Word Count - Just what is counted?

I did a quick search, but the results only turned up ways to obtain your word count. I want to know what is included in word count.

Does word count include the coding? I figure it does or branches are included even though they repeat a lot of the same writing. Or maybe COG authors are incredibly prolific. I just don’t see how any game contains 500,000 or even 1,000,000 words. Your average fantasy novel would be around 100K, maybe 150K.

Hat’s off to you all if the count includes only story and no repeats! How on earth do you manage?!! (Actually, hat’s off to you even if the count includes everything. Writing one of these things is a major accomplishment.)


The wordcount for published games includes code, WIPs vary; in CSIDE and the VS Code extension, you can generate a wordcount without code. CoG/HC games are edited in order to not repeat large sections of the same writing, but with HG that isn’t necessarily the case. In either case, yes they’re extremely prolific!


This used to be true before *gosub was widely used (and mandated by editors of CoG label games). When you look back to the code files for e.g. Heroes Rise or Deathless, you’ll quickly find examples of repeated language that would be tucked behind a *gosub today. Tin Star is massive, and brilliant, but comparing its word count to e.g. Choice of Robots (one of the first games to make heavy use of gosubs) is apples to oranges. Today, like Hannah said, you rarely have much repeated text.

Games with minimal branching tend to have less code – so a high word count will reflect some balance of long story and high replayability/customizability. Either way, I think there’s something of genuine value behind the number – it’s very rare that you could accuse a high-word-count game of just padding out its numbers without reflecting something genuinely enjoyable and impressive about the experience.

And today’s mega-games with over 1m word counts definitely have way, way more actual story content (even stripping out the code) than your average fantasy novel. I expect when all’s said and done, my five-game series will have roughly as much content as Jordan’s 14-book Wheel of Time. (Would-be Brandon Sandersons: stand back, I’m not even 50 yet…)

Edit: having just checked CSIDE, my working draft of XoR 2 has 458,000 words excluding code, and 535,000 including code.


I would add that large sections of repeated text are still common in HG games. Very few HG authors use gosubs or multireplace, and some aren’t even proficient in the use of variables. I’ve seen code in which a fairly large paragraph is repeated several times with only a single word of difference. Granted, even most HG coding is more efficient than that - but it’s not at all unusual for large chunks of text to be repeated with minor variations in ways that gosub and multireplace would obviate.


Good point. And as someone who only very slowly got comfortable with those tools myself over the course of a decade, I’d echo what I always say about coding efficiency:

Many, many of my favorite ChoiceScript works are inefficiently coded. Their word count is still a decent indicator of how much story there is to explore; and as a non-editor player of these games, I’d rather see them finished and enjoyable with big chunks of repeated code than lagging because a non-programmer is trying to teach themself coding efficiency as they write. :slight_smile:


Oh, absolutely! Being, myself, not a writer of games, I’m not in a position to pass judgment on inefficient coders. I’m in awe of anyone who publishes a game at all, and some of the inefficiently-coded games I’ve played have been absolutely delightful. I was just pointing out yet another layer of complexity to the question of exactly what word counts indicate.


Wow. Thank you all for your answers. I learned a lot. I’ve always been curious how writers put together such intricate works. They truly are a labor of love.


Efficciency in code is very very overrated. And myself I dont see any advantage on it. It boost world account and world account is only matters to fans. If I sound bitter is because I am. I stopped used go_sub and go sub scene for that regard.

If people dont care about quality whatsoever why should I care about the numbers being accurate?


I mean, if you don’t care about how shoddy your product is and just want attention whatever the means, then writing an IF is probably a bad strategy in the first place. You can get more clicks (and probably more revenue) from making a youtube lifehack video over the course of two days than writing a HG story over the course of two years.

Writing these things only makes sense if you care about the thing you’re writing to at least some degree. And in that case, making your code efficient is just part of the creative process.


There is also the metric of average play-through word count, which I find useful to know in combination with the word counts with and without code.

