The IFComp... what IF

As a writer, there is nothing more frustrating than the recent trending of putting out full novels in the Kindle and Amazon stores with a price of 0 dollars. It completely devalues the months and years of someone’s hard work when you give the end product for free, simply to try to gain an audience and sell your next book or sequel.

It truly is no different for the IFComp. No, interactive fiction won’t ever be commercially viable but when you get the best of the best of the IFComp all for free, it pretty much guarantees most anyone else from making a few dollars for their effort unless you are one of the few elite authors with a name. Yet, there are choice games on platforms selling stories and taking in revenue with their own sites and on Itch and Steam.

I’m going to pick on Prince Quisborne from the IFComp. It is a seriously large game and generally well-received. The first-time author must have spent years bringing his labor of love to fruition. But I’m sure he had his moment of - could I self-publish this? or do I submit it to the Comp and never make a dime? But I’ll get feedback and some positive buzz. It seems like the choice always has to be one or the other.

What if the IFComp acted as a publisher and the commercial brand of interactive fiction? The competition would be the submission points and the judging period would be the agenting process. Then the most marketable of the submissions could be published with both the IFComp and the game authors getting a percentage of the revenue.

Under a single brand, the IFComp could be the new modern-day Infocom, maybe not taking in large revenues, but now there is a name and credibility most single game author could never achieve alone. A win-win.

Now the IFComp would still be free to play (during the comp), but those entries with potential are then polished, updated, bugs patched, packaged and published in a storefront for say, between $1.99 and 4.99.

The IFTF wants viable projects to fund. Make the Comp more relevant than ever. Create a brand. Be a publisher and a marketer. Build a presence to the larger gaming world and offer writers & designers a path toward potential reward for their hard work


You do know you compete for a cash prize right?
Like you do win money if you rank in the top 2/3rd of the IFComp…
And nothing is stopping you from selling your game down the line (this if the first example that comes to mind from last year).

Also… why do we have to make money from things we make? Why shouldn’t we pursue creating for the sake of creating?


If this is correct, it is because of the phrase in italics. Giving your work away in the hope of future sales is a rather strange idea. But of course giving away the fruits of one’s labour for free is not itself a devaluation of one’s labour! What is more blessed than giving? What is better than being part of a community that thrives on free sharing?


The rules of ifcomp require the games to be released for free. No one is being forced to participate. The writing and games business is really hard, and IF is a miniscule fraction of that. There are untold thousands of free non-IF games (and things to read for that matter) but so I’m not sure why you’re focusing on IF. There are IF adjacent games that are seemingly commercially successful, but they usually add graphics or something, so if you want to make money you might do well to study those.


Exactly. I think it seems wrong to put something in a competition made to be paid. You don’t have to enter it in a comp. Hadean Lands is one of the most popular games on IFDB, and it’s paid and I doubt it’s been in a competition. This shows you, it doesn’t have to be in a comp. It’s just a way of showing your appreciation for a community where all can play and have fun. Me, for example, I wouldn’t be able to pay for every IF piece I want to play. I’m still young and having IF free and accessible is the easiest way to get people in. Also, having revenue be an IFComp thing is problematic as less people will vote and this puts people off very easily. I know I would be.

Just my opinion. I think others agree, though.


The two main rewards I’ve seen from games are money and the interest/feedback of others. This community generally excels at the latter.

I’ve been thinking about this with my game in releasing, Never Gives Up Her Dead. It’s similar in length to Prince Quisborne, but easier and with about half the word count.

If it was commercial only, it would get far less attention and reviews than most games. Many commercial parser games like Once and Future and Worldsmith went free once the authors realized how limited the sales were, and both benefitted from it.

So no matter what I’ll always leave it free to play, but I thought of trying to get a “deluxe” version packaged as an exe for Steam, but after consulting with someone with a Steam storefront they suggested it would likely not make any net profit unless I spent a long time building up an audience like Zarf did with Hadean Lands.

Choice based games are entirely different. Felicity Banks has made reasonable money before off of doing what you said; entering IFComp games then polishing them up to be sold.


If you mean for the organizers of IFComp to “create a brand and build a presence” then this puts a lot of hard work on the organizers of IFComp, no? These organizers and volunteers already put forth a lot of work and effort just to run the comp. And if they are then marketing for you, wouldn’t they expect to get a percentage of sales like most publishers do?


I’m going to assume good faith, and gently challenge a couple of assumptions.

One, why do you believe that IFComp hasn’t ever been commercialized?

The top placing entries from one of the earlier comps were compiled into a commercial release with the consent of the authors, in the late 90s I believe. In fact, IFComp’s licensing arrangement for submissions was brought up recently and someone from IFTF pointed out this would allow future Best of IFComp Compilations to be released commercially if there was enough community interest. Although, they were quick to assure everyone the would still seek individual, informed, and specific consent from each author if they were to do so again, regardless of what the license agreements allow. I’m sure other more history-leaning members of our community could provide links faster than I could.

