Donations vs. Monetization.

Hi, creators!

Guess what, guys and gals? I want to give you money!

But I can’t. Instead, I can participate in monetization options. Instead of having the option to say, purchase up front, or purchase at a certain point, or otherwise do something to ensure I can just plain enjoy the content you good folks have poured your blood, sweat, and tears into…

… I can’t.

Let’s take ZeroSummer. Brilliant story, brilliant writing, and after a brief flirtation with StoryNexus a while back, this was the one that hooked me in hard and got me really enjoying it. Here’s how my user experience goes:

Hour 1: Man, I’m really enjoying this story. I’m hooked. This is really awesome. Great way to present interactive fiction. Why do I have an ‘action’ counter? When it ticks down, is the story over? Weird.
Hour 2: … what the **** is this bullshit, I can’t keep reading this story? It wants me to pay money? The hell. Screw this.
Hour 5: … oh, hey, these action points come back? Over time? Uh… huh. No, that still sort of sucks. This story is awesome though. A few more turns won’t hurt.
Hour 6: And now I’m out of actions and only going to get more at a trickle. ****. I want to finish this story tonight. Hm. Okay. How much does this thing cost?
Hour 6.01: AHAHAHAHAHAAHAHAHAAAA… No. If this was a one-time payment? For a couple bucks? For sure. But you want this much for these Nex Points, and I’d need to spend almost 10 bucks just to refresh a few hour’s read worth of actions? Fuuuuuuck you, **** no.
Day 2, Hour 1: Yay, actions again. Man, this story is really good.
Day 2, Hour 2: And out of actions again, but this story is excellent. What the hell. The author deserves some money for this entertainment value.
Day 2, Hour 3: … so the only way for me to reward the creator is to buy these bullshit Nexus points? **** sakes. Alright, it has a ‘contact the author’ button here, maybe that resolves into an email address I could at least PayPal a few bucks towards…
Day 2, hour 4: Nope. Nothing. So I can’t send the author money. I can’t even pay to just fucking enjoy this game and story. I have to pay for these bullshit points, that serve only to nag me into buying more when I burn through my actions, all for the privilege to read their story? Y’know what? This is bullshit. This is bullshit and I’m going to read a book I paid for. Actually, that book I paid for? Published by the author online for free, with a PayPal donate link. Who I’ve sent probably 30 bucks across the last 7 years, in addition to ending up buying all of his books in print when they came out. While this cool author guy here who wrote this story? Is getting nothing. Because this “monetization” option is crap.

Devs, Failbetter games? Digital busking would go much further towards generating revenue for your site and these projects. There are excellent systems out there to ensure an equitable split between publishers and authors. I want to support you guys and the games/stories you are creating. But I will not do so under a bullshit “pay as you go for insubstantial points” model. Don’t marry yourself to this shitty model. Open up options for a one-time “purchase” for a particular game. Open up options to accept donations towards further development. Anything that allows for us, the readers, to get into the stories and not be pulled from our enjoyment regularly by immersion-breaking monetization begging.

The action points are intended to slow how quickly you burn through a story, partly to encourage you to take it slowly, but also for game balance reasons. If it was just a matter of clicking on action after action, it’d remove a lot of the balance considerations that go into your choices (For example, how pinned cards always cost an action, or you can spend 1 action to draw from a deck and get three cards to use for free, albeit random ones). There’s also the aspect of making you work for a goal. Most online games, including this one, use time as a mechanic whether you realize it or not. The drop rate in most MMOs is basically there to answer the question “How long will it take an average player to get this item?”, and things are balanced accordingly. The exact same thing happens in this game, but instead of using probability and allowing the player as many attempts as they want, they limit your number of attempts but all your attempts make progress. In either case, things are balanced out so small gains will take you probably a day, if that, while the largest of goals may take months of dedication (Not sure if Zero Summer has anything big to work for, but the Overgoat in Fallen London is certainly a big goal with large impacts on gameplay that takes a long time to acquire).

I will add one thing: They don’t expect players to pay nex to refresh actions. It’s inefficient, and the games are generally balanced around players waiting instead of paying. The option only exists to allow folks who are impatient to pay if they so choose. But I don’t think they’ll allow a one-time fee to unlock the story. That’d be like being able to pay a one time fee in an MMO to get 100% drop rates on everything. Just take your time, and enjoy the story as it comes. Perhaps even check out the other stories while you wait for one to refill.

Speaking as a player, I’ve always seen the one-time refresh of action points by paying Nex (or Fate!) as a luxury that wasn’t cost-effective for me–I’ve done it twice, I think, and once was because I clicked on a link by mistake. (I still wince about that, because it was 2/3 of the Nex I’d bought so I could drop off tips and pick up storylets as they came up. Still! My accident, no-one’s fault, hope the creator liked it.) I don’t know how often people use it, and I’m actually kind of curious now–anyone know if there are stats on that?

