The Current Audience for IF

I’m curious about what people’s impressions are on the audience for IF today. This is a fairly broad topic, but here are some specific questions:

How many people are downloading/playing a game on average (obviously it would vary based on a lot of factors, but you could just give your own experience)?
What are the biggest sources for discovery in IF? The IFDB? Specific competitions? Are there particular media outlets that cover this type of work?
Do you find that authors are also often the audience for playing games, or does there seem to be a decent audience of just consumers? If so, do we know anything about that demographic? Adults/kids? Readers? Gamers?
What kind of “tail” does a game have? How often do people play your game, say, a year after release?
Are some formats more popular than others (I’m under the general impression that parser games are more niche than, say, Twine)?
Other than obviously graphics-heavy games like 80 Days or Norco, what role does adding images and sound play in interest and engagement?
Are there questions I didn’t think of in my brainstorming just now?

Feel free to answer any of these or other related things. I imagine some of these questions are hard to answer as asked, and I know there are many variables. I’m just interested in kind of a state-of-the-“industry” topic. If there’s actual research you know of, feel free to share, but I’m good with just general anecdotal impressions. Also, if these questions have been recently discussed elsewhere on the forum, let me know. I’m not, like, some kind of market analyst, and I’ve spent plenty of time on hobbies that had me creating things for an audience of around ten people, but I’m just curious about the size of this niche. I do some occasional writing for an adventure game website, and I’ve been thinking about suggesting we do some IF coverage here and there.


Of sites I know of, ifdb is much smaller than which is much smaller than


My experiences will vary a little from the more typical profile of users on here, I imagine- as I encountered Interactive Fiction through Fallen London (and subsequently, Emily Short and Sam Kabo Ashwell’s blogs, where I found coverage of Spring Thing on Short’s blog) and am more involved in the offshoot Tumblr (which is heavily choice influenced (particularly using Twine and Choicescript), as compared to the more traditional parser games here, where Inform 7 seems popular) and adjacent Visual Novel community (the English offshoot, as the Japanese and English communities seem quite disparate, an example being the upswing in the Amare category of games on the English side) than on IFDB.

For the most part- discovery of actual games has come from competitions this community organizes. I think it’s pretty well accepted IFComp is the event of the year, and if you want maximal coverage and exposure, that’s the venue to enter a game into. SpringThing collects its fair share of participants every year, (I’m quite partial to it), alongside Ectocomp, with a handful of other events like the Text Adventure Literacy Jam, ParserComp, etc. The strong review culture and community engagement, particularly around IFComp and SpringThing is also great when those events swing around.

I also enter various gamejams on itch . io- which typically results in a small bump of activity but peters out. An exception to that is the Bitsy community, which is small, but quite interactive, and a trickle of comments and views floats in every month or so when Adam hosts the monthly jam and the archived monthly ones gets listed on the jam page as inspirational material.

Most of my own audience consists of adults, who often identify as being part of the LGBT community, and are interested in horror. That lines up pretty well with the sort of games I make- gothic horror, often featuring gay relationships. I would say normally, authors make up a big chunk of the player audience in interactive fiction, but for my case, because of the itch . io jams and adjacent communities I participate in, non-authors play my games more often.

The majority of my traffic comes from particular tags (as itch . io analytics let you see referrals and such), primarily being the NSFW and gay tags, though I get a handful of people checking out my profile directly (likely because I have it linked in my bio on Discord, where I interact with the Tumblr and Visual Novel community and checking out people’s itch. io profiles is more of a norm.)

Both games with the highest amount of traffic (VESPERTINE and origin of love respectively) were entered into interactive fiction community events, (a Goncharov gamejam hosted by a community member with good reach on the Tumblr IF side of things, and Ectocomp). Both get some passive traffic from being high in their more niche tag search results, with cover art highly influencing pull- though not user retainment, as some people are put off by finding a text based game in tags where more visual heavy games are common (NSFW especially.) VESPERTINE was also mentioned in a piece of games journalism about the Goncharov game jam, and I did see a temporary spike initially following that (~100.)

