State of the Company: 2018


#1

Hi everyone!

I’m writing this post for several reasons. The first is that 2017 was a big, complex year for us. We had a number of successes, some failures, and some near-death experiences. It’s also useful to give you some insight into the internal workings of the company, so we don’t seem like some impersonal bureaucracy with infinite dollars that some people seem to think.

As some of you may know, Dan has long had a day-job at Redfin, the internet real-estate company. Dan is our CTO, by which I mean our only real developer. After years of burning the candle at both ends, he went to part-time at Redfin in April of 2016. Since then, rather than continuing to burn the candle at both ends, he’s slept more, which has been very good for his state of mind. He’s also rolled out a number of improvements to ChoiceScript, such as night mode, restoring from Steam to web, and the minor animations, as well as the new @multireplace function. He’s currently hard at work on our omnibus app, which I’ll discuss more in depth later.

June 30th of 2017 was Adam’s last day as an employee of Choice of Games. He’s still a partner and will participate in our annual corporate meeting, but he is no longer involved in the day-to-day management of the company. The last game that he edited, Choice of Rebels: Uprising, was a great note on which to leave the company.

I’m still grouchy. My goal in life right now is to afford to buy a house, so that my wife and I can get pregnant. I hope both of those things will happen this year. My biggest accomplishment that you might be aware of was finally getting our new accounting system online; now, authors received monthly royalty statements that show their revenues and royalties by platform. This is a huge step forward for our professionalization—meaning, we look like an actual publishing house!

Becky has been hard at work on Psy High 2. She’s also been spearheading the research into and documentation for the Heart’s Choice romance/erotica line. We currently have four titles in work for it. We’re actively trying to recruit more romance/erotica authors to try their hand at interactive storytelling.

Mary delivered her first four games for us over the past four months. We’re very excited to see this strong start from her, and are looking forward to the projects she’s managing over the course of 2018.

Rachel has taken over the entirely of the production tasks from me (thank heavens!) as well as now being pretty firmly in charge of the Hosted Games program general. Obviously, she and I are still in conversation about different games and authors regularly, but we are very happy with her performance there.

In May, we hired Abby as our new, part-time CSR—to free up Mary to focus exclusively on editorial duties. Abby has been a welcome addition to the team, and has also taken on a number of QA tasks that she’s shown a real talent for. Depending on the progress of the omnibus, we expect to promote Abby to an Editorial Assistant this year, and have her start to manage projects of her own.

Earlier this year, we finally released the long-awaited Spanish language translation of Choice of the Dragon. We spent about $10,000 on the project. We were quite happy with the translation; as best we could tell, we thought it was well done. We decided to go with Dragon because it was short and perennially popular. We figured that we would be able to determine pretty quickly if there was a Spanish-language market for our games.

In the past year, Dragon has been downloaded 20k times from Spanish-speaking countries, with significantly fewer purchases. That’s a dismal result. It would be generous to say that we’ve made back 10% of what we spent. Now, 20k downloads is a lot more than before the Spanish translation, but we would need to see 500k downloads or more to get the ad revenue to justify the expense.

Perhaps we should have done some advertising to promote the game? But once we’d already sunk $10k in the project, it seemed like throwing good money after bad. Besides, we never advertised Choice of the Dragon in English; shouldn’t it have the same appeal in other languages? Regardless, the question of translations continues to be on hold until we either come into a lot of money and want to try it again or we come up with some better way of guaranteeing an ROI.

(We’ve had ideas about doing a Kickstarter, but how would we run a Kickstarter in another language that none of us speak? How would we promote it without having connections in those languages/countries? Obviously, there’s a real chicken-and-egg problem here.)

This brings me to the omnibus app. An omnibus app, in concept, is an app (like “Choice of Games”) that would have all our individual games inside of it, akin to how Pixelberry’s Choices or Episode Interactive’s Episodes works. A year ago, we resolved to make an omnibus app for the Heart’s Choice line. It seemed like a logical step, that the romance/erotica collection would be more easily cross-sold within a single app than across multiple apps. So, the idea for this was definitely on our radar.

In October, we were more-or-less informed by Apple that we needed to do an omnibus app for Choice of Games and Hosted Games too. Dan had not yet actually started work on the omnibus app, but we had a looming deadline. However, in December, the public outcry over this rule-change caused Apple to moderate its rule-change: we’re no longer required to switch to the omnibus structure, and certainly not by January 1st. (You can read more about these events here and here.)

