IF economics

I have thoughts, but there are so many special cases…

PataNoir was not just competing with free games on IFDB, it’s competing with itself on IFDB. But this may not matter because so few people (in the grand scheme of Steam) know about IFDB in the first place.

I need to chew through my sales figures for Hadean Lands and come up with some totals. I suspect they’re about as good as a parser game can do, although you’d want to look at numbers for Thaumistry too.


I mention all this because I’m sure I’d have no time to implement anything like this in the next year or two, but I would love it if someone were to steal my ideas and run with it!

I think that Clopas LLC is on the track of what you said.

I really, really like The lost legends of Redwall…

It is not perfect, but I think it a good way to try. (probably it was not a success, but can’t speak for the effort in marketing for this one… anyway, the production must been enough so the project is not recoverable… I think. I don’t know, just look at the credits list).

Anyway, we are not counting the marketing effort? I don’t think any of those games did a proper effort in that field (less for the CoG case).

Why we don’t count Her Story? People nowadays use parser constantly, and with very low friction. And the success of Sam Barlow in that regard says the contrary of what you said (all of you, people).

I dream of a lush mobile app for Chandler’s Mirror and Queen.

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PataNoir is a good case for study here. The steam versions looks beautiful and appeticing. It could be quite rude for my part to ask for the marketing efforts, here, Chris, so don’t mind me. But I think definitively that your game could do a beautiful experimental field to test, to see if we/you can make a difference for a lush parser game.


Part of the issue with PataNoir marketing is that the mobile apps were published two years earlier, so most sites considered the Steam version to be a port, not a new game. Hardly anyone wrote new reviews, even though I added a bunch of new stuff.

Also, PataNoir actually sold 50 copies the first two days on Steam, which I think is pretty good. Unfortunately, someone then posted a very well written negative review saying that the game “feels like something schoolkids in the 90’s would play in the computer lab to help them understand similes but would turn them off to both PC games and word play.”

Sales stopped aprubtly, like turning off the tap. By the time positive reviews started trickling in, my momentum was long gone. I still wonder what it would have sold in an alternate reality where the first review was positive.

For the record, PataNoir has sold 386 units on Steam, for a total revenue of $1,698. That just about pays for the music video, with mobile revenue covering the art. I am content that my hobby is self-sustaining.


Redwall isn’t what I meant. Redwall has a parser. I meant a game with little/no graphics and a point-and-click interface, like Detectiveland or Seltani.

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That’s Steam. I’ve seen first reviews like that on a lot of games, including Meanwhile. I’m sure it’s griefers.


Contrary to my expectation, i found far greater revenue from games sold for desktops than for mobile.

The reason appears to be, what i call the Paradox of Apps;

  • If a mobile app isn’t cheap, it won’t sell.
  • cheap apps don’t make money.

This isn’t actually 100% true. For example, if you have a good brand behind you.

The other reason is that $10 for a desktop app seems cheap, but $5 for a mobile app seems expensive! So if your mobile app is $3 and your desktop app is $15, then you’ve got a 5x sell ratio - ie you have to sell 5x mobile copies to compare.

On top of that, you have the 30% app store take, which hurts, and furthermore they (the platforms) are all adding and retaining sales tax worldwide, which do not apply to desktop sales, eg sold through Itch or directly.

FYI, I’m being charged 5% + 5c by PayPal on desktop sales, far undercutting the 30% app store take.

I also find maintaining mobile versions a lot more work. App stores have a nasty habit of forcing you onto the newer APIs (for no good reason actually). And of course, they’ve broken/discontinued/changed all sorts of bits you were using.

Desktop don’t (yet) work like that.


I’ve never understood this about mobile games. Some mobile games are really professional (like the ones that Square-Enix puts out) and can rival games put out on other handhelds like Playstation Vita, but people laugh at the $20 price tag. Yet you can do a direct port of that game to PC and people will easily buy the game at the same price.

I’ve also seen people in reviews get honestly upset that a game costs $3. “Three bucks? Are you kidding me?! This is more like a $2 game!” A whole dollar difference… Seriously…

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This got wired in when Apple launched the iPhone App Store. (There were mobile apps before that but they weren’t comparable to desktop apps, so nobody cared.)

