A Game of Books

Hey there everyone. I’d like to take a brief break from our Worldbuilders fundraiser to talk about… a fundraiser.

No! Wait! Don’t run off!

I’m well aware that this is insane behavior. But hear me out. You guys know how much I love Heifer International. I wouldn’t take time away from my own fundraiser to encourage you to put money somewhere else unless it was a good cause.

Here’s the thing. A couple months ago, I got an e-mail about something called The Game Of Books. It seemed like someone was putting together some sort of grand project, and he was a fan of my books and was wondering if I’d like to be involved. It was something about libraries… and reading… and games….

All things I like. But honestly? It was a long e-mail, and I didn’t have time to give it any serious attention, so I forwarded it to my lovely assistant Amanda with the instructions, “Figure out if this is bullshit or not.”

A couple weeks later, she comes back to me and says, “I’ve e-mailed with the guy in charge, and that Game of Books thing looks like it might be pretty cool.”

This really isn’t what I was expecting. And it’s not what I wanted to hear, either. Because I need another project like I need to be punched in the neck.

Still, Amanda is smart. I wouldn’t have hired her if she wasn’t smart. What’s more, she was a teacher. So she knows about education. And she likes my books, so she obviously has good taste as well.

“Fine,” I say, sitting down by the computer. “Show me.”

So she pulls up a website and starts to explain about the Book Genome Project. About how they’re going to take all this information and turn it into a card game that will help  people find books they like, and get kids reading, and….

“Wait.” I said. “I’ve seen this before. It’s bullshit. It said my book was about firefighting.” I’m irritated. I’ve got so many things to do, I can’t waste time with this…

(Click to Embiggen.)

But Amanda is enthusiastic. She points out that this guy has some heavy hitters on his side, like the American Library Association.

“Do we have a number for him?” I ask.

We do. So I dial him up. (His name’s Aaron Stanton, by the way.)

I plan on spending no more than ten minutes on the phone with this guy. I’m going to be polite, thank him for wanting to involve me with the project, and ask a few questions that will confirm my suspicions that this whole project is well-intentioned but ill-conceived bullshit.

Some of you may not know this, but in addition to being a writer, I was an English teacher for a goodly while. I’ve taken entire graduate classes that centered around the critical assessment of writing. I was a writing tutor for fifteen years. I used to *train* writing tutors.

What I’m saying is that I know how complicated interpreting a piece of text can be. It is something that computers suck at, because while computers are meticulous, they are in no way intelligent. I don’t care how good your algorithm is. A computer cannot grade a paper. It cannot give substantive editorial advice. It cannot understand a text.

So I call up Aaron, and I’m very up-front with him. I tell him my doubts in no uncertain terms. I call bullshit on seven distinct levels. I point out that a computer cannot tell the difference between the sentence “The tiger is ready to eat” and “The roast is ready to eat.”

We talked for two hours. And he sold me on the project.

Please believe me when I say, I am *not* an easy person to sell to….

What was the deal about my book being about fires and firefighting? Well, the truth is, my book is kinda about fires and firefighting. Fire is really a big deal in the first book, and it’s central to a lot of the key chapters and scenes. The scene where the Chandrian first show up. The demonstration that he gives in Hemme’s class. His sympathy duel. (Almost all of his sympathy, actually.) The fire in the Fishery. The blue fire at the wedding. The Draccus. All of Trebon….

There’s a lot of fire. Now that I think about it, one of the titles I had for the first book LONG ago was “Kindlings and Beginnings.”

And if you look past the fire and firefighting part, there’s actually some pretty impressive things there. Any algorithm that can correctly identify that my book is about “Secrets and Truthseeking” has something going for it.

Now don’t get me wrong, Aaron didn’t convince me that the whole thing was perfect and beautiful. As with most cutting edge stuff, it has the *potential* to be brilliant.

The big thing he’s interested in is helping people find books that *don’t* have hundreds of reviews on Amazon or Goodreads. He wants to level the playing field. He’s trying to create tools that will help people find books they’ll like even if they don’t have a ton of marketing money behind them, or even if the author is new. He wants to give libraries tools to keep people reading, and to encourage people to broaden their reading habits….

So… Yeah. This thing has my seal of approval. And I say that as someone that hated the idea at first.

So if you’re interested. If you like games, and books, and libraries. Why don’t you wander over to their kickstarter and watch the video they’ve put together.

There’s only 3 days left in the kickstarter, but since I posted about this on facebook two days ago, they’ve raised more than 40,000 dollars. I honestly think we have a chance to close the gap these last couple days if everyone helps spread the word….

And, as an added bonus, Aaron has agreed to answer any questions you might have.

So if there’s anything you’re curious about after watching the video and reading the description, feel free to post your questions down in the comments. He’ll swing by and give us a clue-in when he gets a chance…


This entry was posted in calling on the legions, cool things. By Pat56 Responses


  1. Firah
    Posted December 14, 2012 at 10:44 PM | Permalink

    It’s pretty cool but I can’t help feeling that if I had picked up your book primarily for some hot firefighting action i would have been dissapointed :P.