However, I strongly believe that this is a good and necessary change. Old games that are still really good get lost in the App Store amid the clutter. If all the stories were in a single branded app, it would be up to us to design a good UI to allow the player to sort through them and decide between them. The other advantage to this new omnibus is that your account would be with our company rather than with Apple or Google; this means your purchases would be transferable between platforms.

Dan has a semi-working prototype, but it’s very bare-bones. The next set of steps will be to beautify it. We’ll probably roll out a version to Hosted Games before our big Heart’s Choice launch, just to get some feedback on it. My larger point, however, is that the omnibus apps could really multiply our revenue—or they could tank it. Right now, we just don’t know. But we don’t want to be caught flat-footed by a rule-change again.

Notably, our ChoiceScript Contest is wrapping up at the end of the month. We’re really excited to see what you all have been working on over the past year.

Finally, I’d like to trumpet the fact that Choice of Games just paid out our 750,000th dollar in released-game royalties to non-partners. If things go well this year, there’s no reason we shouldn’t pay out our millionth dollar in non-partner released-game royalties this year. I’m quite proud of the fact that our little company has survived and flourished over the course of the past eight years.

So, here’s to an awesome 2018!


New omnibus "Hosted Games" app
What do you appreciate the most about CoG forums?
A game in another language?
#2

#3

Wow that’s great news! Our you currently looking for someone to translate some other games in Spanish as well?


#4

This is a great update. I’m happy to hear about the expansion and increasing professionalization of the company.

I’m curious how the omnibus app (love the idea btw) will interact with PC platforms. If I have a bunch of apps purchased on my phone, I assume that means I could sync to a COG account and play on the main site?


#5

I look forward to the omnibus app. I would love to see my purchases all in one place. Just to be clear, CoG and HG have a separate omnibus app?


#6

I’m looking forward to what COG can bring to 2018 as a company! Also I’m very interested in the idea of having a omnibus app as it’d probably save me from making a mess out of my phone with so many apps that I’ve bought over the past year. And it should also be a life saver for those that wants to transfer their data between their phone, tablet or their PC. Keep up the fantastic work, you guys! I can’t imagine how stressful it must be right now with all of these things.


#7

First off, congratulations! Glad to hear that the vast majority of the news was good (as for the Spanish translation, it was a valuable learning experience if nothing else).

As for the omnibus app, I expected that was where y’all might have been forced to go with the ‘no template-based app’ ruling. It was a real jerk move on Apple’s part, and it’s good that they bowed to public pressure on it and reneged. At almost the last possible moment, of course. I was one of those who had reached out to them to complain about this, in part because I think omnibus apps are, well, garbage. These are premium stories, worth a premium price. And the authors deserve individual credit, not to spend their time as faceless drones creating another in an endless list of downloadable content options. I do not know if something schlocky like that Episodes thing makes more money than your individual releases do, but I can almost guarantee the people writing for them are less satisfied. It’s just too corporate.

I totally get the need to create an omnibus; as you said, Apple could be just waiting until the storm blows over to put 4.2.6 back on the docket in it’s more severe original format, and they have proven uninterested in giving much advance notice. But for whatever it’s worth, I really hope you don’t roll it out for HG unless it is absolutely necessary, or at least allow authors the option to still be released on their own.


#8

I know someone who could translate the games into Spanish, but it would be timeframe dependent as they are finishing an important year of uni in Spain atm.


#9

I could translate games into Turkish as could as I can. But this is my exam-preparing year so i can help you like 4 months later. Especially I would like to translate all medieval games:)


#10

I think the whole translation aproach is flawed from beginning, most of people who would know about you in some way already speak english. You would have needed several games and some advertisement and that would be too resource Intensive, unless you can get translations for almost free it wont work IMHO


#11

Agreed. Like Dan said, at this point it’s a question of how much good money you’d want to throw after bad. The money spent on an initiative like this which already had its bite at the apple and failed is money they could use for somewhat more vital things. Like, you know, health insurance.


#12

Jesus, you weren’t kidding about the existential problems plaguing your company. My respect for managing to make it through 2017 alive.