I don’t know whether Apple dropped hints to developers that iPhone apps should be cheaper, or just normalized the idea by pushing free apps prominently and letting the ripple effect work. But it was firmly established within the first year and now cannot be shifted.

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The app stores deliberately support the idea that apps should be (almost) free to sell hardware, at the exploitation of developers.

This quote from Apple about Airbnb shows the way they think;

“[Airbnb] had never paid Apple any money despite the fact that it built its multibillion-dollar business with the help of its iPhone app”

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I have Leadlight Gamma on itch.io (not Steam – too logistically difficult for me). It’s a parser game with graphical embellishments and audio in this version. I’ve made a few hundred dollars in total. It potentially can also fight with itself, since you can play the original Apple II version for free. However, this is different than the Patanoir situation because to play the Apple II version of Leadlight requires a bit of emulator elbow grease. I made it super easy to run on PCs, but the easiest Mac solution no longer works on new Macs.

I’ve never used my creative work to sustain me financially (though I’ve certainly made some pushes, with my electronic music especially) rather I work part time and use that to sustain me creatively so that I can make whatever I want. In that light, I’m super pleased to have made any money from a pretty wild project that I liked enough to make twice.

Itch has exploded in size since I put LLG on there. This has reduced random discovery of LLG to near zero. I can barely find it myself except by a direct search; using any tag, it’s down about 60 pages of scrolling past things that have sold more for that tag. In this context, I now mostly sell copies when I have a sale and plug the sale. The rest of the time, even the ideal audience member who might be looking for such a thing on itch but does not know about the game in advance has a near-nil chance of being able to find it. This could change if itch’s search function ever improves, but I assume its tech basically extends from the time when itch wasn’t swamped.

So something I can say about this story is – I made exactly the thing I wanted to make and put it on sale. Money continues to trickle in and remains a pleasant surprise, and I’ve got another venue of exposure for the game. The caveat is probably that the game itself already had recognition in IF circles, which got the ball rolling. So in that sense, the quality of the game was already proven to the initial people who’d be interested in it. And I believe the tech quality of the LLG version is very high.

Based on my experience, I would encourage more parser folk to give the commercial route a go for a parser game. But I reckon you probably need to have some kind of capital first, acknowledging the parser audience is small and your starting point. Akin to brand recognition or reputation. I mean like if you’ve been in IFComp and people have seen what your game or games are like and you’ve got some positive responses, then they’re probably up for buying a new, bigger project from you. Or even a small one (if the price is lower?). I definitely would. But still promote to games press in general (a decent press release is all you need). A few outlets will pick up on it and that keeps that admittedly small parser ball in the air.



So, and what about riding the long tail?

Trying sales and mayor events in Steam.

One thing inherent to text-heavy games that I didn’t fully acknowledge until recently is how hard it is to make interesting trailers and screenshots for them.

I know this sounds silly. Or at least it would have sounded silly to me a year ago. “Such a superficial idea!”

Well, if we talk about IF economics, this is a huge detractor. All the literature and all the GDS videos I’ve seen agree that the first impression, the trailer, the first few screenshots, are absolutely critical to a game’s success. They’re a multiplier in the success equation, not an additive.

By their nature, text games don’t have much to offer in terms of eye candy. It’s easier for me to make a captivating, colorful visual by programming a simple 2D physics game in a week in Unity (and I suck at Unity), than to do so with a text game I’ve been working on for years.

In the old days, this was less of an issue. First, there was no huge marketplace of games with eye candy visuals back then. Second, games were sold in packages that provided the eye candy via box art.

I like what Choice of Games does in promoting their games. They basically re-introduced the idea of box art. Choice of Robots, for example, has a beautiful, colorful picture. They use it as their first screenshot, and they use it for the icon. There’s also the trailer, which is captivating, sells the premise, and does not show a single screenshot or screencast of the actual game.

Of course, even this still isn’t enough to compete with the eye candy of an average videogame. But it’s an order of magnitude better than the default approach I see among text games, which is to take a screenshot of a (mostly monochromatic) wall of text. If that’s the first screenshot you’re showing to people, you’re immediately making your game unattractive to the casual browser. (Including the text game enthusiast, like me. I’d like to say that looks don’t matter to me, but rationally I know that I’d be lying. My eyes are drawn to interesting shapes and colors as much as anyone else’s.)