To roughly eyeball some numbers- games that I enter into interactive fiction community events will get around two to three thousand hits/views, while being curated into around 40 to 50ish collections on itch . io (often into assortments of games sharing a genre or theme).

Releases into the Bitsy community will get around 500 hits, though the Bitsy community is similarly quite happy to curate collections of games, (often to promote the engine) so similar numbers of collections as to IF event ones. Bitsy users seem more likely to leave star ratings than all of the groups I’ve encountered (perhaps because they’re more familiar with the itch. io platform?) I have more limited experience with releasing for the TTRPG community or the Visual Novel community. So far, my experience with the TTRPG community performs around the same as Bitsy for numbers. The Visual Novel community is very big, but I would say the most noticeable aspect of my dabbling in there was how often comments would highlight characterization in positive reviews. Full length reviews from player comments are rare in any community outside of the interactive fiction one (in my experience).


Both Choice of Games and Quest have discussion forums attached that encourage engagement. Conversely, I’m not going to IFDB every day and spending time there. I’d compare it most to the directory kiosk in the mall that people pause at momentarily upon entering to figure out where they’re going as opposed to a store location they spend a lot of time in.


I have 7 (mostly) parser games on itch. I’m happy to share some stats:

Almost all of my traffic comes from IFDB and itch itself. I don’t have any data to back this up but I’d expect most of the plays come from IFDB and most of the itch traffic bounces.

I’ve been collecting page view counts (I didn’t find a way to get play count in their API) since around March last year:

My Libonotus Cup game wasn’t originally released on itch, but the others all show a similar initial bump when the game is released in a comp followed by a more or less slow and steady trickle of views.
I don’t know if the relatively good showing for Escape from Hell is due to ECTOCOMP in general getting more traffic this year of if it’s due to the game being a slightly more accessible parserless parser game.

Browser plays across all 7 games:


oh yay stats :smiley: I can contribute here too!
10(ish) Twine (Choice-based) games on itch since June 2021.

I usually get referring through itch (though websites like Tumblr, where I promote my stuff, do not appear on this list, and I don’t want to involve Google in the Analytics if I can avoid it :stuck_out_tongue: )

I’ve done a breakdown of stats at the start of the month on my blog, looking at views and downloads too, per project.

But as of today, my past overall 365 days look like this.

The peaks represent a release of a new projet or an update on a work-in progress.

There are very very popular Choice-based IFs on itch from the Tumblr crowd (A Tale of Crown, Wayfarer) that pulls much bigger numbers than those with just one project.


Choice-based games are orders of magnitude more popular than parser games, to the point where some of them are commercially viable, mainly the Choicescript/“Choice of Games” ones.

The IF competition is the most important competition for the community, and probably the best way to get feedback on a game. Although, if you are doing a popular Choicescript game or a graphically enhanced game which stands a chance on other platforms like Itch etc., you might not need the IF Comp for exposure.

There is a relatively large overlap between authors and players.

Several people feel that a small number of thoughtful, in-depth reviews is worth more than a medium or even large amount of commentless downloads – although there’s presumably some threshold where that switches around. :slight_smile:

It is an activity that should mostly be its own reward, with critical acclaim and a positive reception as a bonus in the ideal case.

You can get a rough idea of the dimensions by looking at the number of ratings on past jams and comps.

ECTOCOMP 2018: 22 entries, 212 ratings (across all entries, so on average 9.6 ratings per game)

ECTOCOMP 2019: 21 entries, 188 ratings

ECTOCOMP 2020: 17 entries, 293 ratings

ECTOCOMP 2021: 23 entries, 310 ratings

ECTOCOMP 2022: 35 entries, 678 ratings

ParserComp 2021: 18 entries, 355 ratings

ParserComp 2022: 18 entries, 308 ratings

The quantity of votes cast is also noted on past IF Comp results pages for each game. For example, in 2022, the numbers ranged from 20 to 122. Of course, there are also people who play but don’t vote.

Here are some related threads:


Very interesting data analysis. It is surprising to me. I guess my focus has always been this venue. I know of the others but always thought THEY were the niche. ?

PS. From my narrow experience, entering comps and jams are the best way for an author to get noticed.