Speaking as someone picking (v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y) at her own game, I completely understand that some people might want their games to be played at a slower pace than “all at once, right now”.

Honestly: the games are free. If you want to give someone money, and there’s nothing in their game you feel like buying, there’s always the option to “like” a particular storylet, and then tip? (If you want to give money and insist it’s specifically earmarked for further development, I don’t believe there’s an option in-game.) If what you’re looking for is the option to have unlimited action points, I kind of understand wanting it (I personally would not go for it, but I understand), but I can understand if it’s not provided, particularly for a browser-based game.

edited by Torrain on 11/23/2012

This, this, this. (I tried to +1 your post but I keep getting an XML document error. >.< )


If you have monetization on for your story, there is a tab under the analytics page that breaks down how people are spending money on your world.

Now on topic, if you really want to reward the authors, you can tip nex on individual storylets and I don’t know where you live but the conversion rate for USD is 4 nex for every $1, with an option to spend individual dollars as you want, which is pretty good. You can tip as little as 1 nex too I believe, otherwise, I feel most people don’t mind waiting for a while to have actions refresh over time. If you really want to know, you will have a full bank of actions anywhere from an hour and a half to three hours, just enough for a movie or two, or three TV shows or so (on average of course).

As a creator of what will be a massively open-world game, I find that the actions are inherently required for balancing my story, because in my game it’s easily possible to get abilities beyond the storyline content relatively easily, but if you use actions you’re going to be driven to make your gameplay more efficient, reducing your grind and making my efforts in writing failure options less pointless. This then actually improves gameplay because failure leads to fun stuff (if you’ve ever played a tabletop game like Shadowrun, you’ll know how true this is, or if you’ve played, say, Dwarf Fortress), and it also means that the players’ characters get held to some natural standard. My current character in Orchestra is a demigod, who I’m using to test, and I’ll have to use debug mode to dump his super high stats on occasion because I’ve used him to go through pretty much every piece of content in the game, boosting his skills in the more commonly used skills to a point where he would completely ace the first story mission.

Actions allow us to balance ever-expanding content with the players’ relative expectations, and if we gave out actions for free it’d be a pain. In addition, by taking donations instead of using Nex, we open ourselves up to all sorts of situations that we don’t have to worry about in microtransactions. From a purely financial perspective, the microtransactions also make the games possible, because barring ads there’s no other way for Failbetter to support themselves while allowing us to provide massive amounts of content to players, since they have to send you information on their servers (which can be hideously expensive, if you’ve ever looked at renting one) in order for you to enjoy the content we create, since they take a very reasonable cut out of the microtransactions.

In short; if you pay for microtransactions you make everything better for us, but by restricting the actions you get we’re actually giving you a better experience by forcing you to pace yourself and value the content we provide. Even writing prolifically I’ve been able to put in ~70 storylets in Orchestra in the past week or so. Not all of these are accessible to the players, since some are debug, some of these are gameplay functions that you’d hardly notice other than when you’re using them, and about 15 or so are (more or less) finished content. Some of this is my fault for going off on rabbit trails (I have a half-finished random encounter sitting around at ~5 storylets begging for attention). You can go through most, if not all my week’s work in one sitting, barring, of course, that some of my encounters have at least 12 outcomes and require failure or success to unlock, which may or may not be possible for certain builds. Despite this, however, it is definitely possible to “beat” all the current storyline content (a mere ten or so encounters spread over six storylets IIRC) within the same session as when you create your character, leaving you with only random encounters to pass the time. If I gave you infinite actions, which I probably would with the finished product were it not to support Failbetter and myself, you would be bored within thirty anyway.