I think there are ways out of this:

  • If you have the resources, do what Inkle did with Sorcery! and other games. Put a map there, or a minigame. A part of the game that’s visual — something more “videogame-y”.
  • Take inspiration from apps. Many apps are also text-heavy, but they use tactics that make their store pages much more captivating.
  • At the very least, do what Choice of Games do. Add a single, colorful, evocative illustration and make it the center of your promotion.

As an aside: I know IFCOMP games have been getting better at presenting themselves via their square image, and I’m grateful for that. But it’s not the same as a store page, which needs to include screenshots, and should also include a video, and a banner, and whatnot.


Nothing silly about this! I forget when I was asked to review the trailer for Depression Quest for the XYZZY awards, but it was years ago. And the problem hasn’t been solved at all. Because nobody’s ever even solved it for IF’s ‘mother’ medium: books.

When I think about trailers I’ve seen for books, they’re usually terribly dorky or hopeless compared to film trailers, which can achieve major excitement. Book trailers have usually had the effect of making me aware that, okay, Stephen King has written a new novel. Here is it’s name. That’s about the limit of it.

Yes, it’s because trailers are a visual medium. Novels and IF have little or no visual content to start with, and if you extrapolate visual content at length from them (e.g. specifying definitively what the hero or heroine looks like) you can detract from the power of the text to conjure up the ideal version of that figure for each reader. My own feeling is that covers and still pictures are sufficiently finite and mediated to not ‘muck up’ the book’s effect. But moving pictures pretty quickly are. Even so, you’ll note the way figures in photos on covers of books in certain genres are usually obscured, to prevent anyone from having to sacrifice their own idea of what the character actually looks like. So this issue of keeping things abstract and open in text-based games fights the definitiveness that trailers sell.

I’ve seen only one text game trailer that I think is really good, which is for Eczema Angel Orifice. Excellent editing and dynamics in league with the music. And consider how short it is, too:

So this shows that something powerful can be done that’s not like one of those blah! book trailers, but of course the authors of this package had enough visuals to draw on, and short little blobs of text from different projects they could flash up rather than long bits of prose from a parser game. They were lucky that the nature of their material gave them the ability to do something like this.

I made a trailer for one of my Leadlight Gamma sales (hence very few views) – you can see it’s mostly all images. At that point I was in a position where I was trying to show a new angle on a game that had been around awhile:



Visual novels also struggle with trailers. They’re a bit more successful because at least they have art, but the art is either static character portraits or static CG images. Either way it makes for a really awkward trailer.

Here’s a couple examples from two of the most popular VNs.

Some VNs do have a more fluidly animated intro sequence as well, although usually they seem to reserve this to play within the game somewhere after the introduction to all the characters (and not right at the start). Often it won’t end up posted to the store page at all. Spoilers, I guess? Or just a better impact if you see it for the first time while playing, perhaps.

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That trailer for Choice of the robots is just perfect for Interactive Fiction. Is simple, catchy, full of text, and display all the strong features of the game in an optimal way.

I don’t know, do you consider book trailers to be subpar? I would say that they are booming. Also, they very cheap to produce, there are even several tools to produce trailers and videos in that way.

Only the very first chapter (and demo) of Stories Untold has parser. The other chapters uses just other kind of very different “obsolete interfaces”, and that’s while point of the game. I liked it very much (The whole game, the text adventure part was awful. Spectrum adventures were not as deaf as this part).

The demo was enough to make Stories Untold a success, and it was fully parsered.

Other sucessful games that has parser are: Her Story, Telling Lies. And don’t forger the everyday tools that uses a parser: search engines, voice engines for search, Alexa and other competitiors, etc.

We are just still not ready to integrate properly all that technology to “do it properly”

But text, text interfaces, and parser are widely used everywhere, every time.

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finds this post on a vanity search

Hit me up if you do.


Interesting thread. I’ve been releasing games on Itch for the past two years, and here are the stats for my own games / remasters.

All these games are parser games (except Hamurabi) and all (except TWO) have graphics. Two was a game I wrote in about a week to be a pure puzzler. Having not literary skills or artistic skills, I just decided to churn out something fast paced, but also ultra-basic looking, just to see if there was an interest.

The path is another game that has very little text - but the path is bolstered by pixel art. When corrected for release date, they are both doing equally well. The common theme is that they feel bite-sized.