Andrew Groen asked for $12,500 to write a history of some of the largest wars in Eve Online. He ultimately raised over $95,000. Now, two years later, he's delivering a presentation on these virtual battles in Iceland during Fanfest, a yearly gathering for Eve Online fans.
I've worked with Andrew Groen in the past, and I backed his Kickstarter at the $50 level to get a copy of the book in hardcover. Watching Groen discuss the real history of online wars and the personalities that drive them was fascinating, and in person the bespectacled Groen even looks something like a history professor of the virtual age. Before he flew into Iceland he tried something a bit different to promote the book, however, and went out on a kind of press junket.
In Eve Online itself.
"I conceived it as sort of a book tour," he told Polygon. "There are number of major trade hubs in Eve where people tend to congregate." On a good day there will be 1,500 people near Jita 4-4, he said, a famous in-game trading station. So he would show up, write a few messages in open chat, and interact with people who wanted to talk.
"What I found out trying to market this book inside of Eve ... because at first I thought this is awesome as an author, I have this virtual world I can go into and anybody I can talk to will be interested in buying my book. That's a really cool opportunity. So I tried doing that, and everybody was skeptical. Immediately."
It's a way to find someone I was never going to win over otherwise and just give them the book
The often distrustful and treacherous nature of Eve itself didn't help his case.
"The difficulty is that a system like Jita is almost entirely scammers," he said. "People who are trying to rip you off, to sell something for ten times more than it's actually worth. So going to a place like Jita and trying to convey a truthful message is an uphill battle from the start. It was about starting that conversation and knowing the response is immediately going to be poor."
He would sometimes receive direct messages from people who wanted to talk about the book or had questions for him about its creation, but more often people were skeptical it was really him or knew nothing about the project and assumed he was just trying to make a quick buck from the community. He had a wonderful strategy for the most skeptical players of the game, however: He just gave them a copy of the book.
"Basically I dumped the files into a dropbox folder," he said. The entire book, complete with the illustrations, was right there for anyone to take or share. While this made it very easy to pirate the material he was trying to sell, he wasn't that concerned.
"If the worst case scenario is that more people read my book, that's not exactly a nightmare scenario," he said. "So I'll ask them not to spread the link around too much, but if they want to give it to a friend or two it's not that big a deal. Because I found I have a credibility gap in the Eve Online community. Not everybody knows me or knows about my work, or that I take this seriously and want to create something that's awesome for fans of the game."
The book itself is wonderful — you can read an excerpt for yourself or watch a short video about one of the battles described in it — so Groen knew that if people were willing to give him a chance he could win at least some of them over.
"It's a way to find someone I was never going to win over otherwise and just give them the book and say ‘Hey, you're really skeptical, tell all your skeptical friends about it and tell them I'm legit.' Hopefully."
Groen is thinking about writing a second book about Eve Online, so shrinking that credibility gap with the player base is an important part of what could be a larger strategy to win over fans of the game. But he also admits there's not a grand strategy at play here. Giving the book away to people who may not have given him a chance "just feels right," he said.
It also isn't likely to hurt his sales. These people would likely never pay for the book, but they may support any future work he does or at least be more open to the idea of Groen continuing to chronicle the history of Eve. It's not about potentially losing a sale, it's about proving to the community that what he's making has value.
"Obviously I care that the book makes enough money that I can continue being a full-time author, and since I'm independent I very much need to care how well the book sells," he said. By that metric, the project has already been a success.
"I'm making certainly more than I did as a broke freelancer. It's hard to make less than what you do as a freelance writer. As a project, it's already made enough money for me to justify the whole project. It's already supported me for two years," Groen said.
Promoting the book from within the game is just one part of a larger ongoing plan to keep people interested. "I believe there's a lot more this book can do," he said.
To hear more stories from Groen's book Empires of Eve, check out Polygon's Backstory podcast.