    • Aaron Stanton
      Posted December 15, 2012 at 4:12 PM | Permalink

      I’ll try to be short on this one (I write too long of posts… ugg…). :)

      Think of the theme XP not as, “what a book is about”, but more “what elements will I find inside of the story? So, while The Name of the Wind isn’t about fires, as you read, you will encounter fires, and the context around fires, such as burning, and flames, etc. Think of The Game almost like a journal of the elements you’ve encountered in your literary journey, if that makes sense.

      • Firah
        Posted December 16, 2012 at 10:07 PM | Permalink

        That makes sense, I was looking at it more as a recommending tool, which will teach me to read a bit more before commenting :D.

        I’m in awe of the way it can pick up on more abstract things such as romance and mysteries.

  2. Tait
    Posted December 14, 2012 at 11:59 PM | Permalink


  3. Celt42
    Posted December 15, 2012 at 1:45 AM | Permalink

    I played with the demo a bit. Couple of questions, is the database for the demo pared down and there will be more authors with the final? There were a few authors I put in that are pretty mainstream that showed no results.

    Also, will the levels be harder to reach? I spent 5 minutes fiddling with it and hit grand master. Since this is more geared towards kids, I tried to make a card for my daughter using a lot of her favorites. That was hard because there was no JK Rowling in the system, no babysitters club, boxcar children, etc.

    And third, will there be comic books in the system? Calvin and Hobbes didn’t show, but not sure if it’s because of the small nature of the demo library or if it’s because it’s not going to be included.

    • Sim
      Posted December 15, 2012 at 11:45 AM | Permalink

      X2 on the comic book question. Is that even possible for this?

      • Posted December 15, 2012 at 2:58 PM | Permalink

        I don’t think Comics really fit into this.

        They’re Stories, sure. But they’re not novels. No more than a screenplay is. Comic follow entirely different rules than books. They’re as different from novels as movies are….

        • Aaron Stanton
          Posted December 15, 2012 at 4:06 PM | Permalink

          Yes – screenplays is a good example. As would be poetry, which use a very different structure than stories, for sure.

          Not that poetry is bad, or that it’s impossible… but it’s a very different problem.

          • Aaron Stanton
            Posted December 15, 2012 at 4:06 PM | Permalink

            … screenplays ARE a good example… :)

    • rjleduc
      Posted December 15, 2012 at 11:57 AM | Permalink

      I am not connected with the project, so I am only guessing, but as they are doing a kickstarter to fund the development of the software, in stands to reason that the little demo is a very bare bones version of what they want to develop. Just to give you the basic idea. They need the money to implement the features and do the work to make the product function as intended.

      Will they succeed? I don’t know. But the promise of what they
      offering could be so useful, I am willing to give them the chance to try.

    • Aaron Stanton
      Posted December 15, 2012 at 2:54 PM | Permalink

      Hey, Celt42 & Sim, this is Aaron Stanton from The Game of Books. I’ve spent most of the morning trying to get to a place with a reliable internet connection and a keyboard bigger than my iPhone. I’m now situated for the next few hours, so hopefully will be able to answer your questions for quickly.

      First off, thanks for the questions. Second:

      1. The demo has a fairly sizable set of books, a little less than 100,000, actually, but there are some very noticeable holes, for sure. We tend to work with publishers, so some publishers works are there and other, very good books may be missing. Even really well known books, at the moment. Harry Potter would be an obvious one that will need to be included. Part of the rest of the build-out of The Game is to make sure we index as many books as possible, with a focus on books that people are likely to want to claim. There’s nothing good in our eyes for a reader to read a book, and not be able to earn points or credit for it. That will be a big part of the focus in the actual build. I also want to make sure it’s clear that the, “nothing good” applies to both mainstream and independent books. Part of the reason Lulu.com was willing to support The Game is that the automated aspect of the system can be scaled to include the hundreds of thousands of titles published each year by independent or self-published authors. We very much want this to be something that earns you points whether you read mainstream, midlist, or backlist. Read adventurously. That’s the goal.

      2. Yes, in the actual game, levels will likely be harder to reach. Game balancing is always a tough thing, and my goal is to see if we can recruit some good game designers to help us out throughout the build-out, so the difficulty, level scaling (is it as easy to hit level 100 as it is to hit level 1, for example), titles, will all change. If it helps, we deliberately made the demo easier than normal. The reason is that you can’t save your book scores between sessions, so you can’t create a list and add to it over time. As a consequence, we just didn’t think in was fair to make people spend time adding 100 books into the demo to see how the levels may work. So, easier in the demo.

      3. Comic books! That’d be pretty freakin’ cool. :) I had a friend introduce me to manga when the iPad came out (Chobits, Wolf & Spice, etc), and I’ve found that graphic novels are now a common item in my reading list. Sadly, points are awarded based on textual analysis, which we normally get from a epub file provided by the publisher. We don’t do image analysis at the moment, and it’s not an area we’d be strong in, I don’t think. To the extent that the comic is longer than 1,000 words of text, we can do that. But, it’s unlikely out the gate, and maaaay never be likely.

  4. colettak
    Posted December 15, 2012 at 3:37 AM | Permalink

    Just committed a little bit to this. I remember hearing about the book genome project a while ago and thinking that it was a neat idea in its own right. I actually think the game has a higher chance of being successful, too.

