Potential Kickstarter for Textfyre

This may or may not be the right forum for this discussion, but I thought I’d give it a shot.

My team is writing a grant proposal for the Gates Foundation which may yield $25,000 or $100,000 towards building out our MVP, which has been properly identified as incomplete. We also have a great need for content to be measured by our learning science partners to provide clear evidence of our systems’ capabilities. So we don’t need just one sample story, we need several or many.

There is an unusual opportunity to hire a noted IF Author to do some work for Textfyre. I’m wondering if it would be viable to put up a Kickstarter to address that portion of our needs. To hire a writer to work full-time on creating educational IF stories for some length of time.

I would probably put the amount out at 3 months, which is about $10,000. 6 months would be $20,000 and so on.

Every penny of the Kickstarter would go to the writer, not Textfyre.

Is this a reasonable thing to attempt?

David C.

Yes, of course. What arguments do you see against it?

edit: or are you asking, do we think the amount you’re asking for is doable? If you’re worried about that, consider a different fundraising platform, Indiegogo perhaps.

Not with that level of vagueness, or a level of vagueness anywhere close to it.

I’d have a lot of questions about this sort of project: even with an experienced author working full-time, educational IF is a pretty unexplored field, and stuff designed for curricula has some rather definite requirements that would pose substantial new challenges. There would be a lot to figure out in that time. The idea of someone being hired for three months, then being expected to develop a new idiom and put out multiple awesome games in it over that time… that seems overly ambitious.

At a minimum, you’d want to outline specific game concepts and explain in detail which curriculum requirements they’d address, and how. (And you’d need to tell us who the author was, obviously.)

(Also, I really don’t think that talking about Gates Foundation money is very helpful in this context. I have no idea how likely that prospect is, but people will believe it when they see you cash the cheque. The thing about Kickstarters is, a great many funded projects end up falling through or falling short; part of the deal is that you accept a pig in a poke. If you’re promising, not a pig, but a pig that transforms into a fifteen-story Godzilla pig that shits gold, people may feel some justified scepticism).

I can see that defining the stories we plan to develop is important.

The stories won’t be anything remotely close to what the IF community would develop. They will be very small…speed-if small. Playable in 30 to 45 minutes. The education design metrics are something I have other people working on, including an assessment expert and a psychomatrician. The writer will be working with these people to develop puzzles and goals within each story to make it worthwhile to our intended audience.

We have had direct talks with the GF literacy program director and he has stated strong support for our business plans. Sure, there are other applicants to the Literacy RFP we’re chasing, but we believe we have as good a chance as any of the other participants based on GF feedback. But I get your point. Probably not a good idea to cross wires or confuse people.

Yes, with their permission, I would detail who the author is going to be.

David C.

In my opinion, a Textfyre Kickstarter is unlikely to succeed, based on the previous failed attempt. kickstarter.com/projects/tex … ve-stories

True, your proposed goal is different from last time. But the new goal will be ten times harder to achieve (and not just because you’re trying to raise twice as much). Listen to Chris Crawford, who recently attempted a large failed edutainment Kickstarter.

kickstarter.com/projects/544 … the-planet
gamasutra.com/view/news/1764 … _wrong.php

Having said that it’s unlikely, that doesn’t mean that it’s not worth trying anyway. The question of whether it’s reasonable mostly has to do with what alternatives you have available to you, and what you have to lose.

If you plan to just write a few hundred words and put up a Kickstarter, just to see if it goes viral with the bare minimum of effort, well, I guess the only thing you have to lose is your pride.

But if instead you plan to put together a video clip and spend a month promoting your Kickstarter full time, the way they say you’re supposed to do, then the question becomes: what could you have done with that month instead?

In my opinion, the answer to that question is obvious: you could have written the games yourself. That is what you should do instead. Write the games yourself. When you have a finished draft, post here asking for help beta testing. We’ll help; we love that sort of thing. Respond to our feedback, polish it, make it shine. Then you’ll have an MVP.

Write a game yourself. Do it this weekend. Don’t gather any more funding; don’t take any meetings; don’t write any more code that isn’t a game. Write a game. Write it right away.

I would take Crawford’s words with a grain of salt – my opinion is that his Kickstarter failed simply because the game (or educational simulation or whatever it was) sounded so boring.

His attempt was quite valuable to others who plan educational game projects though as it gave some indication what to expect: Crawford is relatively well known and he got decent publicity for the project, but still managed to raise only $13,500. An educational game is a tough sell to the Kickstarter crowd who I assume is largely not in the target group for that market, and I really don’t see anyone pledging money for educational games just because of the good cause.

Although I am sure that that is a worthy goal, it sounds like a difficult sell to me. Maybe you could promise that the writer’s first game will be more substantial, maybe a highly polished, traditional story/puzzle game, like the games that the IF community used to make in the early 00s. Give that game to the Kickstarter sponsors as the primary donor incentive. Then, your writer can make the educational games for an entirely different audience.

