Textfyre Poll

I’m obviously struggling with finding IF author help and in other communications…so I need some feedback…

Tickyboxes might get better results than radio buttons. My own reasons for not responding to your calls for authors are sort of between “I really don’t understand what Textfyre is trying to do,” “I like Textfyre, but don’t think I have any pertinent skills,” and “I like Textfyre, but hear they don’t pay anything and have not paid all of their current bills. I won’t work for free and waiting years to get paid is not something I’m interested in.”

I’m not totally sure what Textfyre’s current goals are, but I think that what they really want is skillful writers. I myself am not a particularly great writer – my writing for my own IF is utilitarian – and even if I were, I can’t afford to not get paid for anything that doesn’t greatly increase my chance of a paying gig later (internships in my own field, for example). Like most artist-types, I am very wary of the “it’ll be a great portfolio-builder!” pitch: if I want to not get paid, I have plenty of my own projects to work on, which look even better in a portfolio.

I considered check boxes, but thought the 10 selections were sufficiently different to warrant a single vote poll.

Er, well. There’s an absolutely cast-iron reason not on your list:

  • I already have an interactive narrative job whose contract precludes this kind of freelancing

But even if that were not the case:

  • I heard you don’t pay your bills, so there’s no point in doing this for the money
  • My sense of your earlier sales suggests that if my primary goal is to reach a wide audience, I’d have a wider distribution releasing freeware than selling through you; or there’s Choice of Games or StoryNexus, if I wanted to do modest-income, non-parser stuff. The muted reception of Shadow even in the IF community suggests that it was actively hampered by being a for-pay product
  • I liked Shadow but wasn’t wild about Secret Letter, and it’s not clear to me that Textfyre’s house style is a match for mine
  • I don’t usually write for children; nothing wrong with doing so, but that’s not where my design inclination or narrative voice are strongest
  • Educational IF is a cool idea, and historical sims for teaching strike me as very interesting – but from my experience with pedagogy, I suspect what you’re describing is going to be harder than you think, entailing masses of research and serious design challenges
  • Your production method doesn’t line up very well with the kinds of things I want to do; I have never been interested in the split-task production model Textfyre has used, where different people did the design and writing

In general, when I’ve taken on an interactive narrative project that wasn’t my own idea/for my own amusement, it’s because that project has offered income, prestige, a bigger or different audience than usual, access to appealing collaborators, or an otherwise unavailable creation tool. (Or, often, a combination of those.)

Sorry, it sounds brutal when laid out that way, and I do wish you the best. But you’re asking for an enormous expenditure of time and energy with few guarantees.

This is the nature of any start-up. I have no problem with any of your reasons. My request and poll isn’t to whine about not having help, but to “push” people a bit to get someone to help.

What Textfyre was and what it is now are distinctly different things. The “house” model is workable, but not required. Until we get funded and actually produce a product, the methodology is irrelevant. The requirement I have right now is very simple. I need someone to take on the task of creating one relatively small game with historical content that should appeal to teachers and middle school students. The content is open although it should line up with something in a 6th, 7th, or 8th grade social studies or history book.

There are so many more aspects to my new business plan that have very little to do with IF. We plan to map common core standards to some of the “puzzles” or “activities” within the prototype game that will allow us to show real-time assessments. The concept of real-time assessment is only starting to rattle cages in the education world. Most companies are trying to reduce assessment times to days instead of weeks or months and to make the process “easier”.

The primary issue is someone putting time into something that doesn’t pay unless we get funded. All I can say to that is that we have grown a significant pipeline of interested investors that includes the Gates Foundation, New Schools Venture Fund, and some of the local Chicago Angel groups. They all have clearly stated that the second we have a proven product (well received by teachers and administrators, with researchers on-board (students will figure it out)), we are very likely to garner large support from investors. Of course that’s a lot of words promising a winning hand at a poker table, but there is a great deal of push to create ed-tech and there is about $600 billion dollars out there to be procured. It’s entirely reasonable to expect Textfyre to get $5 million or more in funding in the next 12 months.

