly enbiggenated me.

    However. Getting updates from Drivethru because the designer decided to correct a typo, or something, bugs the hell out of me and I certainly don’t download the updated version.

    As a designer, I do aim to deliver a kickstarter by the promised deadline. I promised that deadline, I want people to see that I can deliver what I promise. I want people to know they can rely on me. However, delivering by that deadline doesn’t at all mean delivering just any old thing by the deadline. It means delivering a finished product, that has been copyedited and proofread and all that good stuff. I would rather miss the deadline than deliver a product that wasn’t properly finished.

    Now, I obviously have relatively little experience of this so I’m mostly talking about my personal philosophy here. Lovecraftesque was delivered, I think, a month or two late, something like that? Which super-vexed me, because I really thought we’d allowed enough time, we were super-careful, and grrr. But the text was finished well ahead of time. As it happens, after we published I noticed some annoying (minor) formatting errors; we have not corrected them. I just… I dunno, it would feel unnecessary? We did so much proofreading, with new errors appearing every time, that I know for sure it’s impossible to have a completely error-free version. So yeah, I’m not sure I understand the compulsive updating either.

  24. Oh, one other thought. I’ve noticed some kickstarters release endless new versions of the PDF before the “final” one. We didn’t do that either. As far as I can remember / divine from the old kickstarter page we sent out exactly one version, the final one. We also published, right at the start and for anyone to download, a “barebones” version as a sort of “try before you buy” product.

    Not sure if that was the right strategy, but I can say that as a backer I don’t generally download a game until I see the word “final” in the title.

  25. Yeah, had the printers used the correct file I wouldn’t have updated it at all most likely. But since I knew the next printing would be using a different file anyways, it kind of broke an internal dam for me and I started using feedback from the community to refine it further. As a bonus I provided the first printing folks with the second printing, or they can use the first one that reflects the print and is perfectly able to replicate the desired play experience.

    I also hired a different editor for Cascade and the printer used the correct file. I don’t expect to update either again. 2nd printing PDF reflects the print perfectly, same with Cascade now so it’s done. I think since both went to printer no updates have gone out.

    I’ve been contacted a lot more from people stoked about my refinement of the game instead of just printing the correct file next time. A lot of people, especially in indie and pbta spaces see creators as fire and forget types that don’t really care if their product can be improved or not because they’re done with it.

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