    The genome project gives me unsuccessful results, for the most part. It’s good at finding books that share similarities, but not at finding books I’ll like. The thing is, for the game, none of that matters. Finding the patterns is neat in its own right, and making a game out of it is even cooler. I really hope this gets funded.

    • Posted December 15, 2012 at 8:57 AM | Permalink

      That mirrors my experiences too. I found it while I was employed as the IT dept. for a library system (hey, it was research! :D ), played with it a bunch and just never could get it to work for me in finding books that I liked. I don’t remember what the other staff thought…

      I also agree that it’ll have nothing to do with the game. Since I’m not a game person, and when I was a kid pizza was enough motivation to read (anyone else get the free personal pan pizzas for reading?), it doesn’t appeal to me. I’m just not a competitive person so why would someone Care what “level” they are? Reading more doesn’t mean that a person gets more, it’s that whole quality vs. quantity thing, yet that’s how this seems setup.

      • rjleduc
        Posted December 15, 2012 at 11:53 AM | Permalink

        As for “why would someone Care what “level” they are?”

        Remember, this is intended to attract people who like to play games; to get them to read more. In many computer games (and other roll playing games), your “Level” is very important and people who are into those games work very hard to increase it.

        I think this project has many goals, and I believe one is to attract kids who like games but aren’t big readers, and encourage them to read more, and more widely.

        The more they read, and the wider they read, the more likely they are to encounter a book/genre/author that they really like, and get hooked on reading.

        I think this project has the potential to inspire an entire new generation of kids to be readers.

        It’s a lot easier to destroy, than it is to build.

        I encourage everyone to go to the website and read the info and make up their own mind.

        It’s easy to just dismiss this, but I think they have a very good idea here.

        It gives me hope, and that is a precious commodity.

        We should fan it. Encourage hope to grow.

        After looking at the website, I pledged to support them.

        They have less than two days to fund, and they are in striking distance.

        I think they could build something powerful and great here.

        I want to give them the chance to try.

        Anyone else care to join me?

        • Aaron Stanton
          Posted December 15, 2012 at 3:08 PM | Permalink

          Wow – working through the list of comments… and thanks, rjleduc. I’ll also respond above with my thoughts, as well, but thank you for that…

        • Posted December 16, 2012 at 6:55 AM | Permalink

          FWIW, I was asking a question because I don’t “get it”. The games I play are all ‘fuddy duddy’ type (chess, backgammon, maybe monopoly or scrabble if there are enough people). Not because I was trying to negate the effort or, as you put it, destroy.

          I am 100% in the camp of ‘reading is good’, I’m an advocate of libraries and reading programs. But I also was raised with parents that read, took me to the library frequently and bought me books when I asked for them. I guess that’s either not common (I’m only 38, not exactly as old as my post makes me sound.. heh), or a thing of the past.

          For reference, I just don’t get the fascination with data phones either.

          • Aaron Stanton
            Posted December 16, 2012 at 4:25 PM | Permalink

            I had parents that were very similar – some of my earliest memories are of my mom taking me down to the library, where she let me wander out-of-sight as much as I wanted. Loved sitting on the ground next to the stacks and reading books from the shelves…

    • Aaron Stanton
      Posted December 15, 2012 at 3:43 PM | Permalink

      Colettak, the Book Genome Project and The Game use the same data, but – as you mentioned – have different goals. Recommendations, as far as The Game goes, can be as simple as, “You read a lot of Fantasy novels, and you are close to leveling up in X themes. Would you like to see a list of Fantasy novels that would help you reach the next level?”

      The Game is not really dependent on the algorithms for recommendations in order to hit its primary goals, though we hope it will help.

      The main goal of The Game, from my perspective, is to provide a common ground for people (kids and adults alike) to compare reading habits, and be rewarded for something they may love, but may love more if given an opportunity. Readers that like games, gamers that may not have read as much as they might otherwise…

      This means letting me compare my score to others on social networks, to friends in book clubs or classrooms, and – also – to compare against myself. My 13-year-old self read and had a very different score than my 16-year-old self, or current self – the scores build, and can stay with me over time. Most of my Fantasy levels come from reading in high school; most of my boring business levels come from today.

      In a way, the game is like a… hmm… how to put this without it sounding odd… The Game is like one of those magic cards or mood ring that turn colors when exposed to warmth. Except, your scores and card in the Game changes when exposed to different categories of knowledge and imagination, not physical energy. The more time you spend in a book, being exposed, the more points you should earn. (that was supposed to be a humerus analogy… I worked hard not to use a Geiger counter reference, there…).

      As for the Book Genome Project, I’m not surprised that it’s had mixed results for some. I use it a great deal, and know that it can work very well. I really like being able to start in fiction on a theme, then follow that theme across genres to a nonfiction. I do this a lot with military fiction, where I’ll start reading a book about special forces, and then end up drifting over to a memoir with similar themes, and so forth.

