Mobile App Pricing for IF...?

I was curious as to whether anyone had considered this? Guess I’ll make a poll about it. We see apps for platforms like Android and iPhone all the time, many of which are absolute crap. Some of them are free, some of them cost as little as $0.99. We’ve discussed off and on that IF isn’t a mainstream gaming market. However, some developers devote a LOT of time and effort into creating IF for the rest of us to enjoy.

TextFyre games go from between $10 and $20, but their games are either stand-alone intepreters or existing interpreters wrapped in a graphical interface. They should get more for what they’re selling.

So the question… Would you pay $0.99 for an to support the author’s efforts?

(Updated to allow an author standpoint and allow two votes so people could vote from an author standpoint and player standpoint. If you’re going to select two options, please select one of each.)

(Updated again after some consideration.)

It radically depends on the game and the author. (And, uh, the fact that I don’t have a mobile app listed; I’m going to pretend that it’s downloadable to my PC.)

Mostly, I hate to say it, but no. There’s a lot of good free IF out there, and someone would have to be pretty awesome for me to shell out, even a measly dollar. And it would have to be something remarkable if I hadn’t played other works by the same author. I’d probably kick in more than that to, say, kickstart a project that sounded awesome, and a little more if it was going to be open-source. My brain is wired strangely with regard to money.

Me, I would pay the price of an actual indy game title if the game can compete with the quality of commercial titles released at the end of the text adventure era. Meaning good plot, graphics and music. If it’s anything like Gateway or Spellcasting, then it got my money for sure.

IMO, this is the wrong way to do market research for games, especially IF, which is dominated by a few professional-quality hobbyist authors giving their work away for free.

Instead, write some games yourself and charge for them. In the worst case, you’ll make nothing, which puts you no worse off than you’d be if you gave the game away for free. Writing IF is fun and rewarding, so you’ve got nothing to lose.

Sadly, what you’ll find is that it’s nearly impossible to make a living wage writing parser-driven text adventures. We can only speculate why that is, but it’s clearly bad for IF quality.

I’d add that the community is for the most part uninterested in commercial offerings, typically banning them from IF competitions, unlike most indie game competitions which invite commercial and non-commercial works equally. (But, as a second-rate commercial IF developer, maybe I’m a bit biased!)

Point being, would you pay ninety-nine cents for a work of IF? Whether you were downloading it to your PC or not. I’m saying I’ve paid that much for some absolutely crappy, pointless apps. My fault, yes, I know. But I mean, we pay $20 for a novel. $6-9 in paperback. Would you be willing to shell out a buck for IF, even if it’s crap?

In response to the post made while I was writing this response…

This isn’t market research. I’m not looking to make money. I haven’t written a complete piece of IF yet. I don’t care about competitions. Competitions seem like the best way to generate crap IF (I’d like to say that I don’t believe in crap, IF. I think it’s all great. No, I’m not just being biased and sappy.) And in a lot of the competitions, there is some kind of monetary or physical reward, yes? (Copies of games, gift cards, whatever.) People write this competition stuff for the reward, being it monetary or just the publicity. Otherwise no one would write a game in two hours than can be finished in five minutes. With rare exception, that’s a gimmick, not a story.

I’m also not talking about making a living on it, though I didn’t see anyone criticize Zarf for it. I guess it’s just because he’s Zarf? And I disagree that IF is dominated by a few high profile individuals. Their stuff might get the most attention, because they are who they are. Someone is going to play Plotkin or Short before they play I4L, that’s for damn sure.

I’m simply talking about giving a little back for what I get. Not making a market. Not starting a company. Not being a publisher or a reseller. I’m talking about if YOU wanted to write a game and get a little something back for your time, is a dollar too much to pay for it? This is a curiosity post, not a research post.

People will pay a dollar or two just to have the home screens on their phone look like something from Twilight. Even if the IF community is small and mostly self-fueled, I don’t think it’s unreasonable that I’d drop a dollar every few days or so to play some IF. Maybe it would even lend some credibility to it. If I put a TV out on the curb with a sign that says “FREE”, that crap will sit there for two weeks and no one will look twice at it, because they think it’s broken. If I put a sign on it that says, “It’s yours for $20”, it’ll be gone in a day, because someone will think it’s a cheap TV.

Maybe that’s just my neighborhood.

Like I said, this isn’t market research. This is curiousity. I’m hoping it will generate enough conversation to maybe possibly generate some kind of reward for IF authors. If I sell two copies of a game for $0.99, that’s a Mt. Dew that I had to pay for when I was giving away my stuff for free.

