Friday, July 10, 2009

Friday Discussion: Poor Editing In RPGs

"Your party is attacked by 2d4 habgoblins".

"See chart on page 141 for more detail". (No chart can be found on that page).

"The spaceport is inhabited by a family of aliensThealiens are friendly but have nothing to trade".

Yep, poor editing and proofreading. It's an epidemic for RPG publishing companies that shows no signs of letting up.

So, that's our discussion for this Friday: How much does poor editing/proofreading impact your RPG purchasing habits?

Examples and anecdotes welcome as always--if you've had a good or bad experience, post about it below.

Random Weekend Event Chart (Roll 1d6)

1: Something breaks in the house. It takes 1d4 hours to be repaired. You're understandably cranky about it.

2: You take an epic nap. Upon waking, you're not sure if it's 7 pm Saturday or 7 am Sunday.

3: You get about halfway through a Forgotten Realms novel before throwing it aside in disgust.

4: You think about stopping by a fireworks store for clearance fireworks, but find they are closed until next year.

5: An old man selling roadside corn gives you a weird look as you drive by. You speed up.

6: You catch a mid-afternoon showing of Revenge of the Nerds 2: Nerds in Paradise. You feel strangely fulfilled.


Rob Conley said...

It is the main reason holding back my purchase of Mongoose Products. If they had good editing I would probably made an effort to have bought all of their Traveller and B5 line. But the poor editing and high prices have held me back.

In contrast I know nearly everything by SJ Games is just that good. I consider them the gold standard of the industry.

While no great expert, I have gone through the process of producing a product several times now. It is basically time vs quality. If you are producing a ton of product how much time are you really spending giving that final polish?

A extreme example are the Harn products put out by Columbia Game. Like Mongoose their prices per product are high. While slow their production process result in a very high quality product.

However they may too slow to keep sustained interest among the general marketplace.

Again I think SJ Games has the best balance between quality and speed of product release.

Mark Gedak said...

I see know editing issue in that first entry you must be missing these stats:

No. Enc: 1d6 (35)
Alignment: Neutral
Movement: 90’ (30’) / 120’ (40’) on ice
Armor Class: 4
Hit Dice: 3
Attacks: 1 hockey stick (quarterstaff)
Damage: 1d6
Save: F2
Morale: 10
Hoard Class: XVIII

From the Eastern Conference this mighty race of goblinoid rose to fame under the disciplined guidance of Jacques Martin. Making their home in the Bell Centre, these ice warriors are in a never ending search to recover an artefact known as Lord Stanley’s Cup. Sometimes they can be seen with a Youppi whom they have adopted.

There motto is: To you from failing hands we throw the torch. Be yours to hold it high

clash bowley said...

That was brilliant, Mark! :D

As for proofing... it's tough. I just proofed Commonwealth Space. It was a huge job - first I proofed the pdf, but that was brutal - it's *hard* to see stuff like that on a computer screen! It's like your brain has been trained to ignore stupid spelling and grammatical mistakes from reading the web.

Then I uploaded it privately at Lulu and bought a galley proof. Once I got the book, I took a pencil and wrote in all the changes. There was at least one change on every page, and many pages had five or six corrections. It took me weeks. Then I went page by page, making the changes in the pdf, making some changes even as I typed because I noticed them.

Then I uploaded the changed pdf to Lulu, still privately as I wanted to see the book in print, and put the book on sale at RPGNow and other places. When I got the new Lulu print, dozens of stupid mistakes leapt out at me. I had forgotten to include this table, I had not changes the headers and footers of this section, and this other section here was nearly gibberish. I made more changes, updated the customers who had already bought the pdf, and looked again. More things leapt out at me. I screamed in frustration and went to work again, staying up until four in the morning uploading new changes.

I know I missed stuff in the final product. Between British and American spelling differences - Pat Brady's a Brit - and less understood and more subtle grammatical differences - Brits treat commas *very* differently! - even determining what was wrong was a nightmare. If I paid someone all the money I make on this product, it would still be severely underpaying them. Almost 500 pages of insanity-inducing text written over two years, bounced back and forth by email between two continents.

I still don't understand why I *do* this to myself.


clash bowley said...

The phrase should read:

"If I paid someone all the money I make on this product *to edit it*, it would still be severely underpaying them."

See what I mean?

Robert Saint John said...

