Writing About Stereotypical Video Game Characters

The Trenches

I based my first and still unpublished novel on my six years as a video game tester for 30+ games and a lead tester responsible for ten games. Drawing upon all the stories and incidents from working at Accolade/Infogrames/Atari (same company, different owners, multiple identity crisis), I wrote a ghost story involving a group of thirty-something video game testers who been in the business for too long. At 700 pages and 125,000 words, I had no clue on how to edit it and stopped working on it.

And then The Trenches came out in 2010.

This web comic came from the creators of Penny Arcade and PvP, the two most popular web comics about video games in general. I read the first few strips and stopped reading. They were going to cover the same territory that I did when I wrote my novel. Although I still had thoughts about revising my novel from time to time, I didn’t want my efforts being influenced by this web comic.

With my first novel tucked away in a storage box in back of the closet, my short stories started appearing in a dozen anthologies and I started publishing my own ebooks over the last few years.

While browsing Kiwiblitz a few weeks ago, I followed the link back to The Trenches and read the entire archive from beginning to end. As I expected back then, the web comic did cover the same territory as my first novel: a clueless manager, the female tester overweight and Jewish, and the main video game is a space western.

Did the creators of The Trenches break into my apartment and stole of a copy of my manuscript? Not at all. The video game industry is one big incestuous family, where stereotypical characters are as common as fleas on a hound dog.

The usage of stereotypical characters allows the writer to introduce a character that the reader immediately recognizes and add something different to make that character unique to the story. The lead tester in The Trenches, for example, wears a kilt, implying that he is of Scottish-descent and has the brass balls to wear it at work. The homicidal ghost in my novel isn’t the scary little girl cliché that populates most horror-survival video games but is a friendly looking troll-like creature with very sharp teeth.

Does reading The Trenches changes anything about the stereotypical characters in my novel?

On the surface, it changes nothing. You can’t have a video game company without a clueless manager—or management—to make the lives of the testers unbearable. I’m keeping the lead female tester as is since her weight and Jewish identity are themes for several critical scenes. I might jettison the Western theme for the main video game to avoid overlapping The Trenches too much. If anything, my stereotypical characters need more uniqueness to stand out against the competition.

Get Amazon To Price Match Your FREE Smashwords eBooks

If you want your ebooks on both Amazon and Smashwords to reach the widest audience possible, you need to have FREE ebooks for readers to sample your work. Smashwords makes this easy by letting you set the price to FREE. Amazon, however, doesn’t allow you to set the price to FREE. The workaround is to get Amazon to price match your FREE Smashwords ebook.


For Amazon price matching to work, your Smashwords ebooks are enrolled in the third-party premium catalog (i.e., Apple, Barnes & Noble, Sony, and many others) and the price set to $0.00 (FREE). You will need to wait six to eight weeks or so before the newly published ebook or price update appears at least two prominent ebook retailers.

  1. Open in your web browser to two ebook retailers that has your FREE Smashwords ebook. Apple and Barnes & Noble are usually the first to update.
  2. Open the corresponding Amazon page.
  3. Click on the “tell us about a lower price” link underneath the product details on the Amazon page.
  4. A small pop-up box will ask for the URL and price for the lower-priced ebook.
  5. Copy and paste the URL from the first ebook retailer and set the price to $0.00.
  6. Do this for the second ebook retailer.

If you do this every day for a week, your Amazon ebook will be price-matched to FREE the following week. This may happen sooner (a few days) or later (two weeks). You need to be persistent until the price change takes effect.

Amazon has price-matched seven of my FREE Smashwords ebooks and given away 2,571 copies over the last three months, resulting in a slight increase in sales for PAID ebooks and reviews on the FREE ebook.


Price matching works well if your Amazon ebooks are in the 35% royalty tier, which is about half the royalty rate from Smashwords and has fewest restrictions.

If your Amazon ebooks are in the 70% tier and/or the KDP Select program, you’re making money on Amazon’s dime and have to play by their rules. I’ve heard reports that Amazon have threaten authors with canceling their accounts if an ebook in the 70% tier are found for a lower price elsewhere. If you’re in the KDP Select program, you have to remove your ebooks from all other ebook retailers and can only promote your Amazon ebook for FREE only five times out of every 90-day period.

You will get some flak from the “professional” writers who publish their ebooks only through Amazon (especially in the KDP Select program), accusing you of breaking the rules and warning dire consequences when Amazon finds out. Relax. The “professionals” writers signed their souls over to Amazon are now chafing at the restrictions imposed on them and watching enviously as indie writers have greater success at all ebook retailers.

If Amazon does threaten to cancel my account for whatever reason, I’ll be happy to inform my readers that they can find my ebooks elsewhere. Although Amazon is “the world’s largest market” (a favorite mantra from the “professional” writers), my Amazon sales are 20% or less of my overall ebook sales. In short, I don’t need Amazon. As an indie writer, I’m not obligated to help Amazon sustain their ebook monopoly at my expense.