May 15, 2017

Reading the writing on the wall


Recently I have begun feeling somewhat aimless and driftless in my writing. I am currently working on two books, a short story collection and a poetry collection, so it's not like I'm totally devoid of goals. However, I am becoming less convinced that even with proper marketing I'll be able to find an audience. Japanese trains are the problem. Once upon a time almost everyone on the trains could be seen reading books or manga. The Japanese were vociferous readers and they had the largest per capita expenditures on books, magazines, and newspapers of any society in the world. Not even the book-loving French could keep up! Now, however, everything has changed.

We went to Barcelona a short time ago. Spent a week wandering around Barcelona and even took a day trip up to Madrid. Everywhere we went people were staring at their phones. Getting on a Japanese train these days is the same. There used to be a dozen bookstores here in Koenji, and half a dozen used book stores. Now, those few people who still buy manga get them at convenience stores. Gone are the days when every Monday there would be thousands of two-inch thick manga magazines stacked in front of the kiosk at Koenji station. Most Mondays now see only a single stack. There are still two bookstores here in Koenji, and one used book store, but the used bookstore is almost always empty. The situation in the States is just as bad.

Granted, some of this results directly from the success of Amazon.com and their Japanese counterpart. However, my honest impression is that a much greater factor in the decline of reading is the explosion of smartphones as a mobile gaming platform. Sure, there are manga apps that carry all the major titles, and just like everywhere else in the world, Japanese readers can download a Kindle app for free in order to read ebooks. However, I don't see people reading. I see them playing games. All kinds of games. From recreations of classic arcade games, to elaborate RTS games, to cute pet simulators, the mobile game market in Japan has exploded and is only getting larger. How can I, a simple writer, ignore such an obvious reality? I can't!

I'm still working on those two books. Once they are finished, they're going straight into the Kindle store. Once I have four titles, I will arrange for paperback print-on-demand versions to be available and I will spend a little money on Amazon.com promotional advertising. Nonetheless, I am not optimistic. Mobile gaming is the future. Unfortunately, when I tried to learn programming back in my thirties I failed miserably.

On the other hand, a great deal has changed over the past two decades. Massive libraries of pre-built, pre-tested, reliable code are everywhere and a surprising number of them are open source. I was one of those who honestly believed the open source movement was doomed. I could not imagine anyone taking the time to build, test, and verify a massive programming library just to give it away. I was wrong. Almost every program and app in the world these days is build from pre-written code libraries. Most people who publish games to Google Play or the Apple Store have one or two libraries they are deeply familiar with, libraries they acquired free from one of the thousands of open source libraries around the world. They combine, recombine, and experiment with the libraries in the same way a child plays with Legos. In exactly the same way, as a matter of fact. So much so, that the comparison has become a modern cliche.

On Friday, after a month or more of grievous emotional self-flagellation, I broke down. I downloaded the Java Development Kit and the Android Studio Took Kit. There is no way I can work this out on my own, so I downloaded three books by a fellow named John Horton. Sunday morning I got everything set up and spent some time reading online material. I also watched several videos of people using these tools to make games. I found an interesting online article published in December 2016. Apparently the top ten independent game studios are literally one person uploading stuff to either the Apple App Store or Google Play. Ten of their most successful games, in turn, are retro-style RPGs. I'm glad I found that article. It linked to a couple of YouTube videos introducing even more "indie" games that various "experts" are expecting to see succeed in 2017. Overall, I found it very encouraging.

For me, this is extremely difficult study. I have barely finished chapter three in the first book. This is going to take a long time to learn, especially if I am trying to write two books of my own at the same time. But, the future is mobile gaming. The fact that I absolutely hate this idea does not change the reality of it. Now that mobile games are being written with VR capability, it is even more undeniable. I can become one of those old curmudgeons complaining about the foolishness of youth, or I can take this bull by the horns and ride it.

Maybe one of these days I can turn some of my story ideas into a killer RPG. If that is the only kind of storytelling the future holds, then I have no choice but to find a way to adapt to it. Heaven knows I'm not going to see another City of Heroes get released any time soon. To be frank, with the pace these superhero MMORPG studios are working at I might even learn enough to write my own before any of them get a finished product into the market. Wouldn't that be a shock? My own MMORPG available on mobile platforms all over the world before studios I've been following for half a decade manage to get their games finished? It won't happen, naturally, but what if it does? The irony would surely kill me.

Android Developers : Android Studio and Android Development Tools
Oracle : Getting Started Developing with Java



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