Irrational Optimism

Today I did something rational. I looked at what I have accomplished since I left my previous employer in December.

  • Launched the StoryTime Reader with an original story-game, The Mission.
  • Got 11 responses to the player’s survey.
  • Completed 4 minor releases: authentication, administration, API and UI enhancements, and the Writing Desk
  • Posted 26 times to this blog (now 27)
  • Signed up 14 subscribers to my newsletter.
  • Published 3 newsletters.
  • Updated the Happy Spirit Games website.

Maybe a few other odds and ends. I had hoped to be a little further along. StoryTime players can create their own games now, but publishing is not yet available. That’s okay. I never thought I would be done by now. Close enough for horseshoes.

From the player’s survey, I gleaned a few insights. People want longer stories than The Mission with more intricate plot lines. The Mission is intentionally very short to be sure that my very early adopters could make it through in one sitting. So it’s good to know that people want more.

People also want pictures. Yeah, I know. While a good interactive fiction story gets you to keep reading, just like a page-turner of a novel, the eye candy is essential to draw people in and jump-start the imagination.

The third insight is that it’s easy for people to miss the nuances of a story-game. I wrote The Mission using a somewhat vague style, attempting to keep things a little mysterious until the end. Many who only played once did not understand the basic premise. Some took things too literally. Others didn’t have enough context to make sense of it.

You could say that was due to poor writing. In fact, someone did. After my son played, I asked him a couple of thought-provoking questions which showed that he also missed some of the key aspects. By asking, that made him curious enough to play again and look beneath the literal meanings of words to see what is really happening in the story. I won’t tell you here—spoilers.

The point is that some well-phrased questions at the various endings can raise the value of the experience. Comprehension becomes part of the game play when players are aware that the story is also a bit of a puzzle to solve.

So I learned some things. Add that to the list of accomplishments.

  • Learned some things.

Then I thought about what to accomplish next. The short list for the upcoming six weeks looks like:

  • Release StoryTime v1.5 with publishing.
  • Design a course on how to create an online game.
  • Grow the audience to 500 or more people.

I can do the first two, no problem. That last one looks hard. To get a sense of who already plays these games and where I might find people who want to create their own, I peeked at some of StoryTime’s competition.

Here’s where being rational gets the better of me.

I already knew that the StoryTime has more than a few competitors. Still, ignorance is bliss. Not knowing what else is out there means I am not blatantly copying (not sure whether that is a virtue), and I get a kind of pioneering excitement by pretending I am the first.

It’s also irrational to remain ignorant.

A few companies, such as Choice of Games, are doing well at this and making money. Choice has been going for 8+ years, proof that a commercial effort can work, and also way ahead of me. Simultaneously heartening and discouraging.

Many of the systems for interactive fiction are free, powered by hobbyists. Many have been abandoned, sometimes with parting words from their creators. “All is lost. We have abandoned hope. There be no profits here.”

Let me know if anyone wants this…

Not exactly the best marketing effort.

When you see that someone has gone into the dark forest that you are about to enter never to return, how does that make you feel? A fool keeps charging in. The rational person looks for another path.

Today I found a system that is just like StoryTime but more complete, with a graph of the chapters that shows how they’re connected. It’s all online and easy to get started. But when I tried to plunk in The Mission, I couldn’t get past the first scene. The story was gone. Hmm. Might be a training issue. The documentation says it should work.

So I checked the blog, and the last post was in 2015, saying something like “2.0 beta — improvements coming soon…” I can see the first release in December of 2014 and a steady stream of releases until about June. Like it’s me on an alternate timeline from three years ago. Elsewhere on the site, I see that the creator moved on to writing and selling two story-games and pretty much abandoned the tools for authors.

It already exists. Bad. It’s better than mine. Worse. It was given up for dead. Awful.

Ugh. Demotivating. Being rational makes me depressed.

So forget it. I’m going back to being irrationally optimistic. Tomorrow I will get back to work on StoryTime and enable publishing within the next two weeks. Or maybe in three.

Call me foolish. Someday I’ll get this to work out while others are sitting around being smugly rational. Or I will have learned a lot trying.

Now where am I going to find 500 readers?


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