Word Count Discussion

I used to write some IF for sub-q where you had a limit of 5k words prose (excluding code). Actually a number of HG/COG published writers submitted work there. The pacing is different and the writing needs to be tighter. Short length makes the games neither good or bad by itself. Just different. It makes your writing tighter as a general rule. My favourite thing I’ve written was a 5k game.

I think we really need to move the word count discussion OUT of this thread unless it’s to directly comment on this game’s suitability to length after it’s been read.

When I get home I’m happy to set up a new thread and link some of the places you can find short choice based IF (cs/twine/ink etc) if people want to be open minded enough to give it a go and discuss. If someone else wants to do it before then, knock yourself out :slight_smile:

(BTW for anytime still unconvinced, call of Cthulhu is less than 12k words and one of the most widely recognised horror genre books out there, just say’n.)


I am just going to quote myself here, so my position on this topic is known


I do think there is a weird conflation of word count with quality or breadth a story takes. But sometimes, you can just be exceptionally efficient while also allowing a lot of branching or character choice. Word Count could mean a large story, or it could also mean being exceptionally inefficient in how you organize your story with the coding side of things.

I saw someone mention that in a story, the branching would encourage a ratio of 10-to-1 for what is written vs what the player sees on average in a play through and that seems dreadfully big to me? (Like, a 30000 word story showing 3000 to the player every run) Currently, the ratio I have for my WIP is about 3-to-1. Anyone else with thoughts on that?

^This is related to the word count thing because a more linear story appears longer while a branch heavy game might take a fifth the time to complete.

Response to @Eiwynn :

Hidden here so it's not taking space lol

As authors become better at coding, their word count can be reduced while providing the same amount of impact.

Yeah, that is what I was talking about more or less.

In my experience: a more linear story does not seem longer.

I meant it literally, if there is game that is 200k words with significant branching, and a story that is 200k words with a more or less linear follow through, the branched game is going to have less content shown to the player and thus be ‘shorter.’

I also enjoy in depth and longer stories as a rule, but I also have favorites that are not as long as other favorites of mine.

I think that is fair, I agree, I usually like longer form novels myself.

EDIT: Why is your account’s profile hidden? Is that a preference in the settings or something? I was just wondering since I have seen a few others with their accounts hidden. Privacy setting?+


The actual ratio is going to vary wildly from author to author, and even from title to title. As authors become better at coding, their word count can be reduced while providing the same amount of impact.

I do think an average play through should not be below 10,000 words (the equivalent of a short story) as a minimum, but that is my target for a choicescript type of game.

The ability of the author to tell a story and deliver a good experience is how I rate interactive fiction games.

In my experience: a more linear story does not seem longer.

I also enjoy in depth and longer stories as a rule, but I also have favorites that are not as long as other favorites of mine.


A Kiss from Death was 350k-ish words and a typical playthrough is about 50k, and The Gray Painter was 200k-ish and a typical playthrough was about 150k. The latter is technically three times a longer story than the former, but if you asked people which was longer and more in-depth they’d probably go with the former, not the latter. The wordcount makes a big impact even if you see only a small amount of it in a playthrough.


Sometimes I’m more impressed by shorter works because of how the authors have to refine their story. In a larger work, purple prose, bad characterization, and just plain badly written lines can get lost more easily in the larger plot, and so is forgotten and forgiven. Shorter stories don’t have that luxury.

I think it’s because pacing can be a major issue. A long journey can require long sentences to convey the flow of time, or a plot point will need to breathe through developing the characters/setting/etc – but just because long sentences and added pages work for certain stories doesn’t mean they work for others.

I think good examples of this in video games are Supergiant’s Transistor and Hades. Transistor is way shorter than Hades (at least in the hours I played :laughing:), but a major plot point is Red being hunted and rushed. Meanwhile, Hades is far longer and has a slower pace – which you’d expect for a tale involving the underworld gods. If you flipped their length, you’d be missing major points of both their stories.

Having said all that, as someone who finds replayability very important, I do favor high word counts… although I am always a little suspicious when stories’ word counts are first announced. It can be harder to tell if it’s more linear or has true multiple endings. Not to mention that repeated pages can be annoying and sometimes feel like unnecessary padding that don’t add anything to the story. At least with short stories I can easily skim past sections I’ve already seen.