Rob beat me to it. I specifically stopped buying further Mongoose Traveller products at release based on the substantial errors and/or layout issues that made it to print. Many times they would fix it months later in a new printing, which just made me feel like I was left with the inferior version. So for now I've stopped buying, I'll wait to see if new books have the same issues, and buy the revised versions later on. Maybe. So far, I haven't bought any more MGT books at all.

lessthanpleased said...

I'm a professional editor for Open Design - and by "professional" I mean I am a trained editor who has been paid to edit both in the RPG industry and without (I was the opinion editor for a daily newspaper with a circulation of around 30,000 before joining Open Design). I'm also an editor at Kobold Quarterly.

What follows is me speaking for me only.

In general, I think the main problem with poor editing in RPGs is there's a wide-spread assumption that anyone can be an editor. I've seen numerous bloggers talk about writing up a .pdf and just having volunteer editors help them out for free, or get their friends to proofread, or yada yada yada.

Though I appreciate the punk rock DIY spirit some of the new RPG creators are bringing to the table, I think that in some ways their entry to the market is a bad idea for any number of reasons.

Though there are numerous people physically large enough to be a fireman, it's better for everyone if we make sure the only people doing the jobs are the ones with the training and actual skill to save people's lives. And though there are loads of members of MENSA, the vast majority of the members of MENSA are not, in fact, trying to cure cancer - they leave that to the actual scientists.

My life would be better - and easier - if there were less volunteer editors devaluing what I do. The glut of unpaid editors isn't making writers' work better, it's just ensuring that writers who shouldn't be self-publishing (because they cannot or are not inclined to pay for professional copy staff) are entering the market.

A professional editor can make a mediocre writer good, and a good writer great. This isn't controversial: It's what I'm trained to do.

Perhaps volunteer amateurs can be presented who claim to do just as good a job with none of the training and job experience that I and others have; but they're dwarfed by the number of people who simply suck.

All that being said, even professional editors can't produce perfect results - sometimes in layout mistakes get made because of any number of routine reasons: this could be a function of copy and pasting, homonyms not being detected, or content having to be added/cut to make the work "fit" on the page properly. Alternatively, mistakes could be a function of having different people doing design/layout than are editing; the skill set to do one isn't the skill set to do the other.

I can even find mistakes in The New Yorker every week, and they're the best edited magazine in print on a weekly basis. So though mistakes in RPG projects are annoying, there are a certain amount of them that will plague even the best edited work.

It's when "volunteers" - or simply unqualified editors - begin taking over that the manageable number of mistakes becomes a problem. And that's why I think most of the benefits of democratizing the number of RPG creators are negated by ghettoizing the number of skilled professional editors.

If everyone can write an RPG product and anyone can edit it, who's left to make everyone get better at what they're doing?

Ameron said...

As a professional writer who relies heavily on editors I’m not going to slam anyone who tries to make the writer’s work better. Errors in a final product certainly are a pain in the butt, but I’m a very forgiving audience. Now if there are errors because you choose not to use a qualified editor then you deserve ridicule.

As for the Random Weekend Event Chart, it would seem that my d6 is loaded. All I ever seem to roll are 2s.

Amityville Mike said...

When I was young, knew everything, and convinced I was the next, great, undiscovered American writer, I truly believed that editors existed only to sanitize a writer's artistic vision for mass consumption. My pomposity knew no bounds.

Now, I know that a good editor is a resource to be treasured and that a great editor is worth his/her weight in Hope diamonds. I'm extremely grateful for the skilled editors who wade through the morass of sheer crap on a daily basis to polish turds into a semblence of actual writing. My hat goes off to all of them.

But we're supposed to be talking about RPGs here. For me, the epitome of games that needed a better editor will always remain the White Wolf titles. I still wake up in a cold sweat after having nightmares of trying to find "p. XX" in those rulebooks. To add insult to injury, WW poked fun at themselves by including a "p. XX" in the Malkavian Clanbook. Perhaps less time making hipster in-jokes and more time fixing the damn problem would have been the better strategy...

Frostbeard said...

Typos and grammatical errors are pretty minor concerns in a gaming product, but layout is a real killer for me.

The piss-poor layouts of the original RIFTS books almost turned me completely off of the game. Having to have four different sections of the book dog-eared just to buy equipment was kind of ridiculous.

Giga boy said...

I can accept almost all kind of typos and inconsistencies in free or amatorial pdfs.
But when I find errors, glaring errors sometimes, in a book I paid 30 Euros or more you should see the steam and flames coming out of my nostrils.
If you charge taht much for a professional product, you should feel obliged to -at least- print the damn thing and read it before having a real print run.
The italian translation of mongoose traveller is an example of this.

