Review of Elite Status: Platinum Concierge by Emily Short (with additions by Hannah P.-S.)

(copied from a review I posted on IFDB)

Some background: I wrote a game for Choice of Games a few years ago, but it did really poorly. I ended up playing and reviewing all the 100+ available COG titles at the time to figure out where I went wrong and ended up seeing a lot of different patterns in their titles and in what sells well.

At the same time, I kept seeing hints of a game by Emily Short coming out, who is one of the most respected IF authors with some of the most well-known games in her repertoire (Counterfeit Monkey, Galatea, etc.) But it was always delayed, and disappeared for years.

So I was excited to hear that it had been finished (with a little boost from Hannah Powell-Smith, another very popular author), I was excited to hear about it.

So for the game itself. My first go-to with a choicescript game is to look at its stats page. The best-selling games tend to have clearly defined and cleary differentiated stats, while the less popular ones often have confusing or overlapping stats. Here the stats are a bit overlapping: discretion vs self promotion, practicality vs daring, loyalty vs idealism, populism vs elitism. If you speak out to a billionaire and say you hate the wealthy (not an actual in game example), is that populism, idealism, or daring?

So in games where the stats are confusing, it can be hard to min/max, so I tend to just imagine a very specific persona and pick only what I think that person would do. This game responded to that very well, and I got a good story out of it, which is a good sign.

You play as a concierge to the rich. Billionaires ask the company you work for to arrange parties, trips, housekeeping, etc. Kind of like a fancy butler. I felt some connection with this theme as I work at a private school, and helped supervise a trip to Spain this summer, something I could not have afforded on my own. I don’t work with billionaires, but sometimes with millionaires.

In the game, you encounter a series of challenging or intriguing clients. That’s another aspect of this game compared to other CoG games: this is much more character focused than plot focused. I’ve heard some say it ends early; with a 500K wordcount, that’s not really true. I did finish it in 3 hours or so, while I’ve had some CoG games take 10, but there are ones like Choice of Dragon that are finished in 30 minutes but don’t feel like they end early. I think it’s because the plot arc is fairly flat; there’s not really a sense of continually rising drama with a dramatic climax; instead, there’s a rolling succession of parallel character-focused subplots that each have their own rise and fall.

Going into more detail, rather than having dramatic overall events, we have things like examining in great detail the life of a trans billionaire who is uncomfortable with wealth; the life of a rich woman with a troublesome child; the life of fellow coworkers, bosses, etc. Much of the game is about reflecting on your views on them and life in general and on yourself and your feelings for them.

And reflecting is a key concept here in terms of other CoG games. The real big bestsellers tend to have actions have direct and dramatic consequences. Do you spare the life of the prisoner, or execute them? Do you take the evil crystal or smash it? On the other hand, a lot of the lower-selling games are reflective. Here’s what you do: why do you do it? It’s much more passive. This game is in between. You do get some pretty big choices, but a lot of things just happen to you and you reflect on how you feel about it.

This makes this game not really fit with the power fantasy that most Choice of Games fans look for. You’re not stomping around destroying things. You’re not constantly winning despite the odds. There are failures and takebacks (like a long sequence about a helicopter near the beginning) where you lose ground, something a lot of fans distinctly dislike.

But the games that do these things often win awards for writing, like Rent-a-Vice. Having the reflection, the failures, the character drama all are associated with games that have won awards. So if I had to predict anything about this game in the long run I’d wager that it will likely have middle-of-the-pack sales (definitely better than mine!) but be nominated for at least one writing award.

My particular narrative arc worked out well. I played a people pleaser who is mildly uncomfortable with the status quo but not enough to do anything about it. I ended up becoming the CEO and marrying my coworker. I was interested enough to try another playthrough. I clicked through the first four chapters quickly trying to do bad. A lot of the early storyline was similar in the major plot points, although wildly different in the details (I somehow picked up an aunt I didn’t have the first time). Later chapters were completely new material; in my first game I had several chapters about blackmail, while in my second I had a kind of international investigation storyline, which was very cool. Overall though I don’t think it sells its branching very well; my first playthrough looked like I had hit up most major content, while the second was quite different. Signposting that more content exists is hard (more greyed out choices than we have here, chapter numbers with subletters, etc.).

I liked customization; I was able to refuse a drink and say it was because I was a latter-day saint, which I’ve never been able to do before.

Overall, this feels like a story about real people in real life situations. It feels like a biography more than a fantasy novel. I like to think of IF writers as opera composers and I’ve often thought of Emily Short as like Verdi, finding some similarities in their tones and settings. This is more like Beethoven though, with a clear aesthetic free of unnecessary clutter.

I don’t think this will be a bestseller. But after having played more than 100 of these games, I think it’s unique and high quality, and worth playing. I got really burnt out after playing them all and have started a few I never finished, but I played this all the way through in one setting, taking it to the library and reading it on my phone there, and even replayed it. I’m glad it was published; it would have been a terrible shame to leave this work incomplete and in storage.