As for the omnibus apps, I’m not entirely unopposed to them. Affairs of the Court is an example of consolidating several games into one app I can get behind, for instance, and navigating the website has become a bit… well, difficult. I have the same reservations @hustlertwo has, but I doubt you will all go the same route as Choices and Episodes.


#13

There is a whole discussion thread on the issue of translations, with this post summing up CoG experiences:

If you want to discuss this topic more, please transfer your posting here: Publishing and Language


#14

Personally I’d like an omnibus app for HOG and COG. delight games has one and it’s good to have all the games in one place, I have so many games on my phone that even though my games are in folders on my android phone(zombie games, fantasy games etc) they take up more than half of one of my screens :stuck_out_tongue: . It’d be good to have a purchased section, categories, authors etc. I think as long as the apps make it clear who the author is and the HOG, COG and heart’s choice apps are distinctive from one another it’d be good :slight_smile: . Maybe have a recommended for you section too, where if you purchased an author’s work, it recommends you other games by them?


#15

I’m not sure CoG should emulate Delight Games though. When I picked up the Delight app it was something like £4 to get all their games, forever as far as I know. Quick way to go out of business if you ask me. That said something to consolidate the collection on mobile would be a good idea.

My current problem is that I have purchases spread across Steam, Chrome App Store and the CoG website. What I want is to have those platform shifted to Steam (or GOG but apparently they weren’t interested)


#16

This is dangerous news, which makes me appreciate the transparency even more.

An omnibus app, a centralized CoG/HG hub, is great for the core fanbase. It saves a lot of screenspace for the powerusers, the vocal minority of those who read and enjoy interactive fiction. If you’re reading this post on the Choice of Games forums, you are inherently more involved than 99% of folks who play these games.

But an omnibus app is terrible for the non-core fanbase, the sort that don’t get the emailer or frequent the forums. The sort that found Samurai of Hyuga by searching “samurai game” and scrolling down in the App Store. This large, quiet and casual audience will not be digging into an omnibus to fetch my game out.

This is a screenshot I took of the Google Play marketplace, nine days after Samurai of Hyuga Book 3’s release:

An author will never get this much visibility stuck inside an omnibus. While a centralized hub will prevent games from entering the 1-star App Store abyss, it will be at the cost of denying the chance of breakaway hits emerging to bring in completely new users.

The solution as I see it is to merge older and low-performing games into these hubs upon author permission. This is a new lease on life for the games who have been buried by app store algorithms. For new games, give authors the choice of how they want their game released. Maybe there’s some utopian future where we can have it both ways.

As for the Heart’s Choice line, my guess is that it’ll be a huge success. Romance and erotica are so in-demand that, if an omnibus is done from the start, will work out quite well. Whereas HGs and CoGs are extremely varied (with vastly different appeals), these steamy romances have a very well-established literary audience.

Those are my insights, anyway. Thanks again to Jason, Dan, and everyone else sweating over this one!


#17

I am in full support of an omnibus app, as someone who has five, count 'em, FIVE folders on their phone labeled ‘COG’. Granted, the person above me raises a great point. There are ups and downs no matter what you do, I guess!


#18

Good point… this does affect those consumers who search games specifically. I wonder if there be a way where could Google Playstore or App Store search the key word within the app themselves.

I’ve tried some search terms in the Google Play store, some terms did make Delight Game Library and Choices Stories appear. Probably it would be somewhat possible?


#19

I basically share the same concerns. Biggest concerns would be what launches look like, bringing in new readers and having to explain to them that each story is “an app within an app,” and authors struggling to get their names out there. Most readers already lump us all together but this would seem to exacerbate the issue.

EDITED TO ADD: But I know the powers-that-be will strive to maximize revenue for the company, and by extension, authors, so I do want to add that I have full confidence in Jason and the fine folks running the show. They have every incentive to do everything they can to increase exposure for games. For most of us, this is a hobby or part-time gig, but this is their livelihood. I loved seeing all the growth over the past few years.

P.S. To @jasonstevanhill, would love to hear about the house search if you’re able to pull the trigger. Biggest pain in the neck process but so incredibly exciting.


#20

Did it make specific stories within those apps show, or just the apps themselves? Because the latter would not help much. Most people will not bother to look within the app for whatever matched their search term.

MultipleChoice said it way better than I could. And having old apps collected in an omnibus would be more palatable, although it would still be necessary to make sure the omnibus and individual games both promoted each other well enough that the readership for each didn’t become isolated.