Video games have always played well with other media. Can word-based interactive fiction do the same and maybe help you promote your novel or other work? Absolutely. But first some history.
Many early games were, if not outright adaptations, heavily inspired by popular franchises of the time. The licensing could be a bit dodgy. But games complemented other media and vice versa, and creators learned to use tie-ins in both directions to flesh out imaginary worlds.
As early as 1984, the cult-classic war game Lords of Midnight, by the late Mike Singleton, came bundled with a prequel novella that detailed the game’s premise and backstory, written by the same author. It is an auteur game.
More recently, the original Myst prequel trilogy of novels sold pretty well, if not nearly as briskly as the game. And if you look on Scribd these days, books set in the Warcraft, Halo or Mass Effect universe abound.
Interactive fiction as a promo tool
But going in the opposite direction is just as popular, if not more. City of Secrets, Emily Short’s interactive fiction epic that’s possibly her best known work, was commissioned as promotional material for a music album, if I remember correctly, before the deal fell through, allowing it to be released for free.
Less famously, Christopher Huang recently created a trilogy of text adventures to promote his upcoming novel. And at least they’re both authors with experience in the medium. Other people have used interactive fiction to promote things ranging from Stephen Colbert’s new TV show to a homeless shelter, and these are just a few examples*.
Why games as media tie-ins? Because interactivity can engage the audience in a way no traditional medium can match. Why interactive fiction then, in particular? After all, flashier genres have been harnessed for the same purpose: see The Quest for the Rest by Amanita Design, the creators of Machinarium (watch the promo video for Quest). But that’s not so easy to do when it requires art, animation, programming and sound design, all working together. There’s a reason why even the cheapest-to-create indie games today have six-figure budgets (and I mean in US dollars, not yen).
Interactive fiction, on the other hand, is just words. Well, “just.” Hard anyway, the act of writing is even more difficult when you must account for all the different ways players/readers will approach your text. But it’s still much simpler than making any other kind of game, and that’s—no pun intended—a game-changer.
Not so long ago I gave some examples of what it’s like to write interactive fiction of various flavors. As you can see, it’s almost entirely, but not quite, as easy as enthusiasts of the medium like to make it. Worry not, though; even friendlier tools exist. The recently-launched Texture is entirely mouse-driven (well, except for the typing part), and you don’t even have to install anything to create a mobile-friendly text adventure anyone can figure out. Want to have your mind blown with the same amount of effort? Then you can make a multiplayer world where your players/readers can meet and interact if you sign up for Seltani instead.
I could easily suggest twice as many tools, but the number of references in this article is already overwhelming. Point is, if you have a media product to promote, and you’re considering a tie-in as part of your advertising strategy, a piece of interactive fiction is a good option. You don’t need a team of professionals to get started even though paying an experienced author for extra quality is a good idea. That’s especially true if your product is already digital in nature, such as a series of e-books or a Netflix movie. You just have to find a good angle, because interactive fiction, more than any other art form, is a literal dialog with the audience. But by the same token, it can be a very personal form of marketing, that doesn’t need to pass many filters on the way to your public.
One more thought: Lately there have been various clumsy attempts to “reinvent the book” for this digital frontier nobody seems to have figured out already. But books don’t need to be reinvented; they’re perfectly good as we’ve known them for centuries now. Better, then, to let a franchise colonize a different, if closely related, medium if you feel static words on a screen are no longer enough, than to mindlessly pile bells and whistles that nobody wants on top of traditional literature.
*For more examples of IF as media tie-ins, see this poll on the Interactive Fiction Database; shout-out to Chandler Groover for his many intriguing suggestions.
I suppose this is how we will back into fuller use of the digital medium. Not as in adding fins and a RR grille shell onto a VW but where every element is essential to the story. We start from static text and move to interactive text but that’s just the beginning. I do appreciate Emily Short’s work (https://emshort.wordpress.com) but I am impatient to see us go further.
The excuse that indie games have six figure budgets is pretty lame when you consider the current state of prosumer animation and video technology. Fear of failure is the more likely culprit. Getting writers to venture outside of their comfort zone is very difficult, especially writers who have experienced some success.
I was quoting a widely-circulated industry figure. Sure, the tools to make good quality video and animation are relatively cheap these days, but it still takes a lot of work — and skill. If you aim to make a game like Quest for the Rest, you’ll be surprised how quickly the costs balloon.
But yeah, my point was that you don’t need any of that to make a compelling game. You can use the skills you already have, writing in this case, to create something that people will love anyway. And even a writer’s time is still worth money. We’re just talking a lot less time, by just one person. Which makes all the difference in the world.
Who is the target audience for interactive fiction? Is this a create it and the readers will come kind of idea? Or is there a true demand to expand the fiction landscape to other media outlets?
As a reader, I don’t see a place for interactive fiction at my table. When I read a good novel, I don’t hope for a sequel, a TV or movie adaptation, or an interaction of any kind the the fictional world afterwards. The words are good enough for me.
Maybe I’m in a dwindling demographic who simply enjoys books as books.
The target audience for interactive fiction is everyone who grew up with gamebooks, for example. And everyone who ever dreamed of entering their favorite story to play even a small part in it. Anyone who ever created their own story, just so they can get more of their favorite characters (it’s called fan fiction). As for the size of the demand, ask the fine folk at Inkle Studios, Choice of Games or Failbetter Games — all highly successful creators of commercial interactive fiction today.
You think I don’t enjoy books as books? You think I read a book and think, “gee, can’t wait for the movie”? Far from it. But when I love a story, more of it is welcome. Especially as other media can bring new perspectives to the table. Interactive fiction is simply a part of that.
Not meaning to self promo here, but I came across this article when researching ways to promote a short text adventure I created to tie in with my latest novel release… so, if it adds to the discussion, I’m trying this out. It’s very brief, experimental, and minimalist, because I don’t want to put off the casual player by thinking they have wandered into the actual book, but it does add to the novel’s ‘Universe’ and is slightly more interesting then just urging people online to buy my book with static adverts. I have no idea, however, if this is having any real effect on sales at this point, as my platform is pretty limited, being self published. But it was fun for me, which is a rarity when it comes to marketing! It’s here, if you want to see what I mean:
Oh, right! I remember noticing your game in the approval queue. It’s not my thing, but good luck! And thanks for dropping by.
Reblogged this on Linda Mims and commented:
For those of you who are looking for new ways to promote your books, give this a read.
Thanks Felix. I reblogged this on linda mims.com. I have some sophisticated and tech savvy friends in the writers club I belong to. Maybe one of them can help us navigate this.🤓
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Reblogged this on When Angels Fly.
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Reblogged this on Kim's Author Support Blog.