On the other hand, if I put a TV on the curb with a sign that says “FREE”, it’s probably because it IS broken. Not a perfect analogy, but hopefully you get the idea. :slight_smile:

Well, it seems that when I updated the poll, phpBB jacked up the responses by moving them to the one I added. I’m sorry about that. I changed it so you could vote more than once, if you care to.

If you’re referring to Speed-IF, I think you’re misunderstanding the appeal – which I think for most people isn’t prizes (there are none) or feedback (usually minimal) but getting something, anything, finished and out in the world. This is hardly an exclusive-to-IF phenomenon; there are gazillions of game jams, nanowrimos, prompt-of-the-day blogs, and other contexts for writing something quickly, to try out a concept or just get past some creative blockage.

To the larger question: the main thing that keeps me from charging for any of my parser-based IF is that it would turn my enjoyable hobby of writing games into a badly-paid, stressful job of doing marketing and customer support for my releases.

In the broader sense, of course, I am paid to write interactive stories, and some of it is text-based and not a million miles from IF, and I enjoy that – but other people handle the marketing end and the emails about why it won’t install on a first-generation iPhone (or whatever).

Well, it seems to me that this is the only way to handle things when the competition is judged by the community of players and anyone can judge. It’d hardly be reasonable to charge the judges for your entry. Also, I’m not sure exactly which contests you mean (partly, I’m sure, because I’m not at all plugged in to any other gaming scene); IGF seems to have an enormous amount of money behind it, and things like the TIGSource contest and Ludum Dare don’t let you charge for your entries, I don’t think.

Though I’m biased myself, as I don’t buy games with very rare exceptions and generally wouldn’t pay for IF; I’d pay about a dollar a game for some of the Infocom classics, and maybe for a new game if I could be really confident that it was worth it for me.* As to the original question, I don’t even have a kindle or smartphone; Dan (dfabulich) releases games that can be played freely on the web and downloaded for about a buck on the Kindle, so he might be able to speak more to the different markets.

*Which would mean Good Old Games would make me happy, except that they don’t support Macs – understandable, it’s not like there’s cross-platform support for Infocom file formats – and anyway have only released a package consisting mostly of Zzzzzork games.

I would have no problem dropping a few dollars in an author’s PayPal donation box if I like their work (I wish this were easier to do), but I think asking people to pay up-front for IF is a tough sell when there’s so much available for free and it’s so hard to tell what you’re going to be getting.

What I might be more likely to pay for would be some sort of “IF of the week club”-like thing where someone with good taste does the work of sifting through all the games out there and delivers one to me every week, and maybe there’s an accompanying forum for discussing that week’s game, interviews with authors, and stuff like that. I have no idea how viable that would be, but it’s something that I would like to exist and would be willing to throw a couple bucks a month toward. (Part of what I like about observing the competitions is the way the community focuses on a few specific games for a little while.)

I recently participated in IntroComp, and the prize had nothing to do with it; it was because I’d wanted to make a game for a long time but usually ran out of steam before finishing it. Since IntroComp only required writing an intro (at least initially), I thought I could at least manage that much. That turned out to be correct, and I was able to use my entry to try out various ideas and see what worked and what didn’t, without having to worry about hanging a whole game on them. But I’m fairly certain that without the pressure of the competition deadline I would never have released anything.

I think that much more interesting than charging for hobby made IF, is charging for hobby made extras, relating to an IF.

Let me use Aotearoa as an example: if Matt created and released a book (or a pamphlet, or…) with the history of the island, maps, illustrations of the landscape, a list of the species found there, etc, I think it would certainly be greeted with good eyes, would certainly sell a few copies, and wouldn’t be regarded as “selling IF, when there are so many good and free IF titles out there”.

I don’t think it’s totally unreasonable to charge for your work, but that’s not exactly what was asked. I, personally, have loads of crappy free entertainment at my fingertips, and quite a lot of good, excellent, or pretty awesome free entertainment at my fingertips. (Some of it is dependent on an internet connection and access to a computer, but some of it isn’t.)

That means that even paying a buck for something means it has to beat out other sources of entertainment. It is difficult for me to get to the point of pulling out my credit card when I’ve got so many other options. There’s a word for this in economics. Opportunity cost? I don’t think that’s quite it. Anyway, it has to do with me, not the author, at least when I’m playing.

On the other hand, your point is true for everything. If we paid to use this forum, the mod/host could do a few more things. He or she does work; isn’t it worth a buck a month? Google gets hundreds of hits from me a month. I find it immensely useful. I would throw a temper tantrum if I was asked to cough up.

What about a donation system? Paying a buck for something that already has beaten out other sources of entertainment in a surprising way is something I do from time to time. It also feels more like chipping in for the author’s beer than buying something, and has fewer attendant expectations. I think I’ve donated about $40 to Dwarf Fortress by now. If I’d paid $40 up front for what’s up now, I would be pretty bitter.

