Best way for publishing IF on mobile?

Hello all, Ive been playing on and off with inkle but decided to take my commitment to a more serious level and develop interactive fiction for the mobile platform. To start from the beginning, I have to now find out whats the best way of publishing.

Self publishing seems like a risky move - it has worked for some truly exceptional pieces like Seedship but internet forums warn about falling through the cracks and disappearing among the crowd.

Going to a publisher seems like an obvious move, so that they handle the questions of marketing, monetizing etc. however i wasnt able to find a mobile publisher with a portflio of IF. Apart from Choice of Games and their Hosted Games. However the limitations of their engine completely break my concept.

I wonder what are your thoughts on this.

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You said Choice of Games is too limited. What’s your app like? That would help with finding a publisher.

And what’s your goal for downloads? Established markets/mega apps tend to get much more attention. Some people have tried self-publishing (like Provodnik Games, who are on here as @PSKandid), but I’m not sure what success they’ve had.

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I definitely would not recommend self-publishing if you don’t have a good marketing plan. We didn’t have and we got almost no attention outside Russia (our native country).

But for us It was more like a self-challenge. We are really happy with the fact, that our work could be found in big store. And hundreds of people (not many but still) played it and liked it.

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We’re creating a user-upload-friendly portal for our app (Tap) right now - currently we’re only able to run Twine Harlowe 2.X and SugarCube 2.X (with a bit of additional CSS code to optimize for mobile), but our goal is to create a one-stop-shop for mobile interactive fiction.

Currently we do not have a monetization plan in place (it’s early days for us) but that is something we’re actively seeking to solve soon, Happy to chat more and see what kind of features your need (like @mathbrush I’m curious about what your game needs).

(For background, our app started out in Chat Fiction, but a lot of our writers found it too limiting, so we’ve just added Twine integration)

Thanks for answering guys.

The player goes through chapters, each with a set of events that appear randomly chosen. The chapter would consist of much more events than what comes out in one playthrough (much like in King of Dragon Pass) to enhance replayability. This can be done in ink as far as i know, but not in choicescript. I havent tried twine. Simple variables will also be present of course. Vector illustrations and simple animations - maybe.

Then i would team up with a programmer friend or find someone online to handle unity integration and making my story an actual app. I myself have zero programming knowledge. Nor marketing or connections. This is the point where i imagine ill need a publisher.

As for downloads goals, the more the better I guess? I want to make something that is different from the dating and high fantasy games that seem to flood the play store, and I would like to reach a fair amount of people. I dont expect to make a killing out of it, havent even decided for a monetization plan yet.

Tom, this certainly seems very interesting, and I am open to discuss cooperation.

(disclaimer: I’m a co-founder at Choice of Games; everything I say is biased)

It sounds like you’re planning to use randomized storylets, perhaps in the style of Failbetter’s quality-based narrative?

QBN/SBN storylets are possible in ChoiceScript. CS has *if, it has *goto, it has *rand for randomness, and therefore, with some effort and perhaps quite a lot of duplicated code, you can implement QBN. The effort would be approximately the same for out-of-the-box Ink and Twine; as far as I know, neither of them include any QBN facilities out of the box.

(The only things I’m aware of that Ink can do and ChoiceScript can’t is Unity integration, granting the author access to all of Unity’s supported platforms, and unlimited customization of the user interface, e.g. implementing a card-based look and feel. CS supports almost no UI customization at all.)

@JoshGrams has built out a Twine thing for QBN. https://github.com/JoshuaGrams/tiny-qbn

There was a thread a few months back about choosing software for QBN.

Having said all of this, there is the problem of finding a market. StoryNexus offered itself up as a platform for QBN games, but it went into “maintenance mode” in 2013; it’s now closed to new games.

QBNs seem to be a market where the winner takes all. http://www.failbettergames.com/failbetter-games-what-are-we-for/

Why? It’s hard to pin down one reason. Many Fallen London players only have room for one FL-type game in their lives. Most lone creators don’t have access to a full-time artist. Most creators can’t risk going full-time in the beginning, as we did, and that means content and support and promotion are all limited.

Even though ChoiceScript isn’t particularly helping you technology-wise, I suspect that you wild find it possible to implement what you want and significantly easier to find a market for your game on the Hosted Games platform.

I should add a little about why ChoiceScript doesn’t provide much help for randomized storylets.

I personally don’t feel that randomizing storylets adds a lot of value to a game. Randomization means that some of your best writing will be unavailable to players who aren’t lucky enough to find it. Even completionist players who intend to thoroughly explore every part of your game (your biggest fans!) may not find all of your delightful randomized storylets.

Instead, just don’t randomize the storylets. Let the replay value emerge through the player’s choices, rather than the roll of a die.

But that’s just my personal taste. A lot of people feel that QBN is especially good for creating IF that feels like a “world” rather than IF that feels like an interactive novel. If you prefer that style of play, don’t let me talk you out of it.