I don’t see as much copy-paste reuse as @AletheiaKnights seems to see in the projects I have been helping with the past couple of years. I think there has been a sea-change shift in the acceptance of *gosub and *gosub scene since the pandemic …

I also see multireplace being given a good “test-run” and acceptance as authors explore its versatility and limits.

As a reader, word-count as giving in the CoG and HG marketing material still provides me with an idea of how replayable a project is and even what my experience will be like. Even if it is imprecise and has evolved in the way I evaluate it over the years.


It is not. Undertale is a master class with the most sloppy code ever created. Tin Star has none of most modern variables on it. Or Choice of a dragon. Word accounting and code variable dont make a good game. GOOD WRITING DOES

But nobody cares about choices or good writing. Only people mind is how many words X have.

Words number shouldnt matter at all but people only cares about a factor that doesnt show anything about quality

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While I agree that word count isn’t the be all and end all, it can be a decent indicator of quality, solely due to the fact that if someone has buckled down and written 100,000 words, then they are likely to have gotten better at writing solely through practice and dedication. It doesn’t work the other way around though (a lower word count doesn’t necessarily equate to lower quality).

Also, is Choice of a Dragon considered one of the greats? Don’t get me wrong, it was good for it’s time, but I never would have held it up as an all time classic of the genre.

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Evaluating the writing and choices are two additional ways to evaluate whether a game is going to take your fancy.

As in most product evaluations, there are several metrics to use. Which is true for games in general, CS or other.

Just as Tin Star and Choice of Robots later did, it opened many people’s eyes to possibilities. As a foundation, the developmental designs found in it still apply, even to the “mega-games” as Havestone refers to them.


I have stories of more 200k. It only proves I can write quantity. It does not give any pointer beyond that. Doesnt give the importance of choices, or character building or anything it is just a number.

It is like say I have 5 stats with no context.

While I agree it doesn’t tell anything about quality, I for one like knowing beforehand how long a story is (and how much of a time investment it is. Like, if I start reading this now, do I find myself still reading it tomorrow morning, with a headache and having to rush to meet a deadline, or do I have time to do other stuff today after I’ve finished?) although playthrough length is more important there than the total wordcount. With traditional books you see that at a glance, but IFs… not so much, the long ones don’t look larger until you dive in.


I agree with you on the average playthrough. That is useful. As role player if game is really very few words per playthrough I will doubt if it would be fine role playing wise.

But as writing quality measure it is not. And shouldnt be as focus as it is here in the forum


I’ve always thought that average word count per playthrough was a much better indicator in all aspects. I’ve never understood why CoG and HG are measured by total word count, or at least by total word count alone.


By itself, the average word count is a garbage metric. A story with almost a million words and ten distinct paths will have the same average as a barely interactive story with 100k words. If we measured games primarily by their mean length, we would essentially be discouraging choices. Which kinda defeats the point of the genre.

Next to the actual word count, the average length is a nice bit of information to have, but not super reliable as an indicator. For one, it’s not a fully objective metric, since every batch of random tests you perform will give you at least a slightly different result. And then there’s the fact that random tests are never fully reflective of what a human player is likely to read, especially if there’s any possibility for loops or if the game has extensive content on the stats screen. Their word counts can give you a rough idea of what the game is like, but they’re not a solid number which the total word count is.


An advantage of using *gosub etc for writers is that once writers are familiar with it, it makes editing and bugfixing much, much easier. It means you only have to make a change in one place, rather than scanning through to find every time a copy-pasted typo has happened.


By your judgment, the total word count is just as garbage. A game may have thousands in word count but little variability, so you’d always get the same text. I agree that these two counts work better together, and that’s why I said:

But if I have to pick only one, I’d rather have the average word count than the total word count.

Absolutely any metric you adopt will be flawed in some way.

This statement makes absolutely no sense. As if measuring by total word count encourages choices.

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