      That said, the tools have a long way to go. The algorithms we use are evolving constantly. What features of a book do people care about when finding something similar? What are the features we may never be able to use computers to look at (computers suck at a lot of things, after all)? Where do humans have a hard time? That said, I can tell you why I believe these things need to be asked…

      Both The Game and the Genome Project share a commonality. They provide data about a book – about a universe – where the average is no other data exists. Harry Potter does not have this problem. There is lots of data around Harry Potter – star ratings, reviews, shared bookshelves and lists. But the universe of books is 98% not Harry Potter style books. Most books published each year don’t get reviews, they don’t get star ratings. Good books that don’t have marketing budgets, or are by new authors, or are older books.

      And in the case of these books, it is not a matter of whether or not a social recommendation is better or worse… because, the reality is that there simply is NO recommendation engine that can recommend them. Not any more than I can hand you a book you’ve never read, and then say, “Without reading the cover or the description, tell me what other book like this I’d like… oh… but you can’t have read the book you recommend, either.”

      None of us could do that. For most books, independent and backlist, that describes the knowledge base of our best recommendation systems today. And that’s heartbreaking to me. It’s also a huge problem. If you look at social recommendation sites, on average, somewhere between 50,000 and 80,000 titles have more than 1 vote. That’s it. The rest – several million – are functionally invisible to most social media.

      Put a slightly different way, think of it like this. What if Google announced today that they were not going to use computers to index any websites any more? Not just that they were giving up on keyword indexing and were going to rely on human linking more heavily, but that they were not going to use spiders to count links, watch for updates on blogs, or anything else. All that they’d pay attention to is word-of-mouth, and advertising spend. If you go to Google and type in, “Fly fishing” you’d only get results for sites that a friend had gone to before you, or was a paid advertisement.

      In general, we’d consider that a huge step backward for discovery of websites on the Internet. Most of the websites and blogs on the internet would not be indexed. “Viral” would only apply to the largest and most popular content, likely. You’d make a post, and six months later someone might notice it, and from that point on out Google MAY suggest it to someone. The universe of the Internet as we know it would shrink to small portion of what it is now. Yet in books, that is the state of the art.

      Figuring out how to use computers to create an equal level of basic data about all books, and then layering in what we can learn from social networks… well, it’s the only way I know to level the playing field, and keep up with the flow of new books on the market.

      *phew* Not that any of that is a defense for not helping you find a good book. That sucks. We should do better. :) But it is the reason we keep trying. :)

      • Aaron Stanton
        Posted December 15, 2012 at 3:44 PM | Permalink

        Ug… didn’t realize how long that had gotten. And I can’t go edit it down after posting. Sorry. :)

        • colettak
          Posted December 16, 2012 at 10:26 PM | Permalink

          Don’t worry about the length! It was awesome and informative. I completely agree with your aims, and I’m sure it will only get better as time goes on . I’m a computer scientist myself, so I’m a huge fan of using data and algorithms to solve hard problems.

          Your example of ideas crossing genres seems like a perfect use case for the tool. If I read more like that, it would probably work a lot better for me.

          Like I said though, either way this is a great idea. I’m excited for it. And I’m glad to see you’re almost there!

  5. Posted December 15, 2012 at 11:39 AM | Permalink

    I’m curious as to how the game will work. Or, if things haven’t made it far enough into the development process to work that way, then I’m curious what sort of game development background the team has….

    • Aaron Stanton
      Posted December 15, 2012 at 3:49 PM | Permalink

      Probably the best way to see at least a portion of how The Game may work is to check out the concept demo at http://gameofbooks.com/level_up

      As for gaming background, I worked in the video game industry for about seven years before working in publishing. I was a video game editor for GamesFirst Internet Magazine (one of the original indipendent gaming mags of the world) and wrote about Nintendo for About.com. I came onto About.com about the time they were acquired by The New York Times Company.

      Most everyone on the 10(ish) person team are gamers of one form or another. My own interests tend to be in PC and console gaming. Got my start with adventure games like Quest for Glory, and classics (Doom, Dune II, Red Alert, etc). All across the board in terms of consoles – own all of them since the N64. Lot’s of RPGs.

      At least two members of our team are into card games – Magic: The Gathering, and tabletop gaming. Majority of us played are into games like Diablo, etc.

      Are we game designers? No, and we hope to find others to help flush out those skills – I’m not a complete believer in learning through osmosis. :) Be we are gamers and readers.

  6. Sim
    Posted December 15, 2012 at 11:44 AM | Permalink

    Will there be any fine-tuning of the results the algorythm produces?

    I’m curious, because while pat’s books do have a surprising amount of fire in them, I think it’s safe to say that theatre/performance is actually a much bigger part of the book. Or the search for truth…

    • Sim
      Posted December 15, 2012 at 11:47 AM | Permalink

      I guess what my real question is, is this: Will the algorythm be a starting point for the development of these cards, or will they be the be-all end all?

      I think it would benefit from some human tinkering. No matter how good the computer is, Pat’s right about the whole tiger/roast thing….

    • Aaron Stanton
      Posted December 15, 2012 at 3:51 PM | Permalink

      Yes, and yes… there will be fine tuning of algorithms and cards. I mean, we haven’t even discussed the possibility of bonus and item cards, like the ability to earn temporary “modifiers” for certain themes by scanning a certain code into the system. There is a great deal to improve, and it’ll grow over time.

