Full time writing and CoG

I originally posted this on Reddit but was advised to move it here.

So pretty much I’m torn on whether or not I’d like to start posting games on CoG. I love writing but I have more fun writing interactive novels than regular fiction. I’d love to make a career out of it but I’m not sure what the best method for sharing my stories is. COG takes a large percentage of the profit but on the bright side, it already has a dependable fan base that like to read interactive novels. You only get 25% of the profit (1/4 of the cut when you are doing most of the work). I also hear they are picky about the type of interactive novel and insist on having stats. On the other hand I could post my games independently on indie gaming websites but they have so many different genres you risk just getting drowned out. What are your thoughts on this, and any advice from writers that are able to write full time?

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No one makes a living exclusively from writing for CoG aside from its employees; at most it would be possible to write for them and other publishers and piece together a living from that. However, publishing independently will never get you near as many readers. 25% is a tiny cut, especially since it is net and not gross. But better 25% of $1500 than 100% of $150. Not that those numbers are at all accurate, but they give an idea of what I am saying.

Really, it is about what you want. If you want to get eyeballs on your writing it is great; even the most unpopular WIPs still get at least some feedback, and ones that are loved could have dozens of readers and testers giving you their thoughts. If you want to get a decent secondary income source it may or not be good depending on how good you are, what you write about and a host of other factors. If you want a ticket to Easy Street, you have not found it. I expect someone will be able to write solely for this site as their job someday, after having enough popular stories out there that they have a steady stream of income enough to support themselves (though likely not a large family) but no one is quite there yet.

As for limitations, you can always write a Hosted Games title. More freedom and stats are optional, though at the cost of not getting an advance and less promotion (albeit still far more than you get from self-publishing).

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Hiya there, Sly! (Can I call you Sly?) I’m the one who suggested you move your post over here.

To start, here’s a few threads that might have some insight to what you’re asking. You can read them in the meantime while I tag some of the more frequent authors who are on the forums.

Keep in mind, I think these are geared toward being a Hosted Games author, which—if your soliciting email isn’t accepted—is pretty much the only other path to getting published through them.

Tag City

@Eric_Moser @Cataphrak @HannahPS @malinryden @Havenstone @Gower
Sorry if I forgot anyone! And WIP authors feel free to reply! There’s just a limit on how many people you can tag in a post, lol.

Again, I think this is only true for mainline Choice of Games. Hosted Games has a lot more creative freedom.


As @hustlertwo pointed out, no one is writing exclusively for CoG or Hosted Games and doing it full time (yet), but Patreon seems to be a way to definitely supplement your income, provided you have a large enough fanbase.

Now, you can’t offer free versions of the game when you’re finished, but I believe you can offer a beta version of the game for certain tiered patrons to test.
What a lot of authors do instead is offer short side-stories or—if they’re artistically inclined—artwork!

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You can also offer timed exclusives of the beta on Patreon. The caveat is just that it all has to be beta tested on here at some point before publication. It doesn’t mean you can’t do it elsewhere first. Some do, others don’t. Patreon is a fairly new wrinkle for this place, and of the few who get serious money there seems to be several different approaches as far as what they do to get it from their supporters.

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Thought I should say that 25% of the cut is the most generous payout I’ve ever seen. Two published paper novelists I know (Max Gladstone and Felicity Banks) mention how they like writing for choice of games because it’s much more fair than traditional publishers.

It’s also very fair from the viewpoint of video games. I was an employee for Saffire Corp who did much of the work for Starcraft: Brood Wars, a game that sold incredibly well. We got 0% of the royalties. Choice of Games is much better.

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Writing full-time in general is very difficult. Even well-established authors shy away from it. Making a living from writing is so hard that many best-selling and award-winning authors have day jobs. Most of them, even. And making a living from games is even harder, if anything.

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The threads that @impeccably-stressed linked are very informative on the subjects you are asking about. Published authors can better speak about the earnings they have had here and the viability of their writing than I can and so hopefully more of them will join the conversation once more.

With that said, I will offer a gaming perspective, something that is very rare and often overlooked by authors here.

Interactive Fiction encompasses many different gaming forms. Choice Script games are one but there are games that are considered virtual novels and there are the episodal types of games as well.

From a pure writing standpoint, what the authors that have posted already said here also applies to game writing. The offers and opportunities I’ve seen and heard about from others are not as generous as CoG in terms of pure numbers.

Most game projects I’ve been involved in offer set prices per word or other schemes that end up making you a poorly paid independent contractor focused on individual projects. As a result, most game writers, in my experience, write for other reasons.

