Thoughts on Gaming – How Online Pet Sim Sites Helped Me Develop as an Author and a Book Cover Designer

My husband recently picked up a free app on his tablet: SimCity BuildIt. It’s a rather addicting game where you build a city by collecting resources from a factory, make various commodities and goods, and then use those goods to upgrade houses or sell on the global market. If you sell the goods, you make simoleons, the game’s currency. Needless to say, Isaac and I managed to work out a system (at least while I’m waiting for my seasonal day job to start back up), where Isaac manages the actual city stuff before and after he does his article-writing job, and I manage the game’s resources and make in-game money. Our city has grown quite well, and I’ve enjoyed playing with the ‘global market’ aspect, in which you figure out what items sell best, how many to sell at one time, and which items are worth the time it takes to make.

All of this got me thinking about how various different games have helped me further my writing and book cover design work, along with marketing.

For example, website design. When my husband and I sat down to create our website for Infinitas Publishing, it reminded me a lot of my time running a Petz fan website, my time playing online, text-based RPGs, and the time I took a class on Dreamweaver in college.

Let’s break these down.

Petz was a PC game ranging from version 1-5, which was actually two separate games: Catz and Dogz. If you bought both, your petz could interact. P.F. Magic (the company that developed the game) encouraged fan sites. A whole community sprang up from this, where fans created elaborate websites where other players could adopt petz, show petz, earn awards for having an awesome looking site, play mini games of ‘find-it’ across the site by looking for a specific images (usually one of the petz or toyz), or download custom content. Most ‘kennelz’ had an about page, an adopt page, and a linkz page (‘S’ was commonly replaced with ‘Z’ if it came at the end of the word, a reference to the name of the game), along with whatever else the site owner wanted to take care of.

I got started in the petz community by adopting petz. Most sites would have an adoption form where you would give your (online) name, your email, name of the pet you wanted to adopt, and state why you wanted that pet. There was usually a code word to insert in the form so they would know you had read their rules. Sometimes you would get the pet (and it was awesome when you did), and sometimes you didn’t. The more popular sites might have several people vying for the same, adorable, pixelated bits of code.

In a similar vein, you could sign up for a site review so that the owner would look at your site, rate it and give you feedback, and hopefully include a link to your site on their review list. Other players who browsed the original site would see the link and click on it… thus bringing you potential ‘business’ in the form of show entries and adopted petz.

How does this relate to writing?

Well, when I started looking at review sites to get a feel for what to expect when sending out review copies of my books, I realized the process was similar. You have to find blogging sites where the site owner hosts reviews. You’ve got to see what criteria the site owner has, then write to them with the reasons why you think they might like your book.

In terms of ‘adoption,’ you want readers to go to your book page, like what they see, then go buy the book.

Anyway, I also mentioned that online text RPGs helped me in setting up the website. Aside from helping me improve my writing, many of the RPGs were hosted by the same site. Basically, the host site used templates. Once you figured out how to use the template, you could easily design an RPG forum, even with restrictions. This came in handy when creating the main site (and in creating a WordPress blog) because I was familiar with the concept, if not how Zoho (the host Isaac and I use for Infinitas Publishing) specifically worked.

My Dreamweaver class came in handy because it taught me the basics of CSS (I already knew basic HTML from my days of running a petz site). Knowing those basics allowed me to do minor alterations to the template so that the site looked more like how Isaac and I wanted it to look.

But having a functional website wasn’t the only thing online games taught me.

I spent several years playing Furry Paws, an online dog-showing simulation. In the game, you have in-game currency, but you also have FPP, which is usually purchased with real money, then used to buy an upgraded account. I was a teenager when I played the game, and I couldn’t funnel real money into an online game. So I created art (various tags for the players on the forums) who would pay me in-game currency, which could then be exchanged for FPP via other players, then be used to buy an upgraded account.

Players also wanted shiny photomanipulations for their show dogs, so I learned to blend images (my first step in learning the skills needed for book cover design) along with learning the basic rules behind creative commons and royalty free licences in terms of personal use for a game. (We couldn’t just grab any old image. I sometimes question if our understanding of those rules might still have been a tad bit off, but we tried our best to keep the use of the images legal).

I also learned, however, the importance of not spamming.

While I usually didn’t fall for this tactic, I joined a horse showing sim on a whim. But unlike Furry Paws, which had regulated forums, the horse site had a relatively unregulated chat room as a means for advertising your in-game sales. As such, about the only way to get your advertisement viewed was to button-mash the enter button with your message and see a whole stream of your ad go up at once (before quickly vanishing due to the next button-masher).

The whole process was ineffective, and I felt scummy afterwards (though that might have had something to do with being home with a fever that day). I didn’t play that game very long, but I did see the value in not spamming, and only ‘bumping’ threads once. On Furry Paws, if you had a strong advertisement or product, other people would comment, and that would keep your thread active.

This was useful background when learning to use Twitter, especially #Pitmad. Pitmad is a pitch contest for writers interested in finding an agent or publisher for their finished manuscript. However, it has a limit of two tweets per hour, per manuscript, because you could otherwise spam the board and make it hard for all the entries to be seen. It’s hard enough as it is.

I recently followed an author on Twitter who posted some really useful links. However, I’ve been considering unfollowing them because they post a couple times an hour, every hour, making it difficult for me to see anything else in my feed. And they’re reposting the same information. I don’t mind if the information is new, but after I’ve seen it a couple time, I want it to cycle through. Maybe once in the evening, once in the morning, but not every hour. I’ve found Twitter Lists, which helps me sort through tweets, but be careful that you don’t end up spamming your followers.

Finally, I wanted to mention fan art. In particular, music videos. While I don’t have any of mine up anymore, at one point I’d made several Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic music videos. Unfortunately, Youtube didn’t like me using popular music, so I took them down (another learning experience regarding copyright law… even though I was trying for fair use). Working on fan videos taught me how to do basic video edits, which I suspect may come in handy when I go to create a book trailer.

There’s plenty more examples that could be made, and plenty of other games I played (Power Pets, Mweor), but that’s all for now. The main point I wanted to make was that because I wanted an in-game commodity, I learned valuable skills that I still use today.

So if you play online games and have learned skills to make that game a more enjoyable experience, you might consider whether you could use those skills in marketing your books, using social media, or creating promotions. You might be surprised what you come up with.

I hope you enjoyed this post. 🙂

Have you ever benefited from skills that you learned in a game?

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Filed under Business Ventures, Gaming, Writing

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