Overall, my point was that it would be unfair to compare the three aforementioned books to an interactive novel. There is no reader’s choice to for example, stop the pigs from taking over in Animal Farm, it is a straight story, every 29,000 words of it would be read in a single reading. Call of Cthulu is a horror, it is not interactive horror, you cannot miss anything, you read everything.

Arthur: A Retelling promises me a retelling of Arthur’s story in a comedic way, however with branching choices, a must have in an interactive novel. A reader is left short regardless if they liked the story or not. That was my original point, to differentiate from a classic novel/political satire/story and an interactive novel.

No more, no less.


Personally, giant word counts are usually more of a turn-off for me as I don’t enjoy the process of reading in and of itself, and games with bigger word counts tend to be longer, which usually means I end up not finishing them as I tend to lose interest after a while.

I think an example of a “short” game that works really well is @Eric_Moser’s Zip! Speedster of Valiant City. The game’s word count is 50K words and although I don’t know what the average playthrough length is, I found the story to be perfectly-paced. It has the length similar to that of a major blockbuster movie or a miniseries – exactly the kind of pace I like as I usually prefer to be able to beat a ChoiceScript game within one or two play sessions. Anything longer than that and I usually lose interest.

Another important thing, as many people mentioned, is that a word count of a game doesn’t necessarily represent the length of a single playthrough. My first game is 67 thousand words long, but the average playthrough length is around 20 thousand! Compare that to my current WIP which is 200 thousand words long, but the average playthrough length is currently around 10 thousand words! (the game is not yet finished, but it demonstrates how deceptive the overall word count could be compared to the length of a playthrough)


10% seems very branchy and might become unwieldy to write if it’s plot and scene branching. Depending on how large the total game is, it might also feel like a bite size play experience, which is great if that’s what you’re going for but may be less exciting for players looking for a much longer read.

CoG design guidelines recommend an average of between 20% and 40% of full text to be visible on a playthrough. That said, from experience that’s not enforced at least at the lower end. I code pretty efficiently but Blood Money, Royal Affairs and Creme are still under 20%. Noblesse Oblige is only about 25% which likely led to it being known for being short as the total wordcount is less (it was very interesting juggling short total wordcount with varying playthroughs).

As a player, games with high word counts can feel a bit intimidating for me if my time/brain energy is low because I go into it knowing that it’s going to be a chunky experience (by “high” I mean more than about 300K words total. Yes I would be intimidated by my own games). So I tend to set aside time for them rather than playing more spontaneously. I liked playing Professor of Magical Studies when I was on holiday so that I could sink into it and enjoy the longer experience; conversely, I liked playing Sky Pirates of Actorius in the bath (kids, do not play games on your phone in the bath).


The truth is right. The value would always be in the ability to tell stories. Whether long sagas or short stories. Whatever they want to tell, whatever it is, often comes in the form of short stories and from there new stories can emerge for said author (this has happened many times). What matters is that they can express their creative vision no matter how long or short would be


…Alright then.


Never thought Id meant a person not not liking to read on a website on interactive novels. But this strays from my original point, this entire thread is very pointless. Originally I pointed out that you shouldn’t compare un-interactive books to interactive books, interactive books are fundementally required to be bigger beacuse of the player’s choice, 's all. Thank you all for carrying it way out of context :person_shrugging: .


Tangentially related, look up “flash fiction”. These are stories told in just a few sentences. There are some really good ones. The authors carefully select each word in order to pack the most puch.


I think that’s a testament to how engaging and fun interactive fiction can be that even someone like me can enjoy playing and writing it! :smile:

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Sorry but I don’t see how this ties in with anything here as - as far as I know - there haven’t been any flash fiction published through Choice of Games or Hosted Games nor there are many WIPs with that idea as a core.


No. It is related in the sense that short fiction doesn’t mean bad fiction.

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That is true but we are talking about interactive fiction here, aren’t we?


Feel free to ignore. Don’t need to stop discussing because of my post. Anyway I did say it was tangentially related.

