Sunday, January 30, 2011

Designing a Good, Old-Fashioned Pen-and-Paper RPG

Having grown up on "Dungeons & Dragons," I've been playing pen-and-paper roleplaying games for a good chunk of my life.  I've even tried my hand at writing adventures on a few occasions, one of which almost got published (hmm...perhaps I'll post it here someday). One thing I've always wanted to do, however, was actually design an RPG from the ground up.

As luck would have it, I was talking with my good buddy Vin Ferrante, creator of the comic "Witch Hunter," and we got onto the subject of RPGs.

We both agreed that "Witch Hunter" would make a great RPG property, and we decided to start working on a game whenever we had a chance.  The goal would be to create something that could be published in collected editions of the comic as a bonus for those who bought them.

So far we have some basic concepts mapped out, but I thought it would be cool to share our progress and design ideas from time to time here on the blog. This is a project that could take quite a while, and I'm hoping that  providing some updates here will help keep the momentum going.

Stay tuned!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Wizard Magazine Ceases Print Publication

Big news in the comic world this week, as word came down Monday that Wizard magazine (and Tor Fair as well) would be ceasing publication. The company itself (Wizard World Inc.) has gone public, and in addition to producing comic and pop culture conventions, it will launch a new online publication in February called "Wizard World."

I'm not sure how most Secret Identity listeners feel about the news, but I find it disappointing anytime a print publication goes away. That said, Wizard has pretty much been the "Maxim" of comic journalism for the past several years, and its readership had declined drastically from it's heyday as the premiere source of comic news.

Like a lot of print publications, Wizard struggled to stay relevant in the age of 24-hour news sites, and with CBR, Newsarama and even IGN producing regular features, creator interviews and exclusive reveals, Wizard's "Top Ten Caped Hotties" lists were just not cutting it anymore.

What I find more interesting than the ending of the print magazine, is the potential directions Wizard could go with their online "Wizard World" publication. If they are going to use a subscrition model (which I suspect they will), I'd love to see them go the route of Electronic Gaming Monthly. While EGM does still have a print version, their online magazine is excellent, and features a nice blend of paid and free content. More importantly, there is a focus on features--not news-chasing, superficial soundbytes featuring the same assets that are sent out with press releases to every news site on the web. For my tastes, it's what separates EGM from everyone else. (You can check out the latest issue of EGM over at

With its 12 planned conventions next year, there's also a lot of creators that Wizard will have access to, which they could leverage for their online publication. Video interviews, behind the scenes features, studio and set visits--there are a ton of possibilities. They could also offer content packages for each of their conventions. For example, those who attend a Wizard World show could receive a code to download content that was recorded during the convention. Those that don't attend could pruchase a 'virtual pass,' where they could view interviews, see a video tour of the show floor, and participate in online interviews with some of the creators at the show.

Whatever happens over the next few months, it should be interesting to watch. Here's hoping that Wizard succeeds in restoring some of the good name they had for so many years.

Friday, January 14, 2011

It's Freezing in Massachusetts

So I was inspired to write this haiku:

Minus nine today--
So cold, snowflakes wear mittens;
Snowmen cry ice cubes.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Thoughts on the Digital Initiatives of the Top Two Comic Publishers

This week over on Secret Identity, I posted a piece about some of the questionable moves that Marvel and DC have made with regard to digital comics over the past few months. I'm re-posting it here, because I think it's worth saving. Without further ado:

Are Marvel and DC Trying to Sabotage Their Own Digital Comic Sales?

I know, I know--it's a dumb question. But when you actually look at what Marvel and DC are doing in the digital space right now, you have to wonder.

First, Marvel launches iPhone and iPod apps that are not compatible with their Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited subscription service. This means that while MDCU subscribers can access thousands of comics on their computers for the subscription fee they pay, any of those comics that are offered on the iPhone and iPad will have to be purchased individually.

This week, DC announced that Batman Beyond #1 was going to be available on their iPhone and iPad apps, as well as the PlayStation Comics store, the same day the print version was available in comic shops. Great news, right? Not when you see they are keeping the $2.99 price for the digital version.

So what gives? Well, I think it's a combination of things, although none of them will make hardcore comic fans feel better.