I have noticed that Kickstarter has changed from its original feel. It does seem less altruistic and more pre-order ish.

If I do this, it will be properly and well, with a serious video and all the right notes and effort.

I know people keep telling me to write the content myself, but I know my business plans well enough. There are better reasons to bring in a writer than for me to fumble through that process. I can probably write one or two stories, but I need someone to own this full time for a few months. That’s not something I can do myself, since I have a family and need to continue working full time and sometimes overtime for my clients.

I’m trying to juggle a bunch of things. It may seem impossible, but if I find a writer and get them on board and paid, your suggestion is pointless. If I don’t, I’ll make do with my own content, including using Shadow and Secret Letter. I’d rather offload the work so I can keep the whole thing moving forward.

Everyone has they’re own path. Mine is to try to build a team, not to try to do everything myself.

To be fair, Chris’ Kickstarter was accompanied by a prototype that was, to put it mildly, rather challenging to enjoy. I think I get where he meant to go with it, but it’s a big ask to lead with something in that kind of prototype condition and ask people to envision what the final product might be.

That said, I agree with the assessment that $10-20K and three months is not a plausible time-frame or budget in which to develop several high-quality educational IF works, especially without having previously worked out a team workflow, QA methods, or design strategies for edu-IF. And the fact that other people are going to be providing the acceptance criteria for the educational aspects does not make it faster. Just the reverse.

Edited to add: In my first pass through the thread I missed the “speed-IF small” part. But, er, “speed-IF small” is more like 5 minutes. 30-45 minutes is “comp game small” – which is to say, probably of sufficient complexity to require a lot of the parser polish and checking that make IF development take a long time. And for games meant for an educational context, I would expect to spend a fair amount of play-time just training students in how to use the software to start with, so a super-short game might not have time to teach a lot of content other than “here’s how to interact with IF.”

The goal is to develop the MVP to garner real-world metrics, not create a final salable service.

My take on educational IF is that it will be much more linear than what would be acceptable in the IF community. The puzzles would be relatively simple and the reading level would be in the 4th through 8th grade range. I feel confident that given well known content (like Mayans or the Great Pyramids or Columbus’s first trip west), we can do a number of stories in a short period of time.

We’re not expecting the solution to be perfect. It only needs to convey the approach and show teachers and potential investors that our theories are provable.

When we get the larger funding amounts, we would approach story development in less-frantic manner.

I do plan to have learn.textfyre.com updated and in decent shape before I would open the Kickstarter.

David C.

May I be blunt?

I don’t believe something like this will work. You’re trying to raise 10-20k for – what!? What do the Kickstarter contributors get out of it? A 30 minute linear educational game aimed at 4th graders with simple puzzles? That’s gonna be a tough sell. Your target audience is not gonna pay for this, so who exactly are you asking? Parents? Teachers?

Basically you’re asking people to contribute to what you consider to be a worthy cause, aka charity.

For all the years you’ve spent in meetings and on business plans, you shouldn’t need to do this. It does not instill confidence. Cut the useless overhead and get to work on something, save 20k and invest your own money (I know you already did). You need to have something in hand.

I’m sayng this as someone who bought both Textfyre games and would buy a sequel to Shadow in a heartbeat. I’m sad it didn’t work out for you, but by now you should realize that you either have to make it work or do something else. I know I sound like a jerk, but I honestly think there’s no chance in hell this is going to be a success on Kickstarter.

You need a different level of community goodwill and fame to pull something like this off.


Full time for a few months for an MVP? But then you say:

If you can do a number of stories in a short period of time, then you can write just one story in a really short period.

So, how long would it take to write one story? How long would it take emshort? How long would it take you?

If you’re going to do it “properly” then you should have a playable demo. You say you can develop a number of stories in a short period of time; so prove it. Develop one entire Speed IF. Before the Kickstarter.

If that’s impossible, then it’s equally impossible for another writer to do it for you for $20K.

I appreciate your feedback.

I’m not asking for advice on the approach. I was asking if people thought my stated approach would yield any fruit on Kickstarter.

I’m not sure if people believe me, but I’m well aware of the effort and uphill battles I face with my latest plans. Its my choice to pursue them. I’ve found a few pretty smart people to join my efforts. I’m pretty sure I’ll find a few more. I’m positive we will be able to get it tested and evaluated.

Once that happens, we will know enough to either stop or proceed.

Startups aren’t easy and visions are usually opaque…until you succeed. Then everyone knew you had a great idea.

I have to agree with those saying you should work on your own MVP game. The good thing about the Gates Foundation is that it’s not going to disappear any time soon.