I think our competitive advantage is that though our numbers are small we talk a lot.

(That’s only slightly facetious - the culture of feedback and engagement others mentioned above means we punch well above our weight class, plus the substantial overlap between authors and players here means we’re quite small in terms of an audience community but maybe relatively bigger in terms of an authoring community).


Since we’re whipping out: on itch, tags are very important to direct people to what kind of game you have.

[edited to add browser plays/downloads and referrer data]

(Not quite sure why Cannery Vale had a weird spike between the holidays. 2022/12/29 it was downloaded 17 times which is odd since it’s playable online. Maybe I mentioned or linked it? The top referrers were IFDB and my website that day.)

(Referrers for 30 days)

As @cchennnn points out below, big popular tags are NSFW and character customization. People are searching “text-based” a more surprising amount than I would expect on itch though.


Hmm, seem like good traits for an election


Yet notice how far down on the list they are…

My main takeaway is to work “lesbonicon” into the title of all my games from here on out.


In my defence, yer honour, the title resulted out of a “come up with the most offensive and least-marketable bad title” brainstorm improv session so I respectfully submit to the court I have failed in perpetrating the crime.

out of context it makes me think it’s the book with incantations to sum-


Actually I think that’s where “Leather Goddesses of Phobos” came from too, right?


Most definitely inspired by that game but nowhere near as clever.


oooh if we’re sharing our audience numbers, here’s mine (for my published/more “complete” games):

Screenshot 2023-01-29 at 22-40-24 Analytics

How people find my games seems to usually be “popular people link to me” (I don’t even know how my game got on those lists; most of my games are not in twine and have no character customization). Other than that, people mostly come from tumblr (not shown in referrer), IFDB, or found the games by browsing itch tags. Choice of games was a big source at one point, but I haven’t posted about my games there recently.

The most popular text-centric IFs on itch seem to be:

  1. NSFW
  2. Long text RPGs with heavy character customization and branching, usually tumblr-popular (Wayfarer, A Tale of Crowns, Superstition, Scout, Attollo, Zorlok, etc)
  3. Shorter horror games (litrouke’s games, The Uncle Who Worked At Nintendo, Horse Master maybe)
  4. Small toy-like games that have a central gimmick

Have published several games (a couple in English, but most in Spanish), most of them short genre pieces with a ‘techy toy’ approach. I have tried traditional parser and choice (using Inform and Twine), but I have also tried to mix them in interesting ways.

Itch stats

Some observations:

  • The Spanish scene is more focused on retro plaforms, and Spanish parser games tend to get more engagement than choice ones. Feedback tends to be low (or non-existent) outside of game jams, regardless of the format.
  • I submitted an English translation of my first parser game to IFComp in 2020, which did quite well (finished in the mid-range), and still gets low but consistent traffic from IFDB and the Itch tags (‘hacking’ and ‘cyberpunk’ work very well, maybe there’s some piggyback effect of popular AAA games having similar themes). It doesn’t get much feedback since the Comp ended, though.
  • Releasing new stuff helps your back catalog, too. People that like one of your games will check out the author profile to find more like it.

My stats look more like those of the parser authors who have posted in this thread rather than the other choice authors, probably because I’m not plugged into any IF communities besides this one. Sometimes I wonder if I’m missing out on audiences that might appreciate my work, but I also hate Having a Social Media Presence, so that’s the tradeoff.

I believe the spike in late 2022 (reaching a dizzying height of 20 plays in one day) is related to the announcement of the XYZZY finalists, and the slightly smaller one before that is ECTOCOMP.

The games with the longest tails are the Lady Thalia games and Social Lycanthropy Disorder, which seems to be at least partly driven by people on Itch finding them through LGBTQ-related tags. SLD also usually gets a bump around Halloween.


That makes a lot of sense, though I personally didn’t have anything in the running in 2021/22 on that spike. I wonder if players might sometimes research previously nominated games as well for comparison when reviewing?


Counterpoint: my stats for The Libonotus Cup which received 4 XYZZY nominations of which it won (or tied) 2:

Not quite the XYZZY bump I was hoping for :rofl:.