There is some appeal to the “random deck” metaphor of QBN systems like Storynexus and Varytale. Emily Short’s BEE being a great example.

Failbetter had a blog about how if Storynexus could have produced one world with a fraction of the popularity of Fallen London, it would pay for itself. Authors logistically had trouble creating enough content for a similar long-term, “play for months” type of epic that FL is, when the system actually lent itself well to shorter, more re-playable games that could get mileage out of the randomness of a deck of card-encounters that could re-arrange, stack, and shuffle itself magically based on world-state.

I would totally use a standalone offline system that did what Storynexus could. Storynexus was basically Varytale on steroids, and there is a version of Varytale (called Dendry) on GitHub that I think mainly was devised to keep BEE available.

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Again, this may just be my personal taste, but I would have enjoyed Bee more without randomness, with individual storylets hand picked to appear on the menu.

I think randomness has a mystique that makes it seem all the more amazing when it generates sensible humdrum content. Randomized procedural generation defies our expectations, because we expect random output to be unintelligible garbage, so when it randomly generates something that an ordinary writer would have implemented, something comprehensible, it has a “wow” factor.

But I just don’t think that mystique works on me.

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I’ve noticed some differences between randomized IF and randomized graphical games.

In graphical games, the randomization directly impacts the game. The item you get in that chest will change your strategy. The randomized maze will sometimes line up enemies in a big straight hallway and sometimes give you four exits at once to try and cover.

But in IF, randomization is often purely flavor. You are in a Saturnine city with purple sky with vendors selling hotdogs. You are in a Venusian city with green sky with vendors selling sushi. It’s completely unimportant, predictable after a few views, and thus less enjoyable.

Another difference is that you often see all of the options in graphical randomization. I play a card game online similar to Hearthstone, and you have cards that randomly summon a card within a class. I have these summoners, and I’ve seen every possibility. In Minecraft, you will eventually see every biome and piece of biome. You get to enjoy all that content.

In IF, randomization tends to lock out content. There are parts you never see, exactly like @dfabulich said.

If there was a way to randomize that overcame both of these things, I think it would be great. I think Emily Short’s The Mary Jane of Tomorrow does this very well: https://ifdb.tads.org/viewgame?id=27ztb4iulm9l7sqe, as does Fallen London.

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I get your taste and understand. I can appreciate an IF experience that has board game elements though, such as FTAGHN! Monster Prom, and Fallen London. I thought the four-year carousel cycle of BEE was a neat way to present what was essentially a collection of low-interactivity short story episodes that contributed to an accumulating plot arc in an interesting way. It was probably the best use of Varytale’s strengths.

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Very good point. Rotating atmosphere flavor keeps repeated content from going stale as quickly. The other way randomization can be used is on more of a macro-level. If you think of the game FTL, it includes set encounters and choice points that are randomized as nodes on a map - essentially closer to a board game space where you’d draw a card which is beneficial, detrimental, a battle encounter, or a decision which can result in any of those.

Failbetter calls this technique “fires in the desert” where the player infers the connective tissue between episodes - IE, moving between the fires in the dark at night is less important for the author to detail (the slow movement between episodes) than the events that occur at the campfires. It can make a world feel more open and extensive than it actually is.

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Work backwards from how much you think you might be able to charge for your games on mobile. Also,

People seem to think mobile apps should be free or at most really cheap.

This is a serious problem. Also remember app stores (Google Play & Apple Store) take 30% commission and have a nasty habit of charging and withholding sales tax worldwide.

I agree with Dan about randomness. The problem is only one path will be the best and if randomized, most players will get an inferior experience.

Have a think about where your artwork and audio is coming from and how much that will cost.

Have a close look at Unity’s license terms. IIRC, after 100K turnover, it starts costing a lot. Factor that in too.

Thanks for all the input.

As per my original concept, players would move through a modular storytelling narrative - the narration parse itself would not be randomized. The card style of Storynexus is not required. Also, they would be subject to “day/night” cycles.

In the “night” the events would be rather simple and centered around resource management / acquisition. The resources are like “fuel” and “food” things that they need just to keep going, but also some that unlock special options in storylets.

In the “day” players take on a random storylet pooled from the respective chapter’s base of storylets. The chapters change in atmosphere and threat level.

One good reason to do this as mentioned earlier is the world-feel rather than a linear narrative.

A good question to ask myself whether I want to create something with sound, illustrations, randomness-complications and significantly bigger project scope and risks. Or I am ok with toning it down, focus on the story and run it as Hosted Games.

Im not all that sure that we would reach 100k with our first game. As for later thats too far to think about.
Artwork will be provided by me, le ex-art student. Sound is a good point.

randomness seemed to have worked out for some games while not adding much to others, i guess i need to keep that in mind.