The last estimates I saw are that the max audience you can expect from a primarily text based game without animations or heavy graphical components is in the tens of thousands range, maybe a hundred thousand max. Games that reach this range are the wildly popular ones.
For unpopular games, it can be exciting to get even 10 views a day on a platform like itch, and maybe 1000 views lifetime total.
So probably somewhere between that.
Interactive fiction with heavy graphical elements can be just about as popular as other video games (like telltale games, visual novels, and apps like choices, love island or episode).
There are digital adaptations of gamebooks (Sorcery, Fighting Fantasy) by inkle and Tin Man Games, which are available on Steam as well as on mobile app stores. I think they’ve been quite successful (for example, >100 k downloads on the Android Play Store alone). They have a polished appearance and high production values, and of course they had the advantage of being based on popular works with an existing fanbase.
If you publish with Choice of Games, they tend to have the biggest “built in” audience for their titles.
I don’t know if this is helpful information, but I have games on itch.io which is a pretty huge audience of not-just IF players searching and browsing for games. On itch it’s very important to tag your games appropriately for search engines, especially if you cater to a niche interest. My NSFW projects of course tend to do well. Most of my games except Transparent are browser-playable so “view” could be a play and not everyone downloads.
In general, pure text-only IF games can be a hard sell. Usually a graphical element or a solid gameplay grind or RPG element can make it a bit more attractive to people who will pay or donate.
Also: my games are available for free and many of them have an option to “donate to support this game” - I’ve probably made about $24 in voluntary donations in my itch history.
Here are the weekly stats for Cannery Vale for the last year - which is likely my highest profile “mainstream” game (it won an XYZZY award and has optional mature content that can be avoided by the player.)
Fair is a small no-genre (slice of life?) parser game with inside baseball jokes about authoring and IF that people who don’t want to type won’t play. It’s likely anyone interested in this type of thing is downloading from IFDB/IFArchive and not seeing it on itch nor playing it in browser.
Cursed Pickle is actually doing decently, but it’s weirdly meta and niche. If you don’t remember that type of game the humor might not appeal. It also doesn’t benefit from NSFW tagging that the mature titles do in search.
Cannery Vale does have adult tags, but isn’t flat-out erotica, and is more firmly horror (much more popular genre) so likely pings more players’ radars.
I’d suggest you really can’t compare the mature titles with the mainstream ones for the purposes of figuring out how many eyes you can get on your IF.
Though my games are not very well known, I think it is interesting that my only Inform game present on both itch.io and textadventures.co.uk has significantly more downloads and plays on textadventures.co.uk even though it was uploaded to both without any announcements. More specifically:
Can concur as far as the metrics are concerned: On average my projects are getting ~1-5 views per week, just from random search results (speaking of IF only). Which puzzled me for so long, as those visits mostly never yielded any interaction as little as starting up a thread about it to ask questions, etc. (also, these were mostly free games). Have less than 30 downloads across my entire arsenal, counting not just IF, although most, if not all are just prototypes. Only once was asked to continue working on an IF game, but couldn’t because had no capital, so there’s that. Back in the day the hope was that if people are this much interested in IF, than surely anyone could carve out some form of support (e.g., EA, Patreon, etc.) if what they’re creating is compelling enough (there are a lot of artists out there who can make this work, but turned out that’s just survivorship bias). Thus the pre-purchase/EA/donation has never worked for me.
Also, have done some experiments, both in style (of writing) and going text only (to speed up production), and that yielded the weakest results by far (although, some, outside of Itch seemed to enjoy them, if a “like” is any indication of success, which is safe to assume that it isn’t). The lack of acknowledgement is also due to the fact of simply having a different tone than mainstream writers (which can be difficult, dare to say daunting to get into).
I am envious of @HanonO’s stats. Of my 15 games published on itch.io, the highest number of views is just 1,216 and the highest number of downloads is just 263. Admittedly, I don’t do any self-promotion and I haven’t been around as long as Hanon, but I would love to get 50,000 views. 100,000 views would be better. Or 100,000 downloads. Yeah, dream on…
highest number of views is just 1,216 and the highest number of downloads is just 263
There’s nothing to be ashamed of, 1K views and over 200 downloads (lifetime) is impressive on its own. Especially knowing that you didn’t do any promotion. As a comparison, have as look at my personal “best”:
What jumps out to me is that people have recognized the game up to a certain degree, and were compelled enough to put it on their watch list (in their collections).
I can bid lower than that. My own mediocrity on itch has gathered the interest of 291 views and 88 browser plays in four and a half years. It seems to be doing a bit better on textadventures, but not by orders of magnitude.
How to rationalize? I will freely admit I am not bothered. On the contrary, I daresay I’d be offended if my work appealed to the sensibilities of the great unwashed!
