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Interactive Fiction is the Little Market That Could

There’s a post referenced in tomorrow morning’s link post that touches on interactive fiction. That piece claims IF is a new idea that is changing the market. The former claim isn’t true, obviously, but the latter claim got me wondering about the size of the interactive fiction market.

Interactive Fiction has been around since the mid-1970s, and as Nick reminded me on Twitter, it grew to be a sizable industry in the 1980s before withering away in the 1990s.

While the money may have gone away, the format did not. IF migrated online back when that meant dialing into someone’s computer, and the games followed the transition to the web. I myself played IF games on BBSes in 1996, and around 2000 I found new iterations of titles like Zork on the web.

And then, with the rise of mobile gaming, IF came into a second Renaissance.

Not only are there more options for writing your own IF (there’s even a publisher focused on voice-activated stories for Alexa), people are buying IF like never before. We don’t have complete revenue data, but some of the IF apps even reached top twenty or even top ten rank for highest-grossing apps in iTunes App Store.

At this point the IF market is worth, conservatively, anywhere from $100 million to $150 million. While that is relatively small potatoes compared to the fiction ebook market, the ranking data suggests that some developers are making millions of dollars from their app.

I don’t think  you can say that it is changing the market significantly, there is money there.

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Will Entrekin September 12, 2018 um 8:38 am

I think you’re off by a factor of ten there; the videogame industry is around $100 billion dollars, and it seems like everything mentioned is just basic videogames. In my family, we used to call Zork a "typing game," because that was how you interacted with it, but that was mainly because that was the mid-80s and graphics were rudimentary. And the Zork franchise evolved to include games with advanced graphics and different methods of input.

And the author of the piece continually refers to them as "fiction apps." Which I think further blurs the line and supports that really we’re just talking about rudimentary videogames.

Which I don’t see anything wrong with, mind you. But once you start basing advancement of narrative on reader prompt, I think you’re moving away from "book" and over to "game." Both are "fiction," though, so maybe it doesn’t matter in the long run.

Nate Hoffelder September 12, 2018 um 9:09 am

I think that estimate is off, yes. That’s why I said it was a conservative one.

Kate September 12, 2018 um 4:50 pm

'To Be or Not to Be' was published as both paper book and app. Choose Your Own Adventure books are definitely books.

If I read a CYOA type book on my tablet, does it become a game?

IF has always straddled that line between 'literature' and 'game'. I don’t see a need to be so firm in drawing the line between the two.

Alp October 5, 2018 um 8:40 am

On my pi3 I play all.the latest IF games…. Of 1990.

Nate Hoffelder October 5, 2018 um 8:52 am

That is a Raspberry Pi 3, yes?

Kungfuspacebarbarian October 30, 2018 um 4:34 pm

Patreon has been my only experience making a little bit of money writing interactive fiction. I’d love to get my Crypt Shyfter series to the point where it can generate some real money! 🙂

You Can Now Have Alexa Play a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure Audiobook | | Today's Book News February 25, 2019 um 7:09 pm

[…] interactive fiction stories for smart speakers like Alexa and Google Home. Interactive fiction is a thriving industry, but there’s still only a few titles available via platform like […]

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