Short Games and Long Games - Incentives for Authors

Here’s what this post isn’t: it’s not a complaint! It’s just me musing. I’m thinking about money today.

I was mulling it over, and I would guess we all agree that all things being equal, whether you play a game once or ten times, a longer game (in terms of overall word count rather than word count per playthrough) is better.

I was looking at this post and the graph relating length and rating:

It got me thinking about how best to incentivize longer games. I have it in me to try to perfect things, and I am naturally a wordy writer, so I don’t need that much incentive! But I’m wondering now whether there would be a value in different tiers of pay for a 150,000 word product versus a 350,000 word product.

I would guess that the answer is the difference is the royalties earned, and I don’t have a lick of data to tell me whether for the majority of games there’s a big difference between royalties earned for shorter and longer games.


Very complicated question, that has also kept me thinking for a while. Obviously games have a life of their own, and any preliminary design soon gets taken over by enthusiasm and player/reviewer comments (I like to implement as much of what playtesters tell me as possible). Having said that, my rules of thumb are:

-At least 20,000 per playthrough (good games have 30,000+)
-good to have a second/third branch at around 2/3rds of game (Tokyo Wizard has 3 major branches, intertwined from middle of game)

I get the feeling if you don’t have at least that you get some common complaints like “too short”, “no replayability”. So, if you take those two into account I’d say games under 80,000-100,000 can be risky unless very well written (and I don’t think I’m a good writer, hence why I pay more attention to length, structure etc). But, these are just generic thoughts and there are some great short games out there (and there is also tin star in the other side…)


I guess I’m just thinking about the economic side as it connects to the writerly side.

Just in terms of naked economics, why wouldn’t I spend my time writing two good 150K games rather than one good 300K game? I would get paid double for the same amount of work.*

Now, for me, the answer is that I think the 300K game will be better. But it’s interesting that pay doesn’t track with length–I’m sure there are lots of reasons why that is, and again, I have no complaints–the pay is very generous for freelancing!

*doesn’t take into account royalties, but I would guess royalties don’t account for more than a small chunk of the difference.


Maybe because people would be more weary to buy two 150k words games than one 300k words one.

But I can’t be too sure; that opinion is completely biased because I dislike short games.


I think the rest of that sentence wandered off somewhere else :smiley:


Hey @Gower, I think about these same sorts of “writer economics” questions too! And I’ve bought your gamebook and hope to get some time over vacation to dive into it. It seems like my cup of tea.

To me, the answer is: yes, absolutely write two 150k word games, IF you feel you can tell those stories within those word-lengths. I think it just comes down to where the story takes you and what you are trying to accomplish from the start. I don’t know that many of us think at the start, “I’m going to make this story 120k words no matter what.” That seems a bit…limiting.

So I guess it comes down to outlining, figuring out what choices and plot points are central, and then determining how large of a project will result.

When I first starting brainstorming Community College Hero, I knew there were way too many scenes to include in a single gamebook. I wanted to let the story breathe, and to include some lighter moments that are not really relevant to the central plot, but that are fun and allow for some social scenes and character development. To me it seems “fake” when every scene in a story is somehow woven into the main plot. But when writing a 150k book, the writer obviously has to keep things tighter and more focused.

So I solved the problem by planning a series. I figured that would pay much better overall (pretty obvious), and that it allows me to get feedback from readers and improve as a writer in each outing instead of cramming it all into one and not getting any feedback until I’ve published a massive 500k word behemoth.

And I guess your central question is really geared more towards official CoG games and the set payments that are offered to the writer, which aren’t really related to the word count. I would guess they want the writer to focus on telling the story that needs to be told (and offering the choices that need to be offered) as opposed to focusing on word count, which can be inflated by poor coding, lots of cutting and pasting, etc.

And for humble HG authors who only get paid by royalties, I think it’s perhaps even more important to focus on the economics, since 100% of payment depends on marketplace response. I am planning to make CCH a trilogy of 150k-200k word gamebooks, with the reader seeing about 30-40% of the words in each playthrough (which I think CoG views as the “sweet spot” between length and replayability).


Yes I thought so too.

In my experience, it seems that unless the story is best-seller quality, it’s a far better idea to (for example) write one 300k gamebook as opposed to two 150k gamebooks. My HGs, Trial of the Demon Hunter and Captive of Fortune were 80k and 140k, and they both got the same amount of “it’s too short!” Reviews.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like most people will take it seriously unless it’s like 200k + words. So, naturally, I’m really regretting the fact that I didn’t stick with my original plan of having TotDH and CoF be one individual book, with a total word count of 220k. Length wasn’t the only issue people had with my stories, but I can say with confidence that they would have performed like twice as well had they been one 220k story instead of two, at 80k and 140k.


Yep. Thanks for the heads up!