Two, most authors here would not do this as a job.

A recent community poll was run, with 71 participants, that asked IF authors about writing IF for a living. 62% responded that they would not wish to work in IF as their full-time job even if it was magically economically viable. Specific answers vary, but a common theme was that a hobby done for necessity is not necessarily a hobby anymore.

In short, IFComp has been set up to allow commercialization for a long time. Decades really. They listen carefully to feedback and reflect the desires and mores of the community. If commercialization were a driving concern, IFComp would have responded, they already had in the past.

Fwiw, I hope you didn’t make an account solely for this, as this community has alot to offer and it’d be a shame to miss out on that.

Either way, welcome and take care.


Another data point I find interesting and is related to the topic is the 50 Years of IF book. All the articles can be read online for free, but the Kickstarter for the physical book has over $500k. That indicates a certain level of interest in IF, as well as in physical products. As far as how much of that money is profit vs cost I couldn’t say.


I spent over a thousand hours on Repeat the Ending. Giving it away feels better than getting $87.12 USD (in total) for it would tbh.


And let’s not forget that IFComp isn’t aimed at games like Prince Quinsborne, but to 2hrs tops games. It’s the perfect place where to gain momentum and then, 20 years later like Zarf did, place the commercial hit. :slight_smile:


Recent trend? People were writing stories and making them freely available on Livejournal. It’s been going on since there was an Internet. Before the Internet, people did it on BBSes. Before that, on photocopiers.

The market for paid fiction has always existed in concert with a community of people doing it for pleasure. The Internet just made hobbyist communities easier to organize and interact. And the result of that was more opportunities for hobbyist writers to move into the pro market.


I totally agree with those who have said that there’s nothing inherently less about offering something for free. (I’m very earnest so I’ll say that the most valuable things I’ve gotten in my life, like care from my loved ones, were for free.)

But there’s also nothing wrong with wanting to sell IF, so I’m sorry that you’re feeling frustrated about that. As others have mentioned, there are monetization options for IF, and even for IFComp games. But I take it your gripe is more that the prevailing norms make that harder.

But before lamenting that a lot of IF is not monetized, I think it’s worth considering the advantages of being a hobbyist community with a lot of features of a gift economy.

Authors are sharing projects that represent years of work for free. Other people are spending a lot of time engaging constructively and kindly with authors, which leads to these really fun feedback interactions. People in the community are making lists to make sure that all of the games in competitions get feedback (and get fun things like limericks written about them!!). When I lurk on the forum I see people responding to troubleshooting requests from authors with incredibly detailed and helpful posts full of example code written specifically to help that person with that problem. People volunteer their time alpha and beta testing in-progress games. Volunteers are spending staggering amounts of time maintaining and updating free-to-use software tools for writing and playing IF (whenever I start to think about the amount of time people are putting into these tools, making them browser-compatible, adding features, and all for free, it stuns me).

I think these are the beautiful upsides of a gift economy–when people are offering up the gift of their work for free it encourages everyone else to reciprocate. (And it’s not just IF, see also open-source software communities, wikipedia, most fandom spaces, webnovels, etc etc) Or in other words:

So let’s also appreciate the benefits of the current system.



One of the first questions we considered when forming IFTF was “Do we want to act as a publisher?” The answer was no, for a couple of reasons:

  • If we’re a publisher, then we’re inevitably an arbiter of what “interactive fiction” is. People would say stuff like “If IFTF won’t publish it, it’s not IF.” We acutely don’t want to be in that position.

  • A nonprofit can publish stuff for money, but it’s a difficult balance. If the publishing arm brings in more money than donations, there’s a strong incentive to think of that as the “real” organization and all the rest of the non-profitable stuff as a side gig.

  • Not even necessarily because of the money! Publishing in commercial markets is a huge amount of work – and paperwork. Marketing is hard (and we have nobody on board who knows anything about it). It just winds up dominating the organizational landscape.

  • There are already excellent self-publishing platforms for games. Itch is easy. Steam is only a moderate pain in the ass. They have the infrastructure to sell games worldwide, from authors worldwide. We do not have that infrastructure.


I’d like to suggest a third way of looking at this.

I agree and empathize with this sentiment from the OP:

It’s not a recent trend, in the sense that this has been going on since before 2014, which is when I put my first novel on Kindle/Amazon. For years now, the general strategy with free ebooks is to write a long series (5 or 10 books) and give away the first one to “hook” readers. (This situation sucks if you write standalone work, as I tend to do.)

This led to a glut of SF&F series, with the first book usually being nothing more than worldbuilding, character introductions, and a cliffhanger or two. Authors crank out these series hoping one would catch fire. The rise of AI authoring has only stoked this trend. It’s not pretty.

Unfortunately, it’s a rather pervasive idea in book publishing, and it’s why I empathize with the OP. It’s not as fruitless as it sounds—The Martian, and other once-independently published books, used this strategy to gain traction. (Think of how publishers give free books to newspaper and magazine reviewers, but on a larger scale.) The idea is to create buzz, and it can work.

