Computer Games, Copy-Editing, and the Book Publishing Industry

(Originally posted at The League of Extraordinary Writers)

My guilty pleasure is computer games. Lately I’ve been playing The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and Civilization V. And yes, that stuff at the beginning of my debut novel, ASHFALL, about World of Warcraft is from, ahem, personal research. I played a shadow priest to level 80 (pre-Cataclysm), before I realized I was getting far too addicted and put massively multiplayer online games (MMOs) away forever. The advantage single player games have is that I can abandon them anytime without guilt. The people your meet in an MMO are real (even the “bots” are usually real people doing incredibly repetitive tasks for a miniscule amount of money), and I didn’t always treat them as well as I’d like when my offline life intervened. I can gleefully be a total feces-head to the computer opponents in Skyrim and Civ 5.

Anyway, playing these games has given me a renewed appreciation of the book publishing industry. I know it’s become fashionable to deride book publishers (J.A. Konrath routinely throws the Big Six under a bus, backs it up over them, and lights the mangled corpses on fire), but after spending some time with Skyrim and Civ 5, I’m newly amazed at the quality of the product book publishers put out year after year. If you can’t find a grammatical error or typo in the first three screens you see in either of these games, you aren’t looking very hard. In the multimillion dollar budget for these games, their developers couldn’t find the meager funds required to hire a copy-editor? Seriously? And both games have been out for months and been through numerous patches–the “we didn’t have time” excuse doesn’t cut it any more.

If my admittedly tenuous grasp on reality ever snaps completely, you’ll probably find me at Firaxis Games delivering a lecture on the proper use of the possessive at gunpoint. Or at Bethesda Game Studios teaching basic English.

But the real point I want to make is this: the book publishing industry does an amazing job putting out a quality product, year in and year out. I read a lot–become my friend on Goodreads if you want proof, 171 books last year–and it’s rare enough to find an error in a traditionally published book that when you do, it sticks out. Grammatical errors in computer games are so common that only truly anal-retentive types (I’m guilty!) notice.

Yes, errors do creep in, even into well-published books. There were four in the first printing of ASHFALL. Given the 2,500+ errors that the copy-editor caught and the 101,000+ words of text, I think that’s pretty good. And if you buy a copy of ASHFALL today, you’ll get the fourth printing, which is, as far as I know, completely error free.

The book publishing industry could teach game companies a lot about quality. Maybe they could arrange a trade? Game publishers would learn about copy-editing, and book publishers would learn about marketing. But that’s a rant for another day.