Rewriting and re-releasing

This isn’t quite game design, but it is about creating IF, so I thought it fit better here than in off-topic. Apologies if this isn’t the right place.

So, anyway: Due to the way releasing a piece of IF works, it’s easy to make changes to your work and put out a new version at any time. I mean, you just make the changes and upload the new version to the Archive, and there you are. But just because you can do that doesn’t necessarily mean you should, does it?

If months (or perhaps years) after creating a work of IF you look at it and go “wow, I still really like this idea, but it’s not quite living up to its potential, because the puzzles and the conversation system don’t work very well and could do with a complete overhaul” (or what have you), do you fix it up? Or is there a certain window after initial publication in which you can make substantial changes to your game and after that you had probably better leave it alone unless you’re doing bug fixes or something like that? Is it bad for you, artistically, to keep coming back to an older work and tinkering with it rather than taking the lessons you’ve learned and moving on to something new? And, especially if the original release wasn’t wildly popular, will anyone bother playing the updated version six months on?

Conversely, are there changes that are too small to be worth putting out a new version? If you go through your months-or-years-old game and notice three misspellings and one sentence that uses the word “but” twice, is it worth correcting that and putting up a new version, or do you just shrug your shoulders and figure no one will care that much?

I have mixed feelings about this, myself–I know that at a certain point it hurts more than it helps to keep poking at a project over and over, but I also think that the aforementioned low barrier to “publishing”, as it were, in IF, makes it easy to push out works that are still in a sort of embryonic form (I’m not saying most people do this, but I certainly have). And in that case I don’t think it’s a bad thing to look at a work you’ve already put out and want to develop it more. But then I’m an inveterate tinkerer and never really satisfied with my own work, so I wanted to get some other opinions. What do you guys think?

Fixing bugs is never a bad thing. Other updates are probably almost never bad either.

Updating won’t guarantee anyone will replay it, but they might. And if the links in the wiki and IFDB are kept up to date then any new people will play the updated version.

Back in 2005 or thereabouts, I wrote a game called “Last Resort.” A few months later, I decided to rewrite it from the ground up (switching from Inform 6 to TADS 3). “Lydia’s Heart” is still the same story as “Last Resort” – in effect, it’s version 2.0, and “Last Resort” 1.0 is now deprecated. The characters are the same, and whole paragraphs of description were copied over without changes, but there are new puzzles, a few new rooms, and so on. It’s a deeper and more complex game.

Giving it a new title was intended to make it clear that it’s really a new game, even though it’s the same story. If the changes had been less sweeping, I probably would have kept the title and made it version 1.5.

If “fixing it up” will do the trick, sure. Just depends. If it’s essentially (to belabor the book metaphor) a revised and expanded edition, then that’s what it is. If it’s just the 14th printing with typos repaired on pp.14,81 and 119, then that’s what it is. If it’s some kind of whole-cloth from-the-ground-up re-imagining where Greedo shot first, the star is recast as a Muppet, the villain gender-swaps and the moral changes from “be true to your friends” to “sell GRIST magazine for fun and prizes” then it’s that. And whether it’s good for you, or it, or them, or that thing over there, just plain depends. Whether anyone will play it, depends. Whether that even matters, depends. And so on.

Really, it’s an emotional decision. When you reach the point of being false to the game, or to yourself, because you keep adding things in or changing things, then you stop. I’ve modified games years after their release because they just weren’t done. However, I tried to make the number of releases reasonable – i.e. I didn’t push out 28 releases because I could, but a handful. I think you can make a case for fixing bugs for a much longer period after release, but really, once that emotional window closes, it’s closed and barred.

I don’t think you can hope for or expect popularity in IF unless you write very safe games; otherwise, you will be infamous, but never famous. shrugs IF is stocked to the brim with haters, and it’s always been that way.