Have no concrete dating on this, as the project is quite old and have been updated numerous times back in the days (it being one of the first larger projects of mine, where everything, from text, sound, music, code, pixel art, font, etc. was done in-house), however, that total of 9 downloads are somewhere around the lifetime of 4-5 years as well. Just checked, because for some reason Itch doesn’t display “browser plays” on the main analytics page, and it was booted up 353 times (assuming it also counted my attempts of testing it out, which could account to at least 50-100 times).
Numbers aside, it was appalling and spoke volumes of the game: Assuming here as there were no feedback whatsoever (apart from one person asking when it’s going to be completed) to know if the game had a chance to exist and/or encourage further development. And in a way, if remembered correctly, it was advertised on other sites than Itch (although not nearly as thorough as I’d do today), so somewhere someone should’ve said something, Right? More so for the fact that it had 10-15 minutes of content to go through (not counting the cave structure like design). Hence it was thought that somehow it could be turned into a somewhat prospective (business) venture. That being said, was broke and the scale of the project wasn’t viable, so it had to be dropped; just as the many projects that came after.
This, as (currently) working on another IF-like game, is actually scaring me to no end (causing great anxiety, as haven’t been able to make a dime over the many years): Because after years and years of failing, some of which left a huge void and in a pile of toxicity and hardship (like not being able to release another game at 95%, after 1 year development, that wasn’t IF by the way, one of the most soul crushing experience that was) . This might go bit beyond the initial question (of this thread), but after being able to write blog posts that had 10K views (after 2-3 weeks), or created art/animation where people actually got really excited (and commented about it), there’s nothing that could reassure me that this latest venture would turn out different; especially knowing that it’s aiming to be a premium, as in paid product, for not “cheap” as well (speaking of bargain prices); purposely excluding other dev’s positive opinions about the project, because those don’t matter in this context. And this, my entire “career”, combined with the IRL pressure is just telling me that when the eventual launch of the EA will come (if it comes), it’ll be a massive disaster. Not just because of the price (which is not something that’s been taken lightly), but because of not having the reach, but more so not being able to create something that other’s would enjoy (and pay for); plus it won’t be available on any major market places such as Steam.
It’s just so bizarre that you see all those examples on the web (IF or not), of how others managed to do this for more than just a hobby, and consequently managed to build a decent following, Realty is, AFAIK more so in the vein of having extremely high expectation (to be able to be discovered), and being able to release a complete product (otherwise people will not bother looking at it). The latter is key, but if you’re on a zero budget, spending years on a game is a bit of a stretch (especially not knowing if it’ll be profitable or not).
I’d suggest to be a bit more forgiving to yourself. Many things I’m paid to do end in objective failures and for what I do for my own enjoyment less rigorous standards apply. I’m not going to enslave myself, after all.
My advice would be to take all the time you need to finish your games, and if you have to put something down for months, don’t worry about it. If a particular project never sees the light of day, so be it. The momentary disappointment goes away and you’ll be all the more satisfied when you publish something you’ve finished. On the balance, I’d also advise against posting unfinished personal projects to public scrutiny.
It’s much healthier not to expect anything of your readers, with the possible exception of public rejection and ridicule: no play, no reaction, no encouragement, no praise. Remember, you are enjoying this because you like the process of doing it, neither results nor popularity are necessary. This way, when and if someone does find space to comment positively on something you did, you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
Conversely, working on something alone for years means you run the risk of going in an entirely “wrong” (emphasis on the quotation marks here) direction and still get no praise and no play, which lead, more often than not, to lot of resentfulness.
This is exactly why your work has to be shared, in my opinion as well, to get some feedback (or at least try to) as early as possible (usually devs support this idea, because the cost of changing course exponentially increases with development time); if you’re not doing this for a hobby. Without it, probably have never discovered some of the flaws that were present in my writing, speaking of traditional writing that translates to IF (as were somewhat active on several writer’s sites, and have gotten some reviews there). The difficulty comes from being able to gauge the origins of said “silence”: Is it negligence or burrowed interest (as in see if this gets anywhere, and will come back to it if the project pops up in their feed). In a way, views are a great way to measure this, as if you’re truly creating something abysmal, than people will not even take the time to visit your page (for example). Engagement, from ordinary folk, usually comes after certain aspects of their values have been met, like having a finished product, or at least a demo that’s worth their time. All which takes a lot of time and money to produce.
I didn’t mean to suggest anyone should work on anything without feedback from others. There is a difference between talking vague ideas through with individuals or asking other individuals (for example on this message board) to take a look at an early draft on the one hand, and publishing your first two and a half chapters (subject to change) on itch on the other.
“I don’t know who to hook up in the end yet, and whether Mortimer should abduct Charlotte or who exactly will come to the rescue of the Vicomte from the British prison ship moored off Barbados, which I guess I shouldn’t tell you since I didn’t have time to write it yet. What do ya’all think?” is what very young people who will come to regret it later in life do on fanfiction.