We’re all used to films coming out with games attached, both console games and for marketing – I’ve made some of them myself. It feels quite new for books though. There have been games that adapt books (Dante’s Inferno and The Great Gatsby for NES come to mind), but games to market books? Not so much.
The Night Circus is a good book to try it with, both because of its structure and its audience. We know gamers read more than the average population, and in particular fantasy has a big crossover population. Failbetter have done a good job of adapting the Echo Bazaar mechanic to make a smaller, simpler game that reflects the content of the book. The only thing I regret is that the game stripped out much of what gives players a sense of agency in Echo Bazaar. You are almost entirely a slave to the cards you are dealt, but it’s an elegant slavery. The strong look taken from the book makes it look fresher than the game its based on – no beige at all.
I’d be fascinated to know Random House’s specific marketing objectives for the game and how it relates to the book. The game had the softest of soft launches, with no fanfare at all as far as I could see. I only found out it was launching from a chance conversation. There are lots of mechanics within the game to get you to share it with people, but a little PR push would surely have delivered many more curious people to the top of such an unusual experience, and allowed it to do that job of amplification on a much wider audience.
The thing I didn’t expect is that having played the game made the book better for me. Meeting images in the book I remembered from the game was always a joy, because I felt they were in a small way mine. I had won them with my card turning. It’s something I think some film marketers understand really well, making the content your own before you see a movie, and I was thrilled to meet it here.
So if the goal was creating passionate advocates for the book, I feel like it’s succeeded.