New Ebook Sales Channels: Selling Through in-Game Stores

Game play for First Sword.

Game play for First Sword.

For publishers looking to diversify their ebook sales channels, here’s an idea: selling ebooks through in-game stores.

Alpenwolf, a small, international game-development firm is going to test this idea with a game it releases in November this year, First Sword. The game is a “commentary-based management game,” according to one of its developers, Theo Beale, who is also an author, musician, former game reviewer and game journalist. (He is also known for his libertarian views and a public feud with science-fiction writer John Scalzi.)

According to Beale, this could be a significant part of the revenue mix in the future for game developers.

In First Sword, players gather a stable of gladiators, who they train, outfit with equipment and ultimately battle with other players’ gladiators. The game play is a stream of text describing the action going down the middle of the screen. It is very similar to a hugely popular online soccer-management game called Top Eleven. According to Beale, such games have accrued up to 25 million users.

The in-game store in many of these games charge users coins, tokens or some other sort of currency to buy enhancements for their characters that have an impact on the game, decorations for their teams that do not, as well as things like “potions” and other items that can affect game play. In First Sword, users will also be able to use these coins to buy ebooks, digital music files and 3D files that can be printed out on a 3D printer.

While users can earn tokens through game play, they can also buy them. Coins will cost about $0.20 each, according to Beale, and ebooks will cost five to twenty-five coins (about $1.00 to $5.00).

The huge potential user base and frequent contact with the store, where they go on a regular basis to continue to engage with the game, is why this is a “potentially significant from an ebook perspective,” said Beale, adding, “I think every game company in the industry is going to be adopting something like this within 18 months.”

First Sword is scheduled to launch November 15.


Using Data

Alpenwolf plans on using data gathered through in-game store transactions to optimize the store for its user base. The company will cycle through pieces of content in an attempt to figure out what sells best and what doesn’t. The store will start with a handful of ebooks and music files — including Throne of Bones, by Beale writing under the pen name Vox Day — but will eventually include 50 files at a time.

“We [game developers] pay incredibly close attention to metrics and if our community isn’t interested in a certain type of music or author, we’ll know rapidly and replace it,” he said.

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