Elite and The Non-Elite Market

I’m taking a bit of a “Wagar” approach to this update and having a more speculative look at the interesting Elite times we live in. It’s an unscheduled update – train of thought thinking after listening to the LaveCon podcast…

One of the big things that came out of the LaveCon meet-up was a question about whether or not the Elite franchise appeals to the non-game playing market.

Elite is a science fiction game, and any related works would fall into the science fiction genre. Elite: Dangerous has commissioned a dozen or so works of fiction that will accompany the game. The books will, no doubt, be bought by the vast majority of the Elite fanbase, but will those novels, short story collections and (of course) tabletop roleplaying game appeal to the wider science fiction community? Will they appeal even to the non-science fiction readers?

Drew Wagar was the first of the fans to launch a Kickstarter to fund his ED Kickstarter pledge, and during the LaveCon writer’s panel he stated that his story could be taken out of the Elite genre and find a home in any setting because it’s about people. Would that make the story accessible, and would someone who had never heard of Elite be able to pick it up andenjoy it as a good story?

My opinion is yes, and it’s backed up by the reaction of my long-suffering wife, who despite having to listen to me go on and on about this bloody game for the last eight years non-stop, was kind enough to come along to LaveCon. After listening to Drew’s reading of his opening chapter (which is now available on his website at http://www.wagar.org.uk/elitereclamation/progress-report/elite-reclamation-prologue/) she has stated that she will be likely buying some of the books (or reading mine at least) and in particular wants to read Drew’s.

Is there something about the Elite universe that brings in the masses that reaches above and beyond the scope of “just a game”, or is it the richness of the expanded media that gives it a broader appeal?

Obviously this is just speculation, but there are a few things that give Elite an appeal to the wider audience. The first is the richness of the actual setting. There are three big organisations present in the “universe” all vying for power and profit. Within and around that, from even the first game, there are a plethora of “careers” that flesh out the inhabitants of that universe as well as giving it a mystery. For instance, bounty hunters are everywhere, and the pilots (players) are awarded rank and prestige for killing other pilots with bounties on their heads. What gave rise to that? Why would all of these disparate agencies agree on that one thing?

It was certainly these little things that gave my imagination that first boost. The manual and novella for the original Elite gave me just enough of a taster to make me imagine what else lay beyond it and in a way it was a shame that these excellent pieces of work were limited by the medium they were part of. If the novella had been released as a mass-market publication (maybe even with bits of the manual tagged on as extras), the chances are that it could have taken off.

The big franchises in sci-fi are always quoted as being Star Wars and Star Trek, and it’s true to say that there are a small group of people in that community that were introduced to those franchises by the expanded media – people who bought books or tech manuals that revealed a rich and vivid universe just waiting to be found.

RPGs are part of that too. As I said at LaveCon I’ve already had awesome conversations with people who are buying the RPG with no previous knowledge of Elite and are looking forward to learning about a new universe to play in. The Star Trek RPG published by FASA in the 80s was the first strictly licensed RPG based on a TV or film (as far as I’m aware, anyway) and they were instrumental in pulling people from different walks of life into the universe of that franchise. Elite’s extended media has the same potential.

It’s about marketing in a big way. Frontier have committed to pushing the fiction along with the release of the game, and there are a few of the authors who are more than happy to release their works before the game’s release to help with the market exposure for Elite Dangerous. Will the famous “robotic avian” Elite logo on the windows of Waterstones or WH Smith be enough to attract new readers and new fans for the game and its universe?

As Michael Brooks often says – “Let’s wait and see…”