True, but it’s still only 12k words. If you made it interactive and only saw a third of the words per playthrough, you’d still only be up around the 35-40k mark. It’s why I popped it in there because I’m not comparing a 30k word straight novel with a 30k word IF, I’m comparing a much shorter novel you could adapt into IF if you so wished in under 40k.

I think there is some confusion about WHY short games/novels are by their nature generally different to long pieces, and that’s ok. This link is good to read as an overview on the types of lengths (short story/novelette/novella/novel.) What is a novelette? And is it Worth Writing One? - This is Writing

So how can it be that one story can be told in 10k words, and another needs 100k? Shorter stories tend to be more focused and each word chosen more carefully. They often revolve around a shorter period of time and need to move faster. Any fluff or wandering scenes that are not critical to the story development often needs to be cut. The shorter the work, the more important this tends be. Novels tend to be fully fleshed out start to finish works. On the other end of the spectrum a short story may throw you straight into an event without a tonne of world building and background, and good ones have to do it well enough that you know what the deal is. The longer the work, the more plots and sub plots tend to happen. In short stories often there’s one strong plot that gets worked through. Novels tend to have full length “complete” stories, where as short form may not always have this and end with an event, leaving the reader to imagine what happened in the future. (Although not always! One of my 5k ones has an epilogue of sorts so there’s no hard and fast rules that always apply). Depending on the story being told, the effect you want to give, and the pacing will all depend on the length a piece of writing needs to be. Blowing something out to a longer length because that’s the “right way to do it” rather than because it needs that number of words to tell the story the way you want to does not always make it better. It can make it unfocused, or the storyline seem to drag.

There’s actually an art to writing good short fiction, just as there is long form. They’re actually not exactly the same, and short fiction is not inferior because of it. (It can actually be hard to keep a shor story from spiraling. As most authors on here and they will tell you scope creep is definitely a thing!) This is why some authors are better at writing long or short stories depending on their strengths and inclinations.

I’d also like to comment on coding efficency. Wordcount can be REALLY deceptive depending on how efficiently something is coded. I have two games approximately 100k words but one is much longer than the other. Why? Because my coding improved. The playthrough is also very different. One is very branched, one is relatively more linear. It makes a difference. More words also means more attention to editing and bug squashing, something that HGs in particular are challenged by because they are often not professionally edited. It’s easier to get a shorter game well edited and free of bugs than a longer one. This also makes shorter games more suitable for first time authors to learn from which is one of the reasons why I really object to the very harsh comments the Arthur game was getting because a first time author has completed a shorter length game.

I’d also like to quote Mary Duffy here:

Anyways, I’ll pull together some examples of short IF and post them here soon.


For me, this is a matter of personal taste, but I almost never read or buy a game thats less than 100k words, although I may depending on its premise. There are several factors at play.

A lot of it is probably just habit, I read very quickly. I can read the entirety of the SoH series so far in a day, Sword of Rhivenia took a couple hours, 100k words of fanfic is an hour, maybe an hour and a half. So it becomes a matter of whether its even worth it, becoming invested into a new world thats only going to last me 10-20 min at most.

Most of the shorter interactive fiction (at least the ones I’ve seen advertised via email or forum release post) tend to be more lighthearted, which just isn’t my thing. There are also a large number of more experimental works, which while interesting, aren’t what I personally read CoG/Hosted Games for.

I’ve also noticed that shorter interactive works, seem very short for the premise they’re advertising, especially when there are works with very similar ideas that are 3-10x that length. For instance, thee topic of discussion, Arthur: A Retelling, seems to imply its covering a large portion of arthurian legend which… ngl feels like it would fall short of what I feel its advertising or try to reach too far and feel shallow.

On the subject of Call of Cthulu, since that seems to be a popular subject of debate, while it is a masterpiece that was done with a very limited word count and its proof that it can be done, I have yet to see it or anything close done in interactive fiction with a relative limited word count. Also I know its generally well regarded but I personally greatly disliked reading Call of Cthulu.

Sorry if this comes out a bit abrasive but wanted to explain my perspective as someone who only purchases longer works.