I had the rules of IFComp especially in mind. “No shareware, donorware, commercial products, etc. may be entered.” Textfyre need not apply, even if they’re willing to allow judges to play for free. (And what is “etc.” exactly? Are ad-supported products allowed?)

But it’s not just that; it’s also the rule that the game must be unreleased at the opening of voting, which I assume is there for the same reason that the anti-canvassing rule is in place: to ensure that the grand prize goes to the best game, not to the best marketing. That rule makes perfect sense. But when we release a game, we have to do some marketing for the game, or nobody buys it.

The best form of marketing for indie games is to build pre-release buzz around a product: blog posts about the development process, teaser trailers, preview articles in the press, etc. All of this is forbidden by the IFComp rules.

(Also, we develop games at our own schedule; holding games back to release them in a competition doesn’t make sense for anyone trying to run a business.)

IGF has a pre-selected panel of judges, so they don’t have rules like these. Games released at any time in the competition year are eligible. Commercial games with excellent marketing are perfectly welcome; indeed, all of the winners have been almost exclusively commercial games.

I don’t want to sound like I’m whining about the IFComp rules; I think they make sense for a hobbyist competition. Maybe the IF community needs a separate competition for commercial IF, with a panel of judges. (But what would be the point? Who would enter it? Maybe people would get involved if the prize were big enough. But where would the money come from?)

The XYZZY Awards fulfil many of the needs that the IFComp doesn’t. This is not an accident.

IMO, the best hope for paying people to write IF is to build a 501©(3) literary non-profit around interactive fiction. The non-profit would handle one-off donations but would make most of its money from subscription memberships.

The non-profit would do two activities:

  1. act as a publisher for IF
    a) pay advances and royalties to authors who submit grant proposals (and finished games)
    b) package and distribute IF on all major platforms, charging what the market will bear (especially including pay-what-you-want sales)
    c) marketing and customer support

  2. organize a pay-to-enter competition with a panel of judges and a meaningfully large cash prize (e.g. $1000 and up)

I think the time where you can make serious money from text adventures is long ago. The number of people interested in is just too low, maybe 100,000 people on the net. How many people expect you to pay 99ct for playing a small IF piece? I think 1000 would be much. So you could make $990 from it. How long could you work for $990? Would the IF piece be worth 99ct? Plus, would it be worth $990 to even think about how to chase illegal copies of the game? Why bother?

Then I think about zarf and his effort to make a living from IF. Have it worked out yet? If yes, how do you have managed it?

I find the XYZZY Awards a bit of a conundrum; it’s a wider competition, but most years the winner of IFComp wins XYZZY, too. Maybe a panel of judges would help? (Do the XYZZY Awards even have prizes?)

This whole thread strikes me as a little bit bizarre.

The best way to figure out what the pricing for IF might be is to sell some IF. Luckily you don’t have to go in blind on this. Textfyre, Tin Man Games, Choice of Games, and a few solo IFers all have thrown their hat in the ring and you can learn from their examples. You could learn a thing or two from Echo Bazaar and Varytale as well.

A non-profit foundation could be useful, but IMO it would best coexist along a thriving commercial niche market, otherwise you’re kind of back to where you started.

My point was not to cast stones at competitions or try find a way to make IF profitable again. I’m not trying to make money on IF. Heck, I haven’t even finished one. Probably won’t. I’m not suggesting that everyone should suddenly start paying for IF. I’m not suggesting that we create some kind of platform to sell it or take donations for it.

Most people use Google every day. But Google doens’t have to charge you, they make money in other ways. There are forums that require you to buy a membership. Yes, the basic idea could apply to anything.

Again, this is a hypothetical simply for my own curiosity. If, for example, IF were offered on the Android Marketplace or Apple Store… Would you drop a dollar on it? Yes a lot of people write IF because they love to write IF. Because they enjoy people playing their stuff. A lot of people do it as a hobby. Obviously no one expects to make a living on it. But even if you were to make five bucks on a game you wrote because five people wanted to give you a little something for your time.

That’s all I’m asking. I’m not trying to start a revolution. I’m not trying to make waves. It’s just a question.

I would be happy to pay 99c for a decent IF game.
The game would not have to be huge, I would settle for a few hours quality entertainment for 99c.
I would be much more likely to buy if a free ‘taster’ version was supplied, which is common with other apps. (Assuming the game was good of course.)

I would have quite happily paid 99c for a small minority of the free IF games i’ve played. Perhaps 1 in 20.
The work,craft & love that has been put into some of the free IF out there is, frankly, astonishing.

I would be NOT be happy to pay any amount for a poor IF game. The objection would be on principle, not the amount spent.

(1st post btw, been playing IF, on & off, for many years.)