The only writer, I can recall off the top of my head, that has made a “career” out of writing is @Cataphrak and he tells his experience in the first link Rose linked to you.

I’ve been working in the game industry basically my entire life, as a quality control tester, a successful modder, a small bit content contributor and game tester. Nothing I did was a “career” - unless you get into actual publishing or more “business” related activities, it just isn’t usually viable.

If you want to focus on the creative aspects (which it sounds like you are), the way to succeed better is to hustle. Every successful person I’ve been involved with from the creative side hustles their ass off to get to where they are.

If you have not already looked at the official requirements for a Hosted Game to be published, I do suggest doing so - things like the mechanics will fall into place as long as you take advantage of testing opportunities …

One other thing - my experiences with the game industry involve publishers and developers that are established, reputable and “above-board” … the “gaming websites” and others that you find for “self publishing” purposes, always seem off to me and I’ve not dealt with any of them.

One of my friends has dealt with a competitor to CoG and I’ve not been encouraged by their experiences there.

My last thought is to give Choice Script a chance - it will be a pretty straight-forward experience and one that you should be able to judge where you want to take it sooner than later in the process of writing a CS game.

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Also need to take into consideration what you want to write. HG has a lot more freedom but lower cut, less promotion and you need to organise artwork, beta testing etc yourself. I don’t know of anyone who writes full time for HG. COG is going to earn you more but you’ll need to write to their structure and meet deadlines. (And yes I’m pretty sure you need stats but that’s a question for COG.)You also need to apply and get a project approved first to write for COG.

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Being able to write full time is a lifetime goal of mine. I first became a published author in 2014, but 4 games and 5 years later, I’m lightyears away from being able to quit my day job.

With all the successful WIPs I have brewing, I think it will look like much more of a possibility in the next couple years, but of course that’s just speculation.

In order for me to write full time and quit my job, I’d have to release multiple smash hits a year. And keep in mind that’s also considering that I live alone and don’t make much from my day job, anyways.

I will say that I do believe it’s possible to become a full time CSG writer, but only if you bust your ass, hone your craft, and consistently pump out high quality games for years on end. It’s a lengthy process that will take several years, if not longer.

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I freelance four days a week on game development, some of which is spent on CoG work and some on other projects. Full disclosure, I wouldn’t be able to do it without financial support from my wife plus nationally subsidised childcare - but that’s not surprising given that I’m not a staff writer/salaried employee and only have one commercial game out. While I’m moving towards greater financial sustainability, “don’t quit your day job” is a cliche for a reason! (My lack of a day job wasn’t my choice, but I’ve made the best of it)

I think @GreekWinter has mentioned that his experience writing for CoG has been more lucrative than book publishing. Certainly 25% is a high royalty rate for the field. I can’t speak for Hosted Games but I’ve had only good experiences as a Choice of Games author - the editorial input is invaluable, deadlines are flexible, guidelines are clear and sensible, and payments are prompt.

If you’re looking to dip your toes in the water, you won’t lose anything by giving ChoiceScript a go - you’ll be developing your development skills along the way and figure out what sort of thing you’d like to make.

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Lower cut? Might be my weed-infused college time coming back on me but I don’t recall that CoG writers get an option for more than 25% of the net.

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@hustlertwo You’re right, my bad. For some reason I always thought COG authors were 25% total, but just looked again and it’s the same as HG’s which are 25% of the profits a game makes (after the app stores take their percentage out which makes it about 17.5% from memory). COG authors do get an advance though which would be very helpful for a full time author so they had money to live on while they write.

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I view this as more of a math question than an opinion question.

Assuming a $5 pricepoint and the .175 gross cut, an author needs for their story to sell about 11,500 units in the first year to earn $10,062.50 for those vital first 12 months. I think most people would view these sorts of results as successful, especially for a HG, but perhaps even for a CoG?

But really this understates how many units need to be sold, because a large percentage of sales happen in launch week, and usually the product’s price is slashed up to 40% that week, so using my back-of-the-napkin math, let’s say you actually need to sell 15,000 units that first year, not 11,500, to earn that $10,062.50.

Again, congratulations! That’s quite a solid launch!

But you’ve only earned $10K USD gross, and that’s not enough to survive. So do that three times (in a calendar year!) and you’re up to $30K! Depending on your cost of living, whether you have a partner and/or dependents, that may or may not be enough to support you for the year.