Jonathan said...

@lessthanpleased : THis si why we, at Nevermet Press, are so friggen stoked to have you on board with our KQ collaboration. Editing is our current biggest bleeding hole in the side of our new born calf... fortunately the two other (pro) editors we have on board are helping - but only with key pieces. The rest, we are using the 1000 monkeys approach...

Tim Shorts said...

Editing has always been a thankless job. It's a lot of work because you are focusing on the grammar, the consistency of the information, the logical order, half developed ideas and layout. Layout as in if you have a chart mentioned on a certain page than you better have one there.

Respect the word count. When I edited the original Points of Light, Rob and Dwayne decided to go over the word count by 15%. I thanked them and then assaulted them through IMs. Editors cut, correct and reorganize. But a good one will polish the work, tighten the prose to be more concise, and even polish a turd they've been handed to make it gleam like gold.

So when you hear which writers win an ENnie award make sure you flip to the credits page and check to see who did the editing and give him or her a clap or two.

Vincent said...

Having cut my teeth on the first wave of RPG products I find errors and 'incompetencies' of all types charming :)

BTW, I detected a minor numbering error in your table, which I have corrected below.

1: Something breaks in the house. It takes 1d4 hours to be repaired. You're understandably cranky about it.

2: You take an epic nap. Upon waking, you're not sure if it's 7 pm Saturday or 7 am Sunday.

3-17: You get about halfway through a Forgotten Realms novel before throwing it aside in disgust.

18: You think about stopping by a fireworks store for clearance fireworks, but find they are closed until next year.

19: An old man selling roadside corn gives you a weird look as you drive by. You speed up.

20: You catch a mid-afternoon showing of Revenge of the Nerds 2: Nerds in Paradise. You feel strangely fulfilled.

Questing GM said...

While I can a little irritated by bad editing or lack of proofreading thereof, I don't think I'll let it get to me to stop buying a product that I want.

I mean it isn't always perfect and most of the time it's a very minor mistake that I can waive it. Maybe I just haven't seen a horribly edited product.

mxyzplk said...

While I hate bad editing, the problem is that usually you only find out after a purchase. It's only with companies with notoriously bad track records that it kicks in. (After Traveller20, for example, I refused to buy anything from QLI again. Mongoose has gotten better with the editing, if only their fontography wasn't criminal.)

lessthanpleased said...


I'm excited to be helping - kinda coincidental that shortly after we talked a deal was in place to bring you into KQ, huh?

The best part of editing is workshopping a piece during the first draft. That's what I look forward to the most.

James Mishler said...

The basic truth of editing in the game industry, or rather, the reason why so few game products are properly edited if edited AT ALL, is that RPG products do not get full, professional levels of editing because the consumer is not willing to pay for full, professional levels of editing.

I'm not going to get into the crap levels of profit in this industry and juxtapose it with the cheap-ass nature of the game consumer again for the umpteenth time, but suffice to say that today, there's jsut no budget for a good editing job, if a company wants to make a profit on a product at all.

That's it, pure and simple. If game companies could charge what other publishers do, this wouldn't be an issue. Frex, a paperback book 20 years ago cost maybe $1... today they charge upward of $9. 20 years ago you could charge $6 for a 32-page module... today you can charge all of $12. And don't get me started on the pricing issues of selling PDFs on the cheap...

To those who say "But all those books in Barnes & Noble are well-edited," I will point out that the vast majority of even small niche books sold in non-RPG markets sell a whole magnitude greater in units than the best-selling RPG products (yes, including D&D). They thus have a much, much, MUCH larger budget than anything game companies can even dream of... and so they can afford good, professional editors.

So you do the math.

As game publisher budgets have shrunk, they make do, and cut here and there, where they can. Editing is often one of the first things to go.

To those who say, "If you don't want to pay to have your game professionally edited, please do not publish it," I say, bite me. No one is forcing you to buy an un-edited product; if you do not want to buy it, don't. Stop trying to tell me how to run my business.

To those who say, "But I paid $x for this book, why isn't it edited properly?" I say, if you want it edited properly, you probably should have paid 2.5x. You get what you paid for, so deal with it.

To use an example based on Rob's choices of game products, Mongoose puts out tons of RPG products every month, and they are dirt cheap compared to where they would be if they had a more professional editing staff. SJG is lucky to put out a new GURPS book every quarter... and from their own admission, they only continue to support GURPS out of love, as they barely break even on it. Why? Because of their high cost of production, versus what they can actually charge for a well-edited book.