And to add…every person who has done work for Textfyre now or in the past will be paid. If we get funded and then start generating revenue, they will get paid immediately. If not, then at some point when I personally have spare cash, I will pay them out of my own pocket. That is an absolute guarantee. The current balance of “owed” funds is not insignificant, but it’s never been my intention to stiff people. Things just happened to screw up my plans, namely an expensive divorce and a wildly traumatic recession. But both of those things are behind me and cash-flow will improve. Is improving.

Emily - one could only dream of having you on board. Combine your skills with an experienced educator and I’m positive we’d be funded very quickly. But as you say, we are not aligned. In lieu of that level of competence, I’ll work with anyone that has a reasonably high understanding of IF authoring and has a passion for seeing something extraordinary happen in the IF world.

I would blog about this, but I’m trying to keep some of my plans out of the public eye. In the long term, if Textfyre were funded, we’d use some percentage of that to build traditional IF games.

Do you have the ability to write this story yourself? Why haven’t you done so?

Choice of Games got off the ground when Adam and I wrote Choice of the Dragon ourselves; we didn’t try to recruit third-party writers to write for our unproven platform. Once the platform had proven itself, and we had a track record of success, only then did we attempt to recruit outside parties. (Though it had always been our hope that we would be able to do that at some point.)

I thought The Shadow in the Cathedral was excellent … and if you do another one that good I’ll buy it … and I may well buy Shadow some more in alternate forms … and that’s about my entire take on it :slight_smile:

Well, this isn’t just about writing a single game. It’s about having an IF author invested into our company and its success. I can write at a certain level, but not at the level I expect to present to investors. We’re not selling a single game. We’re trying to sell a service to teachers that will benefit students, administrators, and learning researchers. So that’s why in my original post I started with “partner-level”. I want to demonstrate the highest quality we can.

I also do a lot of other things for Textfyre, including developing the technical platform, run weekly meetings, communicate with an art director, a CEO, CFO, and so far a few teachers. It’s true that in a start-up you have to wear many hats, but I believe our best chance of success is with someone else taking the author’s role.

David C.
www.textfyre.com

But that’s exactly your problem. You’re pitching to investors right now: if you want an IF author to be invested in your company, then you want a big investment from an IF author. It’s an investment of time, not money, but all of the same problems apply. Why should a high-quality IF author invest in your platform–why should anyone write for the Textfyre VM–if you’re not doing it yourself?

Investors, of time or money, want to see that you’ll repay their investment. You do that by bootstrapping successes, and making a case for how more investment will lead to even more success. (The “secret” to pitching VCs is nothing more than a graph showing exponential growth. Nothing else matters.)

IMO, you are not in a position to take on investment right now. I think your potential applicants see that. If you want an awesome game, you’ll need to write it yourself, get beta feedback, and rewrite it a few times. This forum is a great place to do that. After enough drafts, you’ll have a nice piece of IF.

Then, see if you can sell it. If you can sell it, you’ll be able to pay authors in advance, which is the way authors get paid. Ask any literary agent. If you can’t afford the advance, then you can’t afford to hire.

I don’t know anything about your business, but this sounds crazy to me. It sounds like the illusion of work. You don’t have a product to sell to teachers yet. You have no IF author, you have no game, you have no online demo. What on earth are you meeting about?

I work at a startup, too; the first thing you have to do is hack together a “minimum viable product,” with whatever you have on hand. You don’t start by running meetings and developing a platform. Those are all liabilities; expenses. They’re what you do when you have to do them, because your company has gotten so big and successful that you can’t avoid it any longer.

Cancel all the meetings. Just write a game. Write it yourself, and rewrite it until it shines. No one should invest in you, in either money or time, until you can demonstrate that you can do this for yourself.

IMHO, your pitch has one significant flaw: It doesn’t tell what’s in it for the prospective author, other than

The candidate or candidates will have a ground floor opportunity in a potentially lucrative education technology company.

which is so vague as to be almost meaningless. All you write about is what you require (and I think “three well received games” is quite a filter), but what do you have to offer? Even if I fulfilled all your requirements, I’d be giving up a lot of freedom to work under the restrictions of Textfyre, so why should I do that? Sell your project to the authors, and they may come.

