It’s a common sight to see some WiPs amass thousand comments in their very early stages of development and some, also in their early stages, get fairly limited feedback without much discussion or feedback.
Since discussion and wide variety of feedback are very important for a successful development cycle, how would you go about amassing and creating a more long-lived discussion? What seems to be the reason for popularity of some WiPs that start very early, yet get incredible amounts of reactions and feedback and lack of the same for others?
For first-time authors, genre is a big factor (remember: the most popular fantasy genre is power fantasy), as are ROs (if there are multiple that check the “best boy/girl/person” box for multiple people, even better). If you believe that no engagement is bad engagement, then controversy about a WIP element/plot point (but not about the author) drives it up higher. Bonus points if the aforementioned controversy is related to ROs.
Non-first-timers have an established fan base who’s at least curious about their next possible work (unless they are writing something very niche). They will get a lot more engagement if they are writing a sequel to their previous work.
It also helps first-time CSG devs and veterans alike if they have a prior background in writing/game-dev and/or are published (and get the perks of the established fan base).
I think how descriptive the initial post is affects the engagement. Sometimes an author doesn’t give much info on the story or the characters, and I don’t feel like reading something I know nothing about
I think a small factor is initial length. Sometimes (and I’m not sure how common it is), I see a WIP posted that’s like, not very long and doesn’t get very far into any of the plot stuff, so I’m not sure what if any to comment aside from maybe a “cool concept”. Like in an initial posting of a WIP, its difficult to provide feedback on characters, plot or anything when theres barely anything there.
does it really matter? asking questions like that and trying to optimise for “most exposure/popularity” feels like setting yourself up for misery. maybe theres a direction you really liked developing in your story, are you gonna change course because some vocal minority deemed it boring/offensive/whatever? maybe you’re not into writing romances that much, is that going to change because someone came onto your post, wrote “mmm no sorry sweetie not enough romance options” and then leaves? why bother catering to these people?
write what you want to write, the material will find its audience on its own.
While I tend to agree that forcing something (say romance) into your story when you don’t want to write it can ultimately turn out a worse project and hurt you long-term, writers do still tend to need feedback. Especially for a medium like IF as it includes a lot of reader interaction. Not getting any/many comments can be discouraging and also sometimes leave you feeling lost in an unfamiliar medium, not knowing what to do.
Personally though I still agree that comparing yourself with the highest-regarded titles and trying everything to maximize your popularity would be a maddening process. One you can’t really control.
My small piece of advice would be to make sure the game page is detailed, and easy for the reader to navigate. I’ve seen a lot of projects over the years (IF, indie games, and sometimes even streaming service shows) that I’m initially interested in, but ultimately give a pass when I see a vague or brief description. There just wasn’t information to pique my interest. So take that for what it’s worth.
Also, noting updates in the thread title is big. Ideally, in a universally understood format (Updated 12 February 2023 as opposed to Updated 12/2/23, which would be read as 2 December in the US).
If I don’t know the author, I probably won’t even read the work until it hits a word count threshold (typically around 25k words, though it varies); I’ve just seen too many abandoned WIPs to want to invest my time in something that, statistically, probably won’t be finished. That said, if the premise interests me, I’ll likely bookmark it and keep track of its progress. Having clearly labeled updates helps with that.
As mentioned, having a clear description is valuable, as is a change log. I’d also strongly suggest proofreading and editing your blurb carefully, even if English isn’t your primary language. A lot of people who are active on the forums and in WIPs are writers, or at least enthusiastic readers, and having significant errors in what is essentially an advertisement can turn off a number of potential readers.
I know most of this have been mentioned already, but just to leave my two cents here. I can only speak for myself, but these are some things that make me bounce off (or never open) a WIP’s page.
This is the first thing someone sees on the forum, on the New tab. The usual advice: make an enticing title that conveys the genre and hints at the plot. Beyond that, there are a lot of WIPs with confusing post titles. I understand the need to convey some extra information, such as last time updated, but if you can, try to organize it in a systematic and easy to read format. On the other hand, some WIPs have no indication they’re WIPs except for the tags on the post. My sugestion:
[WIP] <Project Title> (Last Update, YYYY/MM/DD)
The very first thing I want to see when I open a WIP post is a short (key-word: short!) summary of the plot or a pitch for the plot. If the author really wants or needs to expound on details, they should hide behind an accordion.