Andreas Davour said...

James summarizes things pretty well.

For the average gamer I think editing do matter, but not enough. If a book is usable with some creative interpretation, we let it slip. I really wish most gamers weren't so cheap and cared so little. It's just us loudmouths complaining. ;)

Personally I think shoddy editing (even counting the fact that it's done by amateurs or underpaid and hurried professionals) is very annoying, but I will accept it much better if the company admits their faults, have errata sheets and act like they care and will try to get better. Steve and his minions down in Texas are the gold standard there.

I do have some companies from which I don't buy stuff, because they don't even seem to care about their problems.

Verdilak said...

I agree with Andres and James for the most part.

If a game company does not regularly update official errata freely for customers, then I get extremely irritated about poor editing. For to me, if a company does not have errata, or a place for customers to ask about such and receive official answers, then it suggests that the company feels that their shit doesn't stink.

When a company does offer such things, then I am not worried all that much about editing, for I know the company understands they missed something and are taking aims to fix it.

lessthanpleased said...

'To those who say, "If you don't want to pay to have your game professionally edited, please do not publish it," I say, bite me. No one is forcing you to buy an un-edited product; if you do not want to buy it, don't. Stop trying to tell me how to run my business.'

Well, James, I would say your "business" should stop functioning such that it undermines my livelihood and prevents people like me from earning a living wage.

But you are absolutely right - as a consumer I don't get to tell you how to run your company. I just get to refuse to buy it, and do my best to ensure that people who care about pay equity, designers and editors getting paying work, and quality of the final product make the same decisions with their wallets.

And though that's not optimal for you as a creator, it's optimal for me as a consumer.

James Mishler said...

Lessthanpleased -- Well, James, I would say your "business" should stop functioning such that it undermines my livelihood and prevents people like me from earning a living wage.

So in other words, you believe that you have a right to hold my ability to earn a wage hostage in order for you to be able to earn a wage instead? I see... I'm thinking maybe "bite me" was in fact a bit weak, and perhaps "go fuck yourself" is more apropos in this case. You sir, are entitled to NOTHING in this world.

lessthanpleased said...

Well, James, I'm sorry you feel that way about presenting professionally-edited content to your customers. Thankfully, there are numerous successful businesses that produce quality RPG products that disagree with you - and have taken the realities of the marketplace into account so that they can offer their readers maximum value for their money.

But before I run off and fuck myself - thanks for that, by the way - I'd also like to add that singling yourself out and admitting you don't provide professionally edited content isn't particularly smart. Especially in a thread featuring potential customers complaining about products that lack professionally-edited content. I'd suspect your admission is doing far more damage to your ability to earn wages than anything I've said - no matter how good you think your reasons for cutting corners are.

But far be it from me to tell you how to run your business - I'm sure your PR and damage control team is just as skilled as your editorial staff.

Jonathan said...

(gets popcorn)

James Mishler said...

I have never run from the fact that I do not have an editor go over my products. I do not list an editor in the credits; currently, the only credits listed my products are myself as author and my artist/graphic artist.

I have avoided using an editor, because I'd rather not hire an editor at crap rates, even a friend who is a professional editor who is willing to do it cheap out of friendship.

I feel that for the price of my products, if there is anyone who has still feels there are too many errors per dollar, they are more than welcome to just stop buying my products.

So far my products are available just in PDF format and very limited direct print distribution to fans; most do not have any art, even a cover. They are bare minimal production level products.

As for knowing about editors and the value of a good editor on a product, I was actually working as a professional editor, working 60-hour weeks, back when you first entered the ivory tower and started sucking back Coronas. I've worked with some of the best editors in the game industry and in other publishing markets.

I know the value of a good editor, I know the costs of editing, and I know that when I can actually charge my customers for a well-edited product, that I will do so. Until that time, I make my way as best as I can in the game industry, which I have worked in since you were still wondering what high school would be like. In that time I've been a designer, developer, worked public relations and marketing, sales and production; if it can be done in this industry, I've done it, and done it well.

So please, stop telling me how to run my business, and stick to your own. Maybe it's about time you should stop trying to teach your grampaw how to suck eggs.

lessthanpleased said...

James, I like how you can write half a reasonable response before resorting to condescension, ageism and anti-intellectualism ("Ivory Tower" is a slur everyone in the academe has to deal with, and it was tired three decades ago). I didn't inquire about your resume because it had no bearing on the current issue. But now that you've brought it up it seems fair game.