No one person effort ever gets funded. Everyone I see at the 1871 incubator has anywhere from a half dozen to two dozen people pitching in, some paid, most unpaid. I think it’s reasonable to suggest I pitch in as many ways as possible, but its also reasonable for me to build a team.

I would like to close the part of this discussion about my responsibilities in my startup.

I do appreciate the comments about content, Kickstarter politics, and similar suggestions.

I’m leaning away from doing the Kickstarter now. I tend to agree that the one major flaw in my suggested project is that I have nothing to offer the Kickstarter audience in return.

I’d highly advise you against a Kickstarter right now, and also to listen to your critics about the “write your own damn game” thing, even though you seem to want to shut yourself completely out of it.

Unrelated, but does anyone else think there should be an education themed Speed-IF like, yesterday?

I’m pretty sure a Kickstarter would fail, but not for the reasons discussed here. I think there is absolutely a teacher-oriented social network in the U.S., but it hasn’t reached its potential yet. It also hasn’t harnessed the idea of a centralized Kickstarter model for identifying, promoting, and funding teacher-friendly start-ups. It occurs to me that something like an edstarter would be helpful to my cause as well as many others trying to fund educational start-ups. There’s a lot of discretionary funding through communities that drives the purchase of teacher-friendly products and services. It may be that leveraging that as a social network could help companies like Textfyre. EdStarter.Com anyone?

I know there’s this strange belief that I’m stupid for not simply writing my own games, but I’m much more focused on the assessment mechanics and drawing more educational people into the business. If I start writing games, the assessment side won’t be addressed and I’ll simply be trading one problem for another. The issue, as I see it, is that writing IF is the KNOWN problem and the assessment side is the UNKNOWN problem.

The other part of this that was missed, I think entirely, is that I would have employed an IF author for several months. I would have paid an IF author real money. If that’s not a laudable goal in this community, what is? I get the impression that some of you are offended by the idea that I would hire someone as opposed to “doing it yourself”. That’s patently ridiculous and filled with “crabs in the bucket” mentality. I would not be the first or last start-up to search for critical talent for its endeavors. I think there’s also an assumption that I’m just sitting around waiting for other people to build my business. I don’t have a log of the hours, but this has been a part-time to full-time job for years. I take it extremely seriously and despite the road blocks and change in intentions, I still believe in building it out until it’s either clearly unworkable or it succeeds.

And lastly…if I were to actually succeed and started hiring several if not dozens of people to build interactive stories for schools, is this a terrible goal? Would this somehow hurt the IF community? Is this not a worthy goal? I’m in favor of constructive criticism, but sometimes it doesn’t seem so constructive.

David C.

I think you’re wrong there. The way you proposed it, it’s a deal that would benefit Textfyre without giving the Kickstarter people anything for their money (as you have admitted yourself in a previous post). You were asking for others to pay your business expenses. That does not strike me as a sensible busines plan outside of NGOs and other charitable causes.

While I highly doubt that, it could be that you’re right. But you’d have to ask yourself again: why, in this economy, should somebody give you something for nothing? I believe that grants (like the Gates Foundation) and investors are your best bet. Your cause may be worthy, but you want to run a business here. Back in the day, you did not want to give your games away for free (which I understand, though I still believe you hurt yourself a lot with your pricing model), so I suggest you start to accept that you’re not likely to get people’s money for nothing. Not on Kickstarter and not on EdStarter.com.

Well, yes, but you need a series of games and they’re not going to write themselves. That’s the whole issue here. Nobody suggests you’re stupid, but from the outside it seems that maybe you love the notion of running an IF company a little bit more than developing IF. I do not doubt that business meetings, conferences, grants and assessment mechanics take time, but in the end, they’re completely worthless without a game. What people suggest (and what you refuse to realize) is that maybe your priorities are wrong: the game should be your number one priority.

First, your track record of paying “an IF author real money” is not that great, from what I hear. Second, you wouldn’t have paid someone to write IF. You proposed that others pay – you’d be kind enough to collect the money.

But leaving that aside: of course, that’s a laudable goal. But you were asking if we thought a Kickstarter might succeed and it seems that most people don’t think so. In order for you to succeed, the suggestion of “doing it yourself” (since you obviously cannot pay for it out of your own pocket at the moment) is understandable. You were not asking if we liked the notion of you paying someone for developing IF. I bet the answer would have been a resounding “yes”.

Don’t confuse honest opinion with a personal attack.

Now, this is just you acting offended. Don’t ask if you don’t like the answers. The only ridiculous thing here is your accusation.

That’s not the way it looks from here. Look, nobody (that I know of) has a beef with you; there’s been a lot of goodwill in the community towards Textfyre (and some disappointment that “Shadow” didn’t take off as well). It just seems to me that you don’t like the criticsm. But constructive doesn’t mean it’s not allowed to sting.


[EDIT: typos]