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Zarf and the Amazing Response!

November 26th, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

I’m aware that for anyone who is interested in interactive fiction, this is already old news. But, it is ongoing, so I’d like to help keep it out there. For those who don’t know, Andrew Plotkin has taken the plunge and decided to make writing IF his full-time job! But, more than that, he has so far raised over $26,000 to do it!

Since the heady days of the text adventure (the eighties) became but a memory, writing interactive fiction has been almost exclusively a “hobbyist” affair. Authors give away the results of their blood, sweat and tears to the niche (but enthusiastic) community of readers for free. No one had dared take the next, perilous step into full-time IF writing, and many would have said it was impossible – until now!

Andrew Plotkin (Zarf)

The man himself

And if anyone was going to do it, Andrew Plotkin would be at the top of the list. For a more detailed bio, visit his page on Wikipedia, or even better, his page on the ifwiki. But, very briefly Andrew Plotkin (also known as Zarf), is the writer of many interactive fiction pieces (Spider and Web being one of the most famous), winner of many IF awards, author of IF interpreters and other helpful pieces of tech-wizardry.

Now he’s decided he wants to make this his full-time job. The trick here is to ask for the money first, before the product is ready. If you have people pledging cash in advance, you can tell whether your venture will be successful or not. So, Andrew set up a project on Kickstarter, in advance of his new piece of interactive fiction, Hadean Lands.

But this has got to be a hard sell, right? Andrew Plotkin may be one of the most famous IF writers in the world, but we’ve been getting this stuff free for ages. Turns out people are pretty generous.

Andrew beat his target by the end of the first day. At the time of writing, 580 people have pledged $26,242, with ten days still to go! Two such pledges are for $1000 apiece, for the opportunity to meet with the man himself.

It really is heartwarming, and a boon for IF authors (and indeed any authors thinking of self-publishing). This can be done, and done extremely successfully.

But let’s take a moment to look at the lessons behind this. This is not the result of one night’s effort – this success represents years and years of work, and the gradual accumulation of superfans. The man himself says (in update #8 of his Kicksarter project):

“And I’ll warn you (again) that it’s not a recipe. There is no recipe; it’s what you’ve done with your life and who you know.”

With that in mind, below is a short, sharp list of what I think needs to be achieved to get similar results. This is the “long-term list”, as I would assume many of the people reading this blog are in a similar position to me, and nowhere near to being able to charge for their work yet. Andrew touches on some of these things, but also talks more specifically about how he ran his Kickstarter campaign in the aforementioned update, so you should also check that out.

  1. Be excellent

    Andrew Plotkin writes great IF stories that have won him many awards, great acclaim and raving fans. This does not happen overnight, but is the result of much writing and much practice. Let’s face it, no one’s going to give you any money unless they know you can deliver, so you’d better show that first.

  2. Be active in a community

    I’ve mentioned some of his contributions to the IF community above. But it’s about more than putting stuff out there – he does interviews, responds to tweets and comments, and all that good stuff.

  3. Be patient

    From that update again, “First, spend fifteen years working hard on projects with no reward but community good-will”. Fifteen years, people! Settle in.

  4. Be generous

    There are 16 stories available in the IFDB by Andrew Plotkin. And they are all for free. This allows him to get his work out there easily, and thus to grow a fanbase, but more than that, it generates a tremendous amount of goodwill. People like to see authors working hard on great things, and sharing them, and they will respond.

  5. Contribute more than your writing

    And generosity extends beyond the writing as well. He has written interpreters, and the Glulx virtual machine – both long-term commitments. It’s true that he loves this stuff (hence wanting to make it his full-time job), but you can’t argue with the fact that the man has been incredibly generous with his time. He is part of IF history because of it.

For those of us who are in this for the long haul (and you really ought to be) this success story is both a wonderful affirmation and a reminder that there is a long way to go! I encourage all to go and checkout the Kickstarter page and read someonf the updates, especially if you’re an IF fan.

Pledging for the Hadean Lands project ends on December 6th, so if you want to be a part of this, here’s that Kickstarter page again. This is especially true if you want the Mac, Linux or Windows versions of Hadean Lands as they will only be available through the preorder process (once completed the story will be available on iPhone (and maybe other mobile platforms) only).

In other links, Andrew Plotkin’s IF site can be found here, and there is a great interview about this over at rockpapershotgun.com.