Understand I would have said nothing if you had come in, explained that you can't afford to hire an editor but would like to do so in the future, and left it at that. Times are hard and it's perfectly understandable. No one would have judged you for saying that, and it would have been eminently reasonable in the face of my admittedly over-strident observation that businesses that can't afford to hire an editor shouldn't be publishing. Moreover, I thought your point on the prices of RPGs being far too low to be sustainable was well-put and something not enough people think about.

But when you say things like,

'To those who say "If you don't want to pay to have your game professionally edited, please do not publish it," I say, bite me. [...] Stop trying to tell me how to run my business[,]'

what kind of response do you expect to get? Especially when it's followed by suggestions that other people go fuck themselves? I suppose I should take solace that you didn't ask me to suck your dick and refrained from making ungentlemanly suggestions about what you've done to my mother, but I'd hoped a man your age would have left the schoolyard taunts behind in grade school.

I'm not telling you how to run your business. I would like to live in a world where there was more wage equity, of course - but I know this isn't possible, so I have to make decisions with my wallet. Judging by your behavior within this thread I am stating that I choose not to buy your product. My consumer habits don’t give me power over you, nor should they - though the decision of many consumers should.

But even though you’ve lost me as a customer, this cloud has a silver lining!

After reading your edifying resume I would be quite keen to see you use your impressive experience in this industry to actually take a few aspiring editors under your wing and train them to do a good job. I'm sure working with a writer of your obvious character and clear caliber would do far more good for your company and the state of the industry as a whole than your current fetish for obsessing over whether a perfect stranger is telling you how to run your business.

(Deference to my elders prevents me from remarking why it should matter in the least if such a stranger were telling you this.)

I may be woefully young, but even I can see that helping out a new face would be pretty neat! You know - giving something back to the business in which you've been so successful.

As you know, I was dreaming about high school when your career was at its pinnacle - so I'd think that in your maturity you'd want to give others the same breaks you were given. Hell, it has to beat swearing at (former) potential customers who have been turned off on your product by your boorish behavior.

But I'm left with the niggling feeling that you didn't bring up your extensive resume and list of achievements as an invitation to any of the members of the RPG Bloggers Network to learn their craft at your knee. No, I'm fairly certain you've only brought it into this discussion because your blustering, swearing, condescension and anti-intellectualism were not allowed to go unchallenged.

I respect that you've accomplished a lot in this industry, incidentally, but I find your attempt to cow and insult a potential customer who takes issue with your business model to be absolutely risible - it's not the kind of behavior I hope to see from the greybeards of our hobby, and certainly not the sort of behavior I expect from a successful businessman and PR professional.

But then, the wonderful thing about living in an Ivory Tower is that it gives you enough perspective to spot bullshit from a mile away.

James Mishler said...

::golf clap::

Nice return!

Zachary The First said...

Whew! I sometimes forget people still comment on few day-old posts...

Feel free to have it out some more, gents. Glad I could provide the forum, I guess! :)

James Mishler said...

No worries, Zach, I'm done here. After the 4E debacle and this, I'm convinced I need to take a break from blogging for a while... both reading and posting.

Keep up the great work, by the way! You've got some nice interviews going so far for Palladium Week!

lessthanpleased said...

All sarcasm, bullshit and dickmeauring aside, James, I'd honestly like to hear more about whether and how you think we can correct the artificially low selling prices of RPG materials that prevent smaller companies from hiring professional editors and thereby narrowing the gap between WOTC and Paizo and everyone else.

I think Zack and others have a valid point as consumers who don't want to purchase shoddily edited products - the way this sounds to me is that they'd be willing to pay a premium to get quality. My gaming dollars, reduced though they are, are in the same predicament.

What kind of changes in your market would there have to be for you to offer this sort of stuff, James? Please don't take this as a request to change your business, just a fairly sober assessment of what would be involved with someone like you being able to make money by switching and doing things in a way that's sustainable.

If that's something you're not comfortable talking about with strangers then that's perfectly reasonable - but you might be able to paint a picture that could be helpful to other publishers looking to evolve their business.

Just a thought, and something I'd like to read.

Zachary The First said...

No, not a problem, James. You're always welcome to post your thoughts here. I totally missed the 4e debacle, btw.

Thanks for the nice words in regards to Palladium Week!

James Mishler said...


I present to you an honest answer to an honest question:

HinterWelt said...

I actually employ 4 editors. On any one project, we might use 2 on any given book. Despite this, some errors make it into the final version. Still, for small press, I feel we do pretty well.