  7. Sim
    Posted December 15, 2012 at 11:47 AM | Permalink

    Also. Will it be a physical card game? Or an online one? Or both?

    • Aaron Stanton
      Posted December 15, 2012 at 3:53 PM | Permalink

      Primarily online, though it will have the option for things like bookmark rewards, stickers to represent badges, etc. These are primarily for classes and using The Game in summer reading programs. That said, though I’d love a physical card component, as well – like author cards that an author could sign at book signings, and then a reader can scan in to claim a special “signed edition” badge of that book, etc.

      First we have to build something people will love online… then see where things go. :)

  8. Thaxll
    Posted December 15, 2012 at 1:30 PM | Permalink

    Most of the questions asked here are answered on the project’s Kickstarter page.

    Y’know, just saying.

  9. duke7883
    Posted December 15, 2012 at 1:30 PM | Permalink

    Interesting results. I read primarily fantasy, although I usually mix in a broad range of bio’s, mysteries, etc. I came back with my top five:
    LVL 37 Medieval Weapons and Armor
    LVL 28 Death and the Dead
    LVL 20 Injury and Exertion
    LVL 19 Strategic Planning and Conflict
    LVL 15 Painful Emotions

    The biggest thing I saw was that it gets skewed very easily. After putting in a few lengthy series like Goodkind’s Sword of Truth, Jordan’s Wheel of Time, Erikson’s Malazan novels, etc. Those categories lept so high that they stayed at the top. It was funny to see some of the categories, like the number 5/6 spots fought the entire time. Painful Emotions narrowly beat out Forests and Trees.

    • Posted December 15, 2012 at 2:56 PM | Permalink

      The series issue is a good one. Is someone that reads Wheel of Time really 14 times more into those themes? Probably not.

      Maybe it’s worth handling series as a group. It would probably make entering your books a lot easier too, as you wouldn’t need to enter *every* book in Xanth (or whatever) just that you read the series.

      • Aaron Stanton
        Posted December 15, 2012 at 4:03 PM | Permalink

        Ohh… a question from Pat… :)

        Duke – you make a good point, and that’s something that will be refined through the balancing process of the rest of the game, as we build out after funding. What it’s doing at the moment in the demo, if it helps, is it’s actually saying something along the lines of, “This book has more of theme X than 84% of other books that also have theme X. We’ll give it a score of 84 in theme X, then.”

        So, a single book can never earn you more than 1 level, in the primary game. Also, what technically is determining the levels for the book is not the raw amount of theme by itself, but how much more unique that theme is to this specific book than other books.

        Using Pat’s books as an example, the reason they earn you a lot of XP for Fires is not JUST because fires are an element that Pat used in creating the story, but because compared to other Fantasy novels, fire occurs more frequently than you’d normally expect.

        We do this because – in a way – it’s auto-balancing for exactly the reason you pointed out. Every book you read – regardless of genre – may have Forests in it, while not every book will have Vampires. If you just did it flat, your top scores would always be the themes that are more universal, and never Vampires or something specific like that. This way, though, the themes that are most unique about a book are where you earn the most points.

        I’m not sure if that makes sense, and don’t worry if it doesn’t. Again, game balancing will be a primary focus as the game is built out.

        • Brigitta
          Posted December 17, 2012 at 12:02 AM | Permalink

          About handling series as a group:

          It makes sense for The Kingkiller Chronicle and the Wheel of Time series and others like them–but what about other types of series? Like Mercedes Lacky’s Valdemar series–a series built of multiple trilogies, a few stand-alones, and the odd duet?

          Or the Discworld books, which are all basically independent–ditto Charlles de Lint’s Newford books. There’s so many of them, that handling them as a series almost seems unfair to the player (“I’d have to read 30+ books before I can have my darn XP?!”).

          Forgive me if this has been brought up already–I may have missed it.

  10. harpergirl
    Posted December 15, 2012 at 4:07 PM | Permalink

    I was a little surprised by some of the gaps in the demo (no Vorkosigan books?), but as mentioned above in the comments, it’s still just a demo, so I’ll ignore that bit for now.

    However, I was more surprised that ‘Injury and Exertion’ came up as my top level. I think that might be a little inflated or something, because books about people who sit on their hands and do nothing are a little bit boring, and so books generally tend to be about people doing things (exertion) and it doesn’t always work so well (injury). So, I didn’t find that to be a particularly meaningful category.

    Moreover, I was able to select a number of books by Juliet Marillier in the Sevenwaters series. One of the main themes that I see in her books is hope (or perseverance or something along those lines), but none of my levels had anything like that. And that’s a huge mismatch in my eyes. Really really huge.

    In response to the series consideration, I think it might vary based on the series, too. Some series I read have different adventures while staying in the same themes, but others incorporate different mythical themes over the course of the series.

    I would wonder, too, how the actual game would account for age when determining levels. Some of the books that I entered I read a long time ago, and if we only considered things I read in the past two years, well, I’d be very strong on civil engineering skills, and not so good on fiction levels.

    • Aaron Stanton
      Posted December 15, 2012 at 4:33 PM | Permalink

      And I’d be very strong in business and economics, myself. :) I read far more fiction when I was younger, for sure. haha.

