A lot of good points have been covered here. Honestly, IMO most first time authors should be aiming at no more than 100k as a general rule if you want to get something finished that’s reasonably well produced, despite the feedback that longer games are always preferred. The reason why I recommend to start smaller is a few fold.
- You learn a lot from your first project.
Often there’s stuff that could be done a lot better with writing, coding or planning that doesn’t always come out until after it’s published. I wish my first game had been shorter. It’s horrible to put so much work put into something and then have it shredded by criticism and people not liking certain aspects of the game (whether that’s the format, stat usage, etc.)
A shorter game is lower risk. You can make it, learn from it, then use what you’ve learned to make something even better next time. Yes, if it’s shorter it probably won’t be a best seller, but that’s not the point. Crit on the stores is often much harsher and less helpful than what you’ll receive on the forums. It’s worth being prepared for that and learning what you can.
It’s also much easier to thoroughly bug test, stat check and grammar check a shorter game leading to a higher quality first attempt.
- Length and probablity of completion.
Lots of new CSG authors don’t realise how hard it is to finish long games. It’s not the same as writing a novel, the amount of work is NOT linear. It can get exponentially harder to write CSG’s the longer they get not just because of burn out, but because of the nature of accumulating stats and choices.
I’m guilty of this too. I’ve got a list of unfinished WIP’s that are all 70k+ words long that I’ve had to make a deal with myself to finish and not start any new ones, because they get harder to write and it becomes really tempting to start something fresh and new. Yes everyone wants to write a 500k+ game, but how many of those WIP’s actually get completed? (Hint- not many.)
In my experience usually the first 30k is easy, up to 70k is still fine, it gets slower towards 100k and the further you go beyond that, the harder it becomes. You get a build up of choices and stats you need to take into account and write for which increases your work load a lot. Which also brings me to…
- Scope creep.
It can be really hard to stick to a plan, especially if you don’t have a really clear idea of what you want the story to do. Even if you do that, as you go along you’ll get ideas or requests from readers that you’ll want to put in there. Most of my games are significantly longer than planned. My starting game Wizardry was meant to be a learning exercise and ended up being 100k (which doesn’t sound long now, but when I wrote a few years ago it that was considered reasonably long). As a few more examples, Oedipus was meant to be a side project of 50-60k words tops, and ended up being over 100k. Walking the lands of the dead was also a side project of about 60k which will probably end up over 100k. Abysm’s veil started out as a relatively short competition entry and is over 100k and no where near done.
It happens so easily. Either be very strict (which is harder than you think and may negatively impact the game in some ways by not including extras that it turns out would help it) or shoot for a shorter story to start with and then you’ve got some wiggle room with the overall word count down the track without it becoming huge. The forum is littered with unfinished games that have had a lot of work put into them which I think is often largely due to 2 and 3.
- Actually finishing a game.
This gives you a sense of achievement so you’re more likely to continue writing CSG’s. Nothing worse than being demoralised because you’ve got a few different unfinished games, none of which end up being completed despite the work you’ve put into them.
- Sticking to shorter word limits helps improve your writing. No really, it does.
Although a lot of people seem to regard shorter works as lazy and inferior, in my opinion they’re incredibly useful from a writing improvement standpoint. You need to prioritize what you want to say and include, and do it as efficiently as possible. Everything you put in, you have to ask yourself “Is this adding to the story? Could I do this in a way that it would be conveyed better to cut down on additional explanations?” It teaches you to be critical of what you are writing and edit to keep the story tighter.
It also helps you plan and stick to those plans (I’m not saying I’m a great editor by any stretches of the imagination, and I’m not great at sticking to plans, but since writing some short works (not published here as they’re under the word limit), I feel it’s helped me a lot with both of these.)
- Your first game will probably take you a long time to write. Much longer than you’d expect.
It takes a while learn how to code, and then use that code efficiently and in a way that you’re not causing errors everywhere that need fixing. Learning how to use the testers and deal with the sometimes mysterious bug messages they throw up. (Most are straightforward, but some can leave you scratching your head until you’ve seen them and worked it out/asked the forum and fixed them at least once.) Planning things out for the first time. Learning how to evaluate and apply feedback both good and bad can be something that takes time. It’ll take you longer than you think to get the first game you try to write finished.
There’s a few threads on this if you do a search. Short version is, in most cases having a beta that’s mostly public (or even entirely public) probably doesn’t impact your sales overly much, while the feedback you get is invaluable. If you’re a well known author with a fan base, you can move projects mostly to closed betas which do have some benefits (not just that your story is not pre-released) but they’re hard run well for most projects unless they have a large following.