Part of the issue is that retailers would be furious if cheaper digital versions were available day and date with print versions. They are right to be concerned, as this would definitely cost them sales. Another issue is that Marvel and DC's current forays into the digital market for handheld devices are not aimed at hardcore comic fans--they are aimed at new or "lapsed" readers, who have these digital devices and are looking for content to consume on them. These are the same consumers who will pay almost cover price for ebooks, or purchase movies on iTunes for $15--they want a variety of content and they want it conveniently. So, if they can go on the Marvel or DC comics app, download a couple of free older books and pay $3 for a new one, that's not a bad deal in their eyes. To them, they don't see it as something of less value than the hard copy they could have at the same price. Lastly, since both Marvel and DC are in business to make money, why not launch at the highest price point possible? If the sales from casual or "lapsed" readers don't pan out so well, they can always start dropping the price incrementally. In the meantime, they will continue to make money on their print comics, and the digital sales are just icing on the cake.

That's a shortsighted plan though, and at some point, marvel and DC will have to face some real decisions about how they deal with digital. Comic sales were down almost 6% in 2010 in terms of dollars, and that's a misleading number, because many books were $3.99 this year. That means fewer comics were sold to make up the total dollar amount, so comic sales overall were down more than just 6%. In November 2010 alone, there were about 675,000 less comics sold than in November 2009.

So, what to do?

Everyone has their theories, which is good, because there needs to be more discussion about this issue. For my two cents, I think the magic price point for digital comics is $0.99. I don't even care if they are day and date with the print version. I would gladly accept a one or two-month delay to get the digital version of a book for a dollar. Anything in the past calendar year could be priced at $0.99, and older books would be priced down from there. I would even go as high as $1.49 for new books, if they were day and date. My point is, there's no way I would move to digital unless downloadable books were at least half off the cover price of the print versions, especially print versions that are easily available. You could almost justify charging a little more for out of print or hard to find books or collections. I also believe that the comics should not be restricted to one format. If I buy it, I own it, and I can read it on my computer, put it on my iPad, burn it to a DVD, whatever. Restricting formats and locking down digital comics will not reduce piracy, it will encourage and increase it. Make them cheap, make them accessible and I will buy them.

P.S. I would be remiss if I didn't mention that there are some models out there that have been working quite well. Drive Thru Comics is home to a lot of smaller independent publishers, but some of the bigger companies like Top Cow, Moonstone and Archaia have put a lot of their back catalogs up there as well. Most of the books are between $0.99 and $1.99, and you get a watermarked PDF that you can port to any device. If your computer crashes, you can go back to your account history and download all of your purchases again. We use the platform to post episodes of Secret Identity, which you can download for the price of FREE. Wowio also offers PDFs of comics at reasonable prices, many at $0.99.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Standing Resolute in the New Year

I’m not one for traditional New Year’s resolutions, but I do come up with a few fun ones each year that I know I’ll enjoy trying to keep. These resolutions usually involve bringing something from the past back into prominence. In the past, I’ve brought back the high five, the horseshoe mustache and the thumbs up by incorporating them into my life and the lives of those around me.

For this year, I have three resolutions:

1. Be funnier. I think most people who know me consider me to be a pretty funny guy, but I feel like my sense of humor and razor sharp wit declined somewhat in 2010. This year, I’m bringing the funny in a big way. I’ll apologize ahead of time to my close friends, workmates and relatives for the practical jokes, zingers and general hijinks that will be visited upon them in the coming months.

2. Bring back the two-handed handshake (AKA "The Glove"). That’s right, it’s not just for funerals anymore. What better way to show someone that you’re REALLY EXCITED to meet them than with a two-handed shake?

3. Bring back the word “rad.” In recording and editing ten podcasts a month (between Secret Identity and lbobi), I get to listen to myself talk quite a bit. Two words I use way too much are “awesome” and “phenomenal.” In my effort to reduce their use this year, I will take inspiration from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. So, get ready to be transported back to the early nineties, dudes!

As the year goes on, I’ll be sure to update people on my progress toward these resolutions. And instead of vowing to go back to the gym this January, why not come up with a fun resolution that yo'll actually follow through on?