      There’s a number of ways that age and “when” a book is read can be handled, but initially I think of your level as your “life time score”… what you’ve earned if you claimed every book you’ve ever read. Most people will start The Game with some points under their belt.

      That said, I very much think the element of time is really interesting, and the intention is to pay attention to “when” at some point. Whether you can assign a date for when you read a book before The Game started, so you can see how your profile changes over time, or if it’s by recording when the book is claimed as completed after The Game launches. I think that’s very interesting and fun information, too. But, we’re speaking a bit hypothetically. For now XP = Life Score.

  11. violentoceans
    Posted December 15, 2012 at 5:26 PM | Permalink

    Is this going to be like Fitocracy, where the premise seems cooler than the “game” ends up being? They both seem very similar, insofar as you earn points and level up based on (in the case of Fitocracy) the workouts you do, or (in the case of The Game of Books) the books you read. And don’t get me wrong, that’s neat, but if that’s all there is to it, it’s boring (read: Fitocracy).

    I guess my real question is: What’s the end game? Because it’s NOT a game if there’s not a clear, definitive way to win (by beating whoever you’re playing against) and end the game.

    • Aaron Stanton
      Posted December 15, 2012 at 8:01 PM | Permalink

      We will do our best to not suck. No absolute promises, though. I’ve got a good track record in other areas, but am not completely terrible-free. :)

      Seriously, though, what you’re talking about – from my perspective – is a market for the points you earn. Think, Neopets… or the fact in regular games you get stronger as you level up. It’s the question of, “Why do I level up?”

      This is where I do want to be careful not to promise something we can’t deliver. There are many ways that we can handle creating a market. We can work with publishers to see if they’re willing to potentially offer galley copies of books that readers can “request” using their points earned in The Game. Several of our partners have expressed interest in this.

      We could also establish an actual game… we’ve had sort of fun conversations of creating a world map where each genre was its own country, and you could choose your home base, and then the countries would have to fight off an encroaching enemy of darkness (lack of reading?)…

      Perhaps earning higher points unlocks privileges, maybe gains you access to communicate with publishers and writers, or purchase discounts.

      The point is, there are many, many things. A bigger concern is that as soon as you have this, you have to start worrying about cheating, which is a problem unto itself. It’s one we have some ideas for, but will have to be carefully implemented.

      Because I just don’t have enough visibility yet, I don’t talk about how points can be used… but it is on our mind. And again, it is not our intention to suck. :)

      • SilverTpt
        Posted December 15, 2012 at 8:50 PM | Permalink

        I wonder if publishers would “donate” ebooks to be purchased using currency or XP? There are a number of ways this could be interesting.

        It costs them little, and could be booked as a promotional expense. What if every X number of levels / XP you got a random ebook (to keep), recommended for you by books you’ve recently read? Lesser known authors would line up for this.

        Bigger publishing houses might be happier with a system where you could purchase ebooks with ingame currency, but possibly only for titles you’ve listed as having read. In this way, even readers with an established library (like myself) would have good motivation to participate – to build an electronic library. This isn’t costing many lost sales, either, because I am extremely unlikely to “pay twice” by purchasing an ebook after already buying the physical version. Earning the ability to format-shift is a convenience that would motivate me to keep coming back.

        Those are just the first couple ideas that struck me. There seems to be plenty of room here.

        • violentoceans
          Posted December 15, 2012 at 9:21 PM | Permalink

          SilverTpt has some good ideas. Really, I think any reason to earn points–aside from earning points just to earn points–and level up would be a good thing. It certainly would put A Game of Books ahead of other, similar so-called games and keep people logging in.

          I know that, personally, the number of books I read won’t be affected either way, so if there’s no motivation to use the platform, I’ll just read books and not bother to log them because it’s not worth the time. If I feel like I get something out of it–whether a physical good (i.e., a book) or just a market to use the points you earn on items for your character–I’d be more likely to use it. (Presumably, many others would feel the same way.) Also, I’d be much more likely to say to people I know, “Hey, check out this really cool game.”

          Though, I do understand the concerns when it comes to cheating, as it is really easy to say you read a book without having actually done so.

          • rjleduc
            Posted December 16, 2012 at 12:15 PM | Permalink

            Agreed, SilverTpt has a good point.

            It is nice to level up and get recommendations and compare with friends (local and online), but to have long term staying power it might be necessary for leveling up to unlock something:

            Could be some sort of new ability or power? Or access to new things?

            – maybe have artwork, messages from authors etc of the genre that matches the leveling up now become available? If you had on online map, maybe new symbols with new information suddenly become visible and accessible (could do things that as you increase and get close to leveling (they start becoming partially visible, and then fade until you actually level up?)
            – new ebooks would be nice.
            – advance information (a chapter or two) of new books in that genre?
            – ability to make purchase based on xp points earned?
            – discounts based on xp -levels?
            – exclusive access to things based on xp levels (say buy artwork from a book etc), first access to limited editions etc.
            – special signing events or author events (say author is in town doing signing, but you know there are 50 with xp in that area of genre and set up a special meeting for them)
            – could even doing a special orientation at a library for that genre where they introduce to a range of author/books (well known and not) of the genre?
            – special promotions from publishers?
            – access to special draws such as arcs of books?
            – for special events, frequency that you are included could increase as your level increases?