Dorothy Parker said, “I hate writing, I love having written.” I suspect Parker really meant “I hate writing, I love being read.” If this is your motivation—it’s mine—then the IF community is a great place to write for. If you put out a quality piece and place it in one of the larger comps/jams, it will be read, and there is a very good chance it will be thoughtfully reviewed in a public forum.

(One of the best reviews I’ve ever received—books, IF, or otherwise—came from @brad for According to Cain. He noticed things in it that I didn’t notice—that’s a great review.)

I have no regrets giving away my IF. (And I have two more in the hopper.) But that’s not because money is filthy, or that creative work should be a gift. It’s because the community will treat my work as valuable in and of itself, even if money doesn’t change hands.

I don’t feel that way about trad fiction publishing. It’s a different mentality. People can be brutal about it. (Not all people, but some.) And book publishing is not a meritocracy, despite the seemingly widespread belief otherwise. I keep doing it because I like being read, and I do manage to connect to great readers and eke out reads here and there.

Also, I think focusing on money hides a more motivating factor in the creative world, namely the desire for social capital. But that’s another long post, and I’m out of words.


Hopefully what an author does with their own work shouldn’t be frustrating to you. Some authors just want to write and get exposure. Also: I don’t know if this applies, but if you’re looking at the Kindle store when logged into an Amazon Prime account, there are certain works that KDP allows authors to choose to offer electronically for free to Prime subscribers for a commission on the back end based on downloads - a bit how YouTube rewards popular videos for partner creators. It’s another mode of distribution.

What about the authors who put their work up for $.99 on Kindle? Some have comfortably slotted themselves into the “pulp fiction” model of quantity>quality where they aren’t intending to write masterworks, but they can consistently produce a short novella every month in their niche genre and offer it for .99 for those fans who just want something they know they will like in their genre of choice to occupy them on an airplane flight or while commuting. Authors like this build up a fanbase of readers who like their specific writing so they can count on at least a small chunk of revenue for nearly everything they publish.

I’m certain you’re aware also that Kindle/Amazon doesn’t accept IF. Historically it’s been proven that pure text IF post-Infocom era is rarely commercially viable or marketable in a way that can garner living-wage money outside some rare exceptions.

I personally have entered IFComp about 6-7 times in a row, placing as high as 6th, and have gotten a few decent payouts from it via the Colossal Fund. I’ve not yet monetized any game I’ve written. The choice to make the step over the line from hobbyist to paid professional and all the subsequent responsibility it confers is a personal one. I actually appreciate that venues like IFComp allow visibility for work from anyone, and part of that agreement for the visibility is the work must be offered for free. If you’ve read the fine print of nearly any writing competition that offers some major prize, they almost across the board gain the rights to whatever you send them. IFComp doesn’t take your copyright away, they just specify that the Comp version of what you submit has to exist as a free version and you can’t turn around and retroactively remove access to that version of the game.

That doesn’t mean your Comp game is dead in the water. In one case, a well-received IFComp game was expanded enough that it qualified as a completely different enough work that it was accepted for distribution through Choice of Games.

The bottom line for any writer is you make the decision whether your writing is going to be monetized or if you want free exposure and networking via a competition. If you want to make money with your writing, don’t enter competitions for the assistance they provide. Self-publish and control the exposure and marketing yourself, or get an agent.


I have some comments on this;

Games that do well in IFcomp (and others) typically would not do well commercially. In their submission forms at least. Sure, they could be updated. some have been.

Why would they not do well?

They (mostly) have no graphics, animation, music and sound effects. These are all needed to commercialise. You also need a slick GUI. With many options and settings. Lots.

Personally, i think there should be more commercial attempts. I don’t agree that, “No, interactive fiction won’t ever be commercially viable” I think there is actually a quite viable market for it.


I agree in principle. There are some unplumbed reservoirs out there. In particular, hands-free audio IF with a significantly paired down voice interface probably has a potentially large market. There’s a ton of work to do to figure that out though.

That said, I don’t believe commercializing IFCOMP as a whole is the right way to pursue that. I suspect you don’t either, but simply took issue with the declaration of commercial IF as perpetually dead for all time. Let me know if I misinterpreted that.


If it’s frustrating to put in the all the work to give it away for free, I imagine a commercial effort would be even more frustrating. If commercial success is your motivation, IF may not be the right medium.

I’ve bought 1893, The Shadow in the Cathedral, Hadean Lands, and I beta-tested Thaumistry. I don’t think any other modern commercial IF compares to those, but I don’t think any of them is considered a commercial success.


Yes, i totally agree. Commercialisation of IF is not dead. not at all.

Yes and IFComp is not the way, as outlined by the reasons IFTF does not want to be a publisher. That’s not to say that an IF publisher could not work, it’s just IFTF doesn’t want to be one.