Writers Brendan Keogh and Daniel Golding launched Press Select today, an independent digital publishing company that focuses on long-form game criticism and supporting the writers involved in the field.
The publishing company, which was funded after both Keogh and Golding won first place in Express Media's Young Writers Innovation Prize for their Press Select concept, is currently working with a diverse group of writers from around the world to produce digital books of game criticism. The first of the books are set to be published in early 2014. Some of the writers that will be published by Press Select in its first round have written for publications like Edge magazine, Kotaku, Kill Screen and personal blogs, including writers like Chris Dahlen, Michael Abbott, Jenn Frank, Jason Killingsworth, Maddy Myers, Tim Rogers, Patricia Hernandez and Robert Yang.
Golding told Polygon that Press Select approached authors based on their experience with their previous work, and offered them the opportunity to write about their favorite projects and games.
"Supporting writers in a meaningful sense was pretty much at the top of our list"
"What we've been aiming to do is to pair great writers with their favorite games — the game they have always wanted to write about, that they have maybe written about in a blog post or article here and there," Golding said. "We really want to flesh that out."
Each writer is given the time they need to write an in-depth piece of criticism, which can stretch into the tens of thousands in terms of word count. The writing then goes through a thorough editing process, the writers and editors work with designers and artists to supply art for the book and it is then laid out as a professional ebook that is sold online. While authors do not receive any payment in advance, they do receive 50 percent of profits, with the percentage increasing in relation to sales.
"Supporting writers in a meaningful sense was pretty much at the top of our list," Golding said. "If an author was getting a contract with a regular print publisher, they would be getting something on the underside of 10 percent of royalties. So one of our number one priorities is to ensure that our authors are supported and get meaningful monetary reward from sales."
Press Select will encourage its writers to have a voice in their writing and to not be afraid to write about their personal experiences with games. Golding emphasized that Press Select is not an academic journal publisher. The books it plans to release will be accessible to readers, and the fact that it's not an academic journal means both the publisher and its writers can be nimble and respond quickly to new games.
Writer Michael Abbott is one of the authors who is working on a piece about The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker for Press Select. Best known for running the games criticism blog The Brainy Gamer, he told Polygon that the launch of Press Select offers opportunities for both writers and gamers.
"For writers [to be paid for game criticism], I think it's pivotal," Abbott said. "There's just so much writing about games it's hard to keep track of it all, and a lot of it is good — you can find solid, thoughtful writing about games — but I think we've kind of standardized on an 800-word or so essay that characterizes solid, interesting writing about games.
"Only a few outlets are going to pay for it, and the more specialized it becomes ... it's hard to find a market of any that would pay you to do that. So I think this opens up possibilities for those of us who have been writing in that space, but who might feel like we'd like to try something different, a little more ambitious. This is very encouraging."
According to Abbott, the existence of long-form criticism also gives game players the opportunity to delve even deeper into the game worlds they've played in. Many of the discussions and debates surrounding games have taken place mostly through blogs and online forums. Press Select aims to offer readers polished work that has been given the care it needs.
"I'm very excited about it — for one thing, those two guys know what they're doing," Abbott said of Keogh and Golding. "They're very careful. They've done a lot of research. They aren't just jumping in blind. If anything, they've bent over backwards to do diligent, careful research on how to make a press work."
"I think there's a real passion for thinking about games, and hopefully the idea is we can provide another format or a deeper format for that."
Golding told Polygon that the idea for Press Select came from the success of an ebook that Keogh released last year called Killing is Harmless. Having played the military shooter Spec Ops: The Line, Keogh wrote more than 50,000 words about the game. His writing ranged from analysis of the game and its mechanics to personal reflections of his experience and criticism of its story and themes. The piece was published as an ebook and sold for $4.99. To date, it has sold more than 6,000 copies.
According to Golding, Press Select doesn't plan to replicate the success of Killing is Harmless for every book it publishes. In fact, if an issue sells more than a few hundred copies, then it will technically be a financial success for the publisher. But he believes that the success of Killing is Harmless, as well as the Kickstarter success of fellow publisher Boss Fight Books, indicates that there is an interest for this kind of writing, and that people are willing to pay for it.
"I think the success of both those things illustrates that people are really interested in writing about games and reading about games," he said. "I think there's a real passion for thinking about games, and hopefully the idea is we can provide another format or a deeper format for that.
"It's about taking this reflective, critical dialogue that people have been having online over the past four years, polishing it and going as deep as possible. I can't imagine in any way that longer, deeper, better-written, more polished writing about games could not augment games culture and game development."