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.
"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.”
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.