On a more concrete level, I’ve skimmed over your website, and a few things occured to me:

  • It needs to be better maintained,
  • You already have a long list of authors – why do you still need more IF authors?
  • What platform is Textfyre supposed to work on? Is it a proprietary thing? How does it work – script-like (Inform, TADS), or design-like (ADRIFT), or CYOA?

Cheers,

syzygy

I agree with most of what the others have said. I think the implication has been made, but perhaps needs to be underlined, that it IS about writing a single game. Until you have a single game that does what you envision, the rest is just tail-chasing.

Having jaunted over to IFDB to look at the ratings of the games you’ve written, I would be inclined to agree that perhaps your main strength, your creative contribution to the enterprise, is as a CEO, not as an author. And by the way, I applaud both your tenacity and your clear vision of how you hope to make the enterprise work. Your challenge, as a CEO, is to find an author and structure the deal in such a way that the author will respond favorably to the proposal.

For better or worse, IF authors seem to be like a herd of cats. Everybody goes off in their own direction. That’s a good thing, in my view, but it makes your challenge all the trickier. You’re hoping to find someone who wants to write nonfiction IF (a very small niche) that will appeal to middle school kids (another fairly small niche) and present historical elements in a way that will be appealing to teachers and administrators (who may have little understanding of the IF medium), using your own pre-defined development system (the Textfyre VM) rather than whatever the author may find congenial.

Is there a way to simplify or broaden the criteria? Brainstorming here. Why does it have to be middle school? What’s wrong with high school, if the author feels that would work better? Does it have to be historical nonfiction, as opposed to historically accurate fiction? Or, for that matter, historically free fiction? (I’m thinking of the episode where the Doctor and Martha Jones meet Shakespeare. It’s a complete hash of history and fantasy, but by golly, we pick up a lot of historical details along the way.)

If you feel your business plan dictates a specific set of criteria – middle school, Textfyre VM, and so forth – do you have a document providing detailed guidelines for writing pedagogical materials for that target audience? I think you might have a bit more success finding an author if you were able to say, “You can choose Shakespeare’s England, the American Civil War, or the Wright Brothers.” And so on, and so on.

Them’s mah 2 centavos, anyhow.

I agree with what Jim is saying. I would be interested but I fall short on one or two of the criteria and learning a new system isn’t appealing. I do, however, belong to the small niche who would love to write historical, educational, non-fiction (interactive, of course) for younger people.

I have an MVP. I have very strong relationships with investors who believe in our company. Building a pipeline of investors takes time and absolutely requires the people I’ve brought in and the time we spend discussing our business model.

I’m looking for an IF author to help us out, I am in no way waiting for someone to sign up and have already started developing content on my own. The purpose of the post was to find someone that is interested in entrepreneurship and has a background in IF authoring that might be interested in taking charge of the creative IF writing side of our endeavor.

I’m involved in 1871, a shared office space/incubator in Chicago and there are people from all walks of life putting in their time for free to build hundreds of companies. To say that I need to pay anyone before we’re funded is simply not true. It helps, but is not required. Besides, I have paid some people some money. However, if you need to get paid as you work, then inherently you are not a candidate for working in a lean start-up. It’s all about risk/reward. If you play your cards right and a start-up gets funded, pretty amazing things can happen…like in a few years being able to “retire”. However if you’re really interested in entrepreneurship, then you really enjoy the “ride” as much as the potential reward. Getting hung up on being paid for every drop of sweat in life is boring and sounds like my nine year old daughter.

As for offering details of what I would “pay” or “offer” in return, again…if you understand the process of a start-up, then you’ll know how to negotiate fair compensation. If you don’t know what the available options are as far as fair compensation is concerned, then you probably aren’t a candidate. If you think you are, then you should research how people do get paid in a start-up and talk to me (personally, not on the forum).

As for the list of authors on the website…those were the people that helped build Shadow and Secret Letter and were working on other projects. None of them are available at this time. If they were, I wouldn’t be looking.

I’m not sure, as an entrepreneur, that I would have framed your concerns as you did on this forum. If you were trying to mentor, that might have been handled better. For instance, if it were me; I would have sent a private message asking to chat on the phone. I would listen to what you were trying to accomplish, ask questions like, “Do you have an MVP?” and then I would have encouraged you to follow through with what I thought was important (if it sounded like you were interested in my advice). I would not have approached it on this forum as you did. But no harm, no foul.