Most people just aren’t going to be able to crank out three high-quality releases in a year, much less get them all through the publishing queue, in a single year, even if they are working 40 hours per week doing it. So does that mean it’s not doable?

Well, not in a year it’s not, but if you slowly build it might be. For example, if you build up your library (maybe cranking out a story a year? that’s still a fast pace for most) while you’re still working a day job, and get to the point where you’re earning steady monthly royalties on stuff you’ve already written, then yes, then you could probably make a go of it as a long-term proposition by picking up your pace and adding to your library more frequently.

But all of your projects will need to be at least moderate ‘hits’ and you’ll likely need to be writing in popular genres to accomplish that. Also, if you’re submitting as a HG writer, you’ll have at least minimal expenses set off against your earnings (mostly artwork, but some people have paid for editing too).

Also remember, one last thing, other than writing a story in a popular genre with a compelling plot, strong prose, meaningful choices, and satisfying endings (no small feat), you have VERY little control over how things go saleswise after your game is published. Profit margins are so small it doesn’t make sense to advertise with your own $ like indie authors do on Amazon. There aren’t really any special promotions (like BookBub) that you can use. All new IOS HGs and CoGs are launched through the Omnibus app, and I have no clue if there’s any way for any author to give their products “a bump” in that app (I don’t think there is). So in these respects, it’s MUCH different than the indie book word where authors can tweak pricepoints, do ads, do promotions, etc after launch to try to bump sales.

(BUT the good news is that your expenses submitting a project will either be non-existent or minimal, and that most all of your earnings will be profit!)

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Another reason that I feel like most authors can’t make a living is because taxes are barbaric. Whereas around 10% of my income is taken out of my paychecks from work, it’s more like 30% off of anything the government considers freelance work - and this includes writing novels.

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Yeah, 25% is way better for a newer author than almost any other publishing house will give you, especially in traditional novel sales.

I don’t think there is either, and it’s exceedingly frustrating. I can’t even send friends and family links to download the game, much less potentially interested fans. Tell the average person that you’ll have to download an omnibus app and then buy my app inside the app and most people’s eyes have rolled to the backs of their heads before you can finish explaining it to them. That’s just a fact.

And then, assuming you can actually successfully direct people to download the omnibus and buy your game from within, there’s no way to promote your game from inside it. It’s all left up to whatever algorithm CoG is using to sort things, some of which are more obvious than others and none of which can be helped in any way by the author.

A frustrating example is this: Because my game has an average score of 4.8/5, I am listed extremely far down the ratings board. Even though I have 300+ ratings, I’m sitting far below visibility than games with less than 50 reviews, sometimes far less. This is because the sorting algorithm sorts by score first, and then by number of ratings. Thus, a game with only 5 ratings and a 4.9 average will sit above one with 1000 ratings and a 4.8 average. This has the snowballing effect of making the game less visible, which in turn sends the game into a tailspin on the bestselling sorting. The end result is that my game sold 6 times as many copies on Google Play as Apple last month. But such is life.

Edit: To elaborate, most online stores take rating numbers and engagement numbers into account on a much higher level. For example, on Amazon, a book with an average of 4/5 but 1000 reviews will always be promoted over a book with a 5/5 average but only 10 reviews.

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I just started paying quarterly taxes :frowning:

Plus, there’s paying for a website, an anti-piracy service, marketing, testing, artwork, etc. Not everyone has those expenses but if you want to succeed, you will need to do such things.

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For a BRIEF second, I considered doing a FB advertising campaign to see if I could pump up my IOS sales in a week juuuuuuust enough to pop back into the top 15 “bestselling” list on the Omnibus, with the hope that I could stay there. I mean, as few as 20 or 30 IOS sales in a week for an older game might be enough to do that. But I tried to run some math and I just don’t think the costs would be worth it, especially since so few of our customers are on FB anymore.

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I only advertise to my own followers now when I have an important post. Facebook tends to hide pages even to its own followers. So I advertise to my followers.

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Oh trust me I see the FB issues. I was just considering a “one time” push to see if I could get back into the Top 15 on the Omnibus. Because just like being the 2nd or 3rd page on Google, being #17 on Bestselling on the Omnibus gets me nowhere because the front page chops after #15. Few people are going to click “View all”

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As a general rule, Facebook advertising is almost never worth it in the long run, though there are always exceptions to every rule if you get lucky.

I also just saw that we’re apparently making an omnibus app on Google Play which concerns me greatly. (today’s update to my game says “Preparing to allow omnibus purchase transfers.” I haven’t experienced such an immediate and gut-wrenching feeling of dread in a long time.

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