James Patterson, Kobo e-reader turn books into games

James Patterson, Kobo e-reader turn books into games

Summary: A few days ago, I talked to best-selling author James Patterson about his new Facebook game, Catch a Killer. In addition to being a prolific writer (and having a small collection of games based on his work), Patterson also has a distinguished background in advertising (he was at various times the creative director, CEO, and Chairman of a division of the J.

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TOPICS: Hardware, Mobility
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A few days ago, I talked to best-selling author James Patterson about his new Facebook game, Catch a Killer. In addition to being a prolific writer (and having a small collection of games based on his work), Patterson also has a distinguished background in advertising (he was at various times the creative director, CEO, and Chairman of a division of the J. Walter Thompson ad agency). As a writer who is known for being deeply involved with both the creative and business sides of publishing, I thought he might have some interesting insights about how to make a game out of books and reading.

Turns out, Patterson was more interested in adding better narrative to games (a worthy cause, IMHO), but seemed skeptical about the idea of gamifying the book experience.

"I think there are [ways to do that], but I don't know anyone that's done it very successfully. There have been a couple of tries. Scholastic has a series that combines books and video so there's some of that… I think one of the things is that people get habits and it's very hard to shift the habits, so it seems to be difficult for the book public -- even kids -- who are playing games and reading books, but it seems difficult for them to combine the two.”

Next: Kobo's 'Reading Life' also turns books into games »

Catch a Killer is an original work, not an adaptation of any particular Patterson novel, but it stars the author’s best-known creation, detective Alex Cross. In that sense, it’s social media as general brand building, rather than trying to sell a specific media product.

Despite his skepticism, Patterson and his publishers are at least trying to embrace social media and gaming, even if the end result is oddly divorced from the actual book-reading experience (suggestion to future authors, try planting clues in a book that can be used to solve Facebook game puzzles).

A day later, a much more direct connection between reading (or at least book-selling) and games presented itself. I randomly ran across the Kobo e-reader app for iOS (a standard ebook reader, similar to the Amazon Kindle app or the Apple iBooks app), which just added a  brand new gamified feature called 'Reading Life.' This new add-on lets you ‘check in’ to books, gives you badges for reading (like the ‘Classic Attack’ badge for reading the five classics that come pre-installed on the app). There’s also a stat tracker that shows what books you’re currently reading, plus interesting smaller details on how many hours you’ve spent reading, the time of day you generally read and how many hours you spend per book.

It’s a great concept and even though I’m a little sick and tired of getting badges for everything I do -- I think Kobo may be onto something (and I’m sure Kindle and iBooks will replicate in the not-too-distant future).

Of course, I was disappointed to learn that these cool gamey things would not work unless I actually bought books through Kobo (I’m a tried-and-true Kindle junkie) and I’d love to see this thing taken a step further -- allowing people to send book passages to friends or maybe borrow from World of Warcraft’s guild model, making it easy for people to organize book clubs and stay in touch with each other while they’re collectively plowing through book after book.

And after giving Kobo’s ‘Reading Life’ a thorough inspection, my thoughts went back to James Patterson. For a well-known author who’s hip enough to release his own Facebook game, I can only imagine that we’ll soon be seeing a sponsored “I’m a Pattersonian” badge for the people who read at least five of his sixty-some-odd novels.

Topics: Hardware, Mobility

Libe Goad

About Libe Goad

Texas native Libe Goad resides in New York City and has spent the past decade covering technology and video games for publications including Blender, PC Magazine, Bust, Seventeen and Sync.

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  • Books as games

    I remember in the 70's the (to me) huge success of Tunnels and Trolls - D&D like experience for the solo reader. Sections would have decision points that went like: If you attack the monster, turn to page 13. If you run, page 7. Give him your lunch - page 17.
    dimonic
    • RE: James Patterson, Kobo e-reader turn books into games

      Ha! I totally remember those. There were even some where you had to roll D&D-like dice and fight the monster with a battle system (I got lazy and just assumed I won all the battles, just to move the story along).
      danackerman
  • RE: James Patterson, Kobo e-reader turn books into games

    Patterson is right to focus on better narrative for games. I work at BigDoor (http://www.bigdoor.com) and we work closely with community managers to determine what the best game layer experience is for their site. Adding levels, points, leaderboards, virtual currency and goods for websites only really works if it fits within the ecosystem of the site.
    Carrie_P
  • RE: James Patterson, Kobo e-reader turn books into games

    What about good old fashioned reading?
    james347
  • This got its own column?

    Reading the blog roll - and apparently this got its own new column?

    Well, "gamification" has some interesting ideas, although IMO we have to be very careful - we haven't a clue how people will react to this.

    And we VERY VERY much have to do "gamification" right if we do it at all - the impact it could theoretically have on society is large, and we really don't know the social, ethical, moral, political, or even religious ramifications of trying to add more gaming elements to real life.

    Will people want a point system added to work activities? Will people want to refer to themselves by a "level" in real life like they do in games? Virtual currencies are already get a lot of attention, thanks to Second Life.

    I personally have mixed feelings about this - we don't know the full potential for abuse for many of the mechanics, but if it could make life a bit more fun and work a bit less dreary, they could help.

    Of particular interest is how game mechanics could affect education - right now, we have a cookie cutter system that barely works at all. There are some game mechanics that could help make education more flexible and interesting.

    But anyways, it's getting late here, perhaps I could type more later.
    CobraA1
  • I am a Kobo fan

    and love both my Kobo e-reader and this app! I am also a Kobo Community Manager through She's Connected.
    Capability