This is an accordion.
Blah blah blah.
Bonus point if there’s an interesting banner at the top of the post.
Another bonus point if the author explains what kind of feedback they are looking for.
Negative point if the author starts with “Long time lurker, this is my first WIP and I’m really nervous…” or some variation of that. Look, I get it, but this is not how you start a post where you’re trying to convince people to read your WIP. You can add this kind of soliloquy at the end or at a separate post. This humanizes the author and builds rapport with the audience. Just make sure to present your story first. It looks more professional and allows me, forum member, to focus on the information that I want.
Sometimes the WIP has a really interesting premise, and an enticing title, the post is well formatted for optimal enjoyment, but the WIP itself barely has a full prologue. In this cases I bookmark the post and hope it will come up again some point in the future. It’s hard to give feedback if there’s not much too read.
Make sure the post title is enticing and easy to parse.
Start the post with a pitch of the project. Hide further details behind accordions. At the very least take advantage of the forum’s formatting capabilities, using headings, sections, bullet points and whatnot.
Make sure the WIP has enough length already to feel inviting of feedback.
Total, but it’s not a strict rule. The more a premise appeals to me, the earlier I might hop in. I tend to avoid most of the WIPs that start with “I’m a first time writer…” or “I needed a break from my other WIP” if there hasn’t already been considerable progress. 5000 words including code just isn’t enough to inspire confidence.
To be clear, though, this isn’t a criticism of new writers, new CS users or people in need of a mental refresh; everyone starts somewhere and I might’ve read those titles during the pandemic lock-ins. At present, I just don’t have as much time available anymore so I tend to be much more selective with where and how I spend it.
Genre, writing skill, presentation, previously released games etc is going to all factor. Especially if you’re a new author though you often need to give people a reason to care. If you want feedback I’d recommend becoming known in the forums. Don’t just visit the other hyperpopular threads and then wonder why yours isn’t getting much traffic (even though you’re doing exactly that.)
Visit the other low traffic WIPs. Give feedback without expecting any back. Make some friends. You’d be surprised how far that goes and how amazing even just a couple of really good dedicated beta testers are if they decide to support your game.
Edit: and make sure you run the basic testers and a spell check before releasing a demo. Nothing turns a lot of people off checking out your game again faster than hitting a game breaking bug 3 pages in.
I’ve noticed that getting actionable feedback from readers is pretty much luck based, regardless of whether you have a popular thread or not. I think that if you want good feedback from people who consistently provide it to other authors, it’s better to reach out via direct messages. However, you can achieve engagement (mostly people arguing with each other) on your thread by following these seven easy steps.
Write a medieval fantasy about ascending to the throne. Bonus points if it’s angsty.
Have a wide variety of ROs, but make sure their numbers are imbalanced, favoring a specific group. For example, it’s a rookie mistake to add 2 male ROs/ 2 female ROs, and 2 gender-switchable ROs. It’s much better for engagement to have an unbalanced number of ROs, like 3 female, 1 male, and 1 gender switchable. Bonus points if you have an unequal number of orientations for your ROs (3 straight, 1 M/M and 5 lesbians).
Have at least one RO with ‘problematic’ behaviors (sadistic, non-con tendencies, etc) and make them gender-switchable. The more red flags, the better.
Add grammar errors/ bugs on purpose. People will post screenshots in your thread.
Plan to add the option for the MC to be NB, but don’t add it straight away. Wait for the users to fight amongst each other for your right to not include it before actually including it.
Make a controversial poll, then ignore the results or act like the conversation never happened.
Say you are going to post an update to the demo in five minutes, but don’t do it until at least five days pass.
And if there’s no plan to add such an option? I’ve been eyeing it for my project, but Russian language is the least friendly to gender neutrality and your name could vary wildly based on your passport gender. I couldn’t really work out a way to adapt it, given the fact the project takes Russian urban fantasy as the main inspiration.
I was mostly joking. You don’t have to add an nb option if you don’t want to and people will not fight unless it gets a lot of traction. If you are writing in Russian, I don’t think it’s possible for people to complain, but if you write it in English, there won’t be any language barrier.
It’s a long discussion, but the short answer would be: if your game’s world makes it difficult and unproductive to represent certain identities, then don’t do it.