            I’m sure there are a lot more things that could be done and added over time.

    • Erik
      Posted December 16, 2012 at 1:55 PM | Permalink

      Do you also deny that Minecraft is a game? World of Warcraft?

      The truth is, there’s no sense in saying a game has to have an end, or “a way to beat it”. It is a case of outdated thinking: it may have been true 20 years ago, but is no longer so.

  12. WendigoL0ve
    Posted December 15, 2012 at 10:24 PM | Permalink

    I have hundreds of books on Goodreads (including the vampire in space one). Will I be able to simply import those titles? Cringe at entering them again but like the idea and supported it.

    • Aaron Stanton
      Posted December 16, 2012 at 1:04 PM | Permalink

      Hey, WendigoLove – simple answer is yes. Better answer is that we’d actually like to go so far as to make an API that Goodreads could plug into their system, if they like, so you would be able to earn points in the game by only claiming them there. I don’t like having to maintain lists across multiple sites. That really depends on the other sites, though.

      But, in general, we want to make it as easy as possible.

    • Posted December 16, 2012 at 1:55 PM | Permalink

      That’s a cool idea. I think being able to integrate this with Goodreads would be really cool….

  13. tetlowgm
    Posted December 16, 2012 at 12:06 AM | Permalink

    I have a problem with the increasing “gamification” of life. The rewards of reading books and doing other real world activities should be enough as they are. I should be reading books because I’m interested in reading books, not because I’m going to get XP for doing so:

    “Dude, I totally slammed through those CS Lewis books last night to unlock that Lion badge. Totally worth it!”

    Anyway, I’m not a fan. I’m in favor of the part where I can get better suggestions of books that might interest me based on what I’ve already read, but the part where I earn XP and badges turns my stomach.

    • SilverTpt
      Posted December 16, 2012 at 1:15 AM | Permalink

      Remember the target here is children… and like it or not, in that market gamification reaps huge rewards. It certainly doesn’t work for all adults, though if certain incentives were in place I would be very interested.

      I also like the idea of the algorithm and am at least as curious about its recommendations as the game itself.

    • Aaron Stanton
      Posted December 16, 2012 at 1:40 PM | Permalink

      tetlowgm – fair enough… (which, btw – whenever I say it – is a total reference to Jenny by Flight of the Conchords- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mlYkIJVguCU). :)

      It’s hard sometimes to disagree in text and have it come across right, so first, let me be really specific: You have a valid perspective, and one I understand. People should value the experience of reading for its own sake, and in a similar way, I actually have negative feelings about anything that messes with the heart of the reading experience. For example, I am really NOT a fan of having embedded content in my books (like video), and I don’t read on an iPhone because I hate text messages or anything interrupting what I read. I have a similar reaction to these things.

      That said, I don’t share your concerns regarding the gamification, though I understand them, and it may be a matter of context. For example, I have no hesitation in the slightest about the summer reading programs that libraries have, where kids are rewarded with pizza parties for reading a certain number of books. Do you have similar concerns there? I was at a conference recently where a librarian told me about slumber parties they’ve been having in the library for kids, where they bring a friend and have all night “read-athons” – both have been very successful, but both are combining the love of reading with the love of friends, or other dynamics.

      Again, I feel you have a valid concern – I’m not trying to refute the perspective at all – but I do want to explain my own perspective. :) Your earlier bit of example dialog is interesting to me, because it represents both sides, in a way. “Dude, I totally slammed through those CS Lewis books last night to unlock that Lion badge. Totally worth it!”

      And you’re right – that sounds terrible at first. But think of it as a tweet from a high school kid that may otherwise be playing Diablo III? In an ideal world, it would have been, “I really took my time reading that CS Lewis book last night. Let me tell you how cool it was,” but I think it’s as likely to be, “I tried that new video game online yesterday. Nah, I didn’t finish my reading assignment.”

      The counter-balance to your concern, at least as I see it, is that dialog was a hypothetical conversation between two kids about reading a book, when otherwise it may have been a hypothetical conversation between kids that wasn’t about reading a book. I don’t think that someone that already loves reading is going to read less… sincerely… because of The Game, but I do hope that it pulls someone that’s on the edge in deeper.

      Or, the alternative dialog in my brain between two kids at the end of a school day, “Hey, are you going to be playing in the school’s Game of Books program this summer with me? I was pretty close to my last level-up, before, and I saw in my profile that a new novel just came out that would finish it off. I think I might start by trying that one out. How about you?”

  14. rjleduc
    Posted December 16, 2012 at 12:48 PM | Permalink

    Another idea I had.

    I was looking at the literary “Journey” idea on the project website.

    You could tie this into levels and xp. Say the initial journey’s available to people are fairly easy and limited, but as you gain levels and xp, you unlock new journeys to tackle that are more “difficult” (size or perhaps the material covered in the books) or nuanced etc. You could also add easter eggs in the journey’s that people stumble upon and can only access on the journey etc.

    • Aaron Stanton
      Posted December 16, 2012 at 1:43 PM | Permalink

      I like it. :)

    • rjleduc
      Posted December 16, 2012 at 2:53 PM | Permalink

      You could also allow authors or publishers to design their own journeys and provide rewards for them that would encourage people to explore their material.