It’s better in terms of product, I would agree–but it’s not better in terms of cold, hard cash, if we want to examine it from that point of view. Ideally, you’d want to see the financial incentive match the better product, but I would argue it does just the opposite.*

*This is for Choice Of games, rather than Hosted. For a Hosted Game, double sales equals (I think) double profit for the author. That’s not the case for Choice Of (unless the game is a blockbuster).

As a reader I would go for the longer game. Why? Because I feel like I’m getting more bang for my buck. I understand that its in your best interest to split long games into smaller ones to get more money out of it… but at the end of the day you should look for a happy medium between what your costumers want as well as a healthy income for your work.

Keep in mind that people don’t like to be milked and spilting a game into tiny portions or variable quality can raise questions about your methods and intentions. I’m not too worried about most writers here but I know for a fact that when people start min-maxing their monetization some will try to find a way to push things to the limit, seeing how far they can go before people complain too much or stop buying. That’s what worries me.

If all comes down to it, I’d be willing to spend a little extra money if it meant getting the complete work in a bigger game.

Just my 2 cents.


I’ve sort of have arrived at the same conclusion as @Eric_Moser, that it’s better to go for something in the 150-200k range, as it would allow to get comments from readers, and that this is probably a nice “sweet spot” (for reference, the first harry potter book has 75,000 words, so 150,000 is twice that length, though in one playthrough probably each reader will see only around 30,000-50,000, depending on how much it branches).

There is also the crucial problem of writer fatigue. I felt that after 100,000 I started to lose motivation, and finishing the game (the next 44,000 words in my case) was a bit of a struggle (at the very end I was really tired, and my mind started to think about other projects). Thus, I reckon that (unless you are very persistent and motivated) it’s better to plan for “short” 150,000 games. However, I do appreciate that readers will always want bigger games, and that it’s better to respond well to their comments (hence the importance of beta-testing, to make sure people don’t feel the game is short and that it has a natural pace and structure…)

The Philosopher’s Stone was like 300 pages at least, if I recall correctly. 75,000 worda is only 150 pages.

Depends on text size. If you print a increase font size you can ramp up the page count for the same number of words.

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@Samuel_H_Young I got this from here

However, obviously the important thing is average playthrough read (I pay a lot of attention to this while writing, and I think anything under 20,000 prompts frequent “too short” comments, over 30,000 these seem to go down quite noticeably -though obviously some people still complain). At least that is my conclusion after reading and re-reading posts in forum, talking to people, and checking reviews for a variety of games on google play, itunes, etc… What is your own experience on this?

Remember that average reading speed is about 200 wpm. So…

A gamebook with 40k words read on a given readthrough would take the average person about 200 minutes, or 3 hours, 20 minutes to read, and that doesn’t include any breaks for checking the stats menu, agonizing over decisions, rereading a paragraph, etc, and it certainly doesn’t include any replays. So a gamebook priced around $3 or $4 is giving the reader entertainment for around $1/hr. It seems to be unreasonable to complain about value at that point. That’s a great value, assuming the story and choices are compelling.

30k words = 2 hours, 30 minutes
20k words = 1 hour, 40 minutes (I can see the “this is pretty short” objections coming around this point)


No, books pretty much always have the same order count. If the pages are smaller, the text is smaller, and if the pages are larger, the text is larger so that each copy has the same number of pages.

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I have to say that I have been thinking about this a lot lately. Fallen Hero is already up to 260 000 words, (maybe 59 000 in a playthrough) and I have not reached the end of what I picture as book one yet.

That said, this is will be a hosted game, and my first, and I want it to be solid and and give me a good rep for future games.

I am actually close to the point now where I could have broken off for book one. The first main arc is done,it is a natural stopping point. I won’t lie, I have been thinking about going back and filling things in (I have a lot that needs to be added to the start which I have avoided in order not to spoil people) which would bring it to around a total of 300 000 words or more. The reason why I have not done so is because one, I don’t want to be accused of being short (though looking at the length of games I am already pretty long), and two, I don’t want to risk people being mad because not enough is added in the for sale version.

It also complicates things that I like long games with replay value, but it looks like the price point might not be worth it…

Hmmm I really need to think about this…


I would guess that for a game with 300K total and 59K+ for a playthrough, you probably won’t be accused of brevity!

But yes, this exemplifies the issue–all things being equal, a longer game is usually better, and, as a Hosted Game, the financial incentive is there for you to make it so, but for a Choice Of, the incentive would be for you to cap it off and make it a “Part I.”

I’m looking forward to Fallen Hero, by the way.


FYI Unnatural was 250,000 words when it was released with a single playthrough anything between 45,000-70,000 and I got reviews saying it was too short. Im of the opinion to some people it’s the length of the playthrough that they look at almost as if they don’t understand the beauty is in replaying them making different choices.