See previous answer for responses except for…

  • We use a derivative of Glulx called FyreVM that’s wrapped in a state machine to be used in a client/server fashion. Inform 7 is the required platform with the use of a special extension to manage output.

David C.
www.textfyre.com

This is kind of off-topic, but not really. While musing about this business model (selling IF to school administrators as a way to teach history), I found myself wanting to paraphrase a line from The Graduate: “I’m going to say one word to you, son: metrics.”

I know very little about educational software, and for that matter very little about teaching history, but I have a vague impression that a teacher whose students are learning stuff in a computer lab wants to be able to log onto the back end and observe the progress that individual students are making. That is, metrics.

For starters, then, your IF system will need a way to log and tabulate the metrics. Beyond that, I’m wondering how one would gauge a student’s progress. The fact that the student has typed ‘x lincoln’ or ‘ask lincoln about gettysburg’ is NOT a guarantee that the student will have learned a darn thing. I suppose the “game” could include multiple-choice quizzes that operate more or less as puzzles: You have to pass the quiz in order to get to the next level or location. If there are other ways to gauge metrics … well, I’m sure there are, but I can’t think of any offhand.

The design of the “game,” then, would necessarily be based on the metrics – what the student is expected to learn, and how the knowledge gained is to be demonstrated within the context of the “game.” So I guess my question is, do you have a solid set of metrics for middle school history, David? Do you know what areas the students will study, and what sort of knowledge they will need to demonstrate in order to get a passing grade? I don’t think it would even be possible to contemplate writing a “game” (the quotes are used advisedly) in the absence of a clear set of metrics, and also at least a prototype of a back-end system for the teacher that will gather the metrics based on the student’s play sessions.

If I were thinking of using IF to teach history to middle schoolers, I think I’d go about it in exactly the opposite way. I’d give them all copies of Inform 7 and have THEM write the non-fiction (or mostly non-fiction) history game. I’d get them involved in doing the research on historical costumes, historical events and personages, and so on. They would then utilize their research while also learning the basics of creative writing and computer programming.

I’m not sure there’s a business model in that, but it sounds like a hella fun way to do it!

Thanks Jim. I couldn’t agree more with your assessment although I don’t think IF authors are unique. I’ve also found that graphic artists and web developers tend to be of a similar nature. It’s much easier to find management and professional services who are willing to put in effort without an immediate payoff. It’s also true that entrepreneurship is weirdly counter-intuitive. It’s been my experience that most people don’t understand it.

The constraints I’ve laid out are more or less required except for the methodology (Word document design). I can live with someone banging out Inform 7 code and dealing with the “process” later.

The content we’ve talked the most about is ancient Mesopotamia and U.S. History, but I really don’t care. Does it have to be middle school? No. We do need to show or prove that a variation in reading-level is in our process. So we want the same stories re-implemented in 4th, 6th, 8th, 10th, and 12th grade reading levels. That’s a lot of work, but also for the plan and not required for the MVP. So any story in ancient/world history/social studies, U.S. History, etc at whatever chosen reading-level is all fine by me.

David C.
www.textfyre.com

What is it? Is there an online demo?

Yes, re-reading in the morning, I recognize that my post was too harsh; I apologize.

Absolutely. This is where I think the big opportunity in education exists - getting kids to make games, not just play them. This is the aspect I’m focusing on for Quest, anyway.

That, to me, would be two different classes: one for kids to learn how to code and learn creative writing, but historical interactive non fiction would be a great way for a school kid to learn of different cultures and events in history.

Dave, I think that at least part of your problem is that you’re looking for an extremely specific person, and that person may very well not exist. What you’re asking for is:

  • an established, top-tier IF author with at least three major works under their belt (this is a rather small category already; you can probably name them all),
  • who is interested in and suited to the specific kind of IF you want to produce (nonfiction, historical, junior pedagogy, designed around curriculum requirements),
  • who is willing and able to be a central part of a high-investment, high-risk, high-payoff startup,
  • …but isn’t already doing so for themselves.

So even if you got to the point where everybody had a firm confidence in your business approach, I think you’d still be very lucky to find someone appropriate.