      I suppose you can also link info to the journeys. Say there is a journey along the eastern coast of the US. Say after reading a book that was based at a certain cove or town on the coast, they gain access to links about that place, maybe local history, pictures, places to do in the area (get submissions from local tourist bureaus etc), maybe they get some coupons for local businesses etc. If fishing was a big theme in the book (for example), they could get links to articles about popular fishing destinations.

      They could get links to articles about subjects related to the book, even a discussion at the end about the books in the journey plus further reading suggestions that branch of from specific books.

      If an author’s books is involved, maybe they might be willing to provide some content for this? A few paragraphs on a favorite part, or maybe a video of them reading a portion of the book, or little known facts, or things that inspired them to write the book?

  15. rjleduc
    Posted December 16, 2012 at 3:15 PM | Permalink

    As I write this (4:13pm EST, Sunday Dec 16, 2013),

    there are only 23 hours left for the project to reach funding.

    They need to reach $102,364 by Monday Dec 17, 3:00pm EST.

    They are currently at $96, 991!

    Here’s the thing. As I understand it, if they don’t reach their goal by the deadline, they get nothing.

    They don’t receive any of the pledge money.

    They are so close but they have very little time left.

    It’s in our power to make sure they reach their goal. They are very close!

    For $13USD, you can get your own copy of the mobile version of the game to play.

    I went for the $23 option that gave me the game and allowed me to “give your favorite book a ‘somebody loves me badge'” (only possible through kickstarter) that makes people earn more points by reading the book (thus encouraging more people to read the book ;-)

    (If anyone is curious, I plan to give my badge to the The Winds of Khalakovo by Bradley P. Beaulieu. I believe he is a fantastic author who is not getting the attention his books deserve and I hope the badge will help with this. ;-)

    There are also cool options such as $39 “the family starter kit” if you have kids or a friend does.

    Or the $79 “buy a library or school a starter kit” option. You can even choose the school/library that gets the kit. How cool is that!

    There are a number of other cool options. You will just have to go to their website to check them out. ;-)

    But please, there isn’t much time.

    If you are going to help, please do it now.

    I think this is could be a very powerful tool to encourage people to read, and could bring a lot of enjoyment to people.

    Let’s not let it fail.

  16. Matt the Geekosopher
    Posted December 16, 2012 at 5:26 PM | Permalink

    RPGs such as the Final Fantasy series had a rather similar effect before video games did voice overs. This may be able to fill the same niche. Playing FF7 and FF9 were sneaky ways of getting a preteen me to get into reading. The amount of dialogue in games like those is probably comparable to a novel. You level up because the game mechanics are cool, but also because you want to continue the story plot. I can imagine this having a similar effect on kinds now that the majority of video games aren’t text intensive.

    Here is an idea meant to illustrate the potential of this project:

    I can imagine if this takes off enough having the ability to unlock short stories would be awesome. Say for instance you read a ton of fantasy including Pat. TGoB could buy a short story from Pat, which takes place alongside say The Name of the Wind and then give you an e-copy of that short story if you’ve read read The Name of the Wind and leveled up a certain amount. This would be a huge incentive to play, plus it would discourage cheating (who wants to get a short story which takes place in a book they’ve never actually read). There are some holes in an incentive package like this (buying thousands of short stories from authors who might not write short stories). But it illustrates a potential for rewards that give people, including children, real incentives to read that also discourage cheating.

    So, I’m convinced that games can be effective at incentivizing reading, and that The Game of Books could be particularly suited to do so.

  17. lemurtanis
    Posted December 17, 2012 at 12:15 AM | Permalink

    $400 to go, 12 hours left.

  18. jayh
    Posted December 17, 2012 at 7:26 AM | Permalink

    Sometime before 8:00 am EST they’ve reached their goal. Now comes the hard part, design and programming. Congratz on reaching your goal. I guess I should go donate now because it’s a cool idea.

  19. Jack
    Posted December 17, 2012 at 9:34 AM | Permalink

    Supported and as Jayh noted above, the goal has been met! I then received an email from them thanking everyone for their contributions and expressing hope that they may even reach 110,000 which I hope happens. I really like the idea behind this and I hope it takes off.

    • rjleduc
      Posted December 17, 2012 at 11:44 AM | Permalink

      From their website:

      “If we can hit $110,000 in the last few hours, we’ll be able to put more Starter Kits into the hands of schools and kids!”

      My understanding is that the more money they get beyond their
      funding goal, the more schools and libraries will receive a starter kit.

      I noticed also there is a button for schools and libraries to apply to receive one of the donated starter kits..

  20. tanis0
    Posted December 17, 2012 at 11:47 AM | Permalink

    I know this stuff is slated to be dealt with in the design process, but it might be worth normalizing point values for cards so that all cards give the same number of base points, and then scaling that by word count. This would help ensure that players get the same number of points per word which could help level the field a little between longer and shorter works. It might also be worth adding a bonus to all books so it scales by something like 10,000 + word count, instead of just word count, to compensate for the extra legwork to obtain five 50k word books vs. one 250k word book.

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