[color=#009900](Original poster: I’m leaving this intact because it’s kicked off a really interesting conversation, but long sweary rants generally get deleted round here.)[/color]
[color=#009900]The posters in this thread have it covered, but a few other points I’d like to put on record.[/color]
[color=#009900]- As others have pointed out, we do offer a donate option via the Like button. And it provides much less revenue than any other option. A trickle, but only a trickle. If something is free, most people won’t donate. As a reader, you always remember the one book you donated to and ignore the thousand books, blogs, webcomics that you don’t. And it is up to creators whether they want to offer their work for free.[/color]
[color=#009900]- 11% of Fallen London players pay at some point. About 70% of the revenue of Fallen London has come from extra actions (and opportunities, and EF subscriptions), and 30% from content unlocks (and menace reductions, and in-game perks and short-cuts). My takeaway from this is actually that content unlocks are a much more effective way of driving revenue - because about 1.5% of the choices in FL are content unlocks, but they generate way more than 1.5% of the revenue. Extra actions are less compelling, but you can buy them anywhere for any choice, so we sell more of them. People tend to buy them when they really want to finish a story, or to show their support. That’s okay. You’re never required to. [/color]
[color=#009900](And about the price of actions - the thing is, when we tried a three-month period where actions were half the price, we really suffered, because we didn’t sell twice as many. The gap between ‘free’ and ‘pay a few dollars’ is a lot bigger than the gap between ‘pay a few dollars’ and ‘pay a few more dollars’. )[/color]
[color=#009900]- repeated action can be tuned - grind doesn’t need to be, you know, grind. Some of the early stuff in Fallen London - when I was trying to work out, three years ago, how the hell to tell stories in this model - is just primitive compared to some of the things we do now, and we’re gradually refining it. (But with 3000 storylets in FL alone, it’s a hell of a job.) If a creator really doesn’t like limiting with actions, they can whack the refresh rate and action bank size up to max, and write the whole story with no repeated action. (That causes design issues, of course, but that’s another)[/color]
[color=#009900]- A one-time unlock for a whole story, forever, is attractive to players - of course! you get everything you want for a one-off cost - but is generally a bad idea for creators. One, StoryNexus allows creators to keep adding content whenever you have time and ideas. If you’ve pledged to make it all free forever, you won’t get paid for that new content. Two, it means you have to put all your content behind a pay-wall - you don’t have a shop-window that people can try and see.[/color]
[color=#009900]Thanks for jumping in, folks. It’s always good to see that people get what we’re doing - and I think even more people do, now that they can spend time on the creator side of the curtain whenever they like.[/color]

Goodness, sorry I haven’t got here sooner!

Bahumat: I’m glad you enjoyed Zero Summer’s story so much. We’ve put a lot of effort into it so far, and we plan to keep putting effort into it for the foreseeable future. I want you to understand that we appreciate you writing, even if you’re frustrated. And I’d like to take a minute to address your thoughts about pricing and pacing directly.

I understand your frustration. If I sat down with a novel or a traditional RPG and the damn thing wouldn’t let me read more than ten pages/play more than ten minutes at a time, I’d be frustrated too!

But Zero Summer isn’t intended to be read like a novel or played like a traditional RPG. It’s much more like a serial novel or TV show. It really shouldn’t be taken at Big Gulps. There are a few reasons for this:

[ul][li]The storylet format isn’t Big Gulp-friendly. There’s a lot of clicking involved. And the game is designed with a reasonable amount of “grind” (more on that later). Much like expensive chocolates, StoryNexus games are – I think – best taken slowly.

[/li][li]Zero Summer is especially unfriendly for the Big Gulp. An immersive world doesn’t immerse well if the audience doesn’t spend enough time marinating in it. And the prose is dense – dense for anything and especially dense for StoryNexus. It’s no secret that our prose is heavily influenced by David Foster Wallace*. I don’t know anybody who can pick up a DFW novel and not run out of steam a couple dozen pages in. We think it’s the same with Zero Summer: our prose is big-shouldered and vigorous, and like any big-shouldered vigorous thing it can get exhausting in a hurry.

[/li][li]We have to produce a LOT of content for Zero Summer. I believe our storylets are longer, per word, than in any other StoryNexus world. And we place a heavy emphasis on “unique content” – that is, stuff you only play once. And since we want you to play Zero Summer long enough for it to make an impression, we need to stretch the experience out for you. The action pool and refresh rate caps are one way we do that.

[/li][li]You’d get bored of our “grind” pretty quickly if you were robo-clicking it until the next unique content showed up. We think (and this we’re cribbing straight from FBG) that if you’re exposed to a given piece of prose several times and gradually, as our pacing requires you to be, that it’ll sink in more, and sink in more thoroughly, than if you burn through it all at once. There’s a reason our grind branches are heavy on atmospherics. We want you to absorb the setting by steady readerish osmosis. And since we can’t do it with graphics, we have to shove the setting details in front of your face enough to make sure you’ve absorbed some of it.[/li][/ul]
Now, as far as ways to compensate us, you have several options:

[ul][li]You can buy actions – which is a sucker’s bet if all you’re trying to do is finish the game ASAP. The cost would be outrageous. Astronomical! The most expensive video game in history, and with no video to speak of. We have never intended to generate much revenue from action purchases. Our theory is that players will buy them (a) when they’re trying to gobble up a specific piece of content, e.g. the Dramatic Conclusion to Day 1, or (b) if they’re feeling really generous and affectionate and want to love us up while getting a little something in return.

[/li][li]You can leave us Tips for individual storylets. This is also not a big part of our revenue plan. The majority of our tips are just 1 Nex. A few have been 3 or 5. If you want to Tip us, we’d love that. But if you really want to feel like you’re paying us for our output and your entertainment (which we appreciate), you can…

[/li][li]Buy Nex-locked content. This is the main part of our revenue plan: periodically introduce Nex-locked content that isn’t necessary to finish the main plot but is important to the Zero Summer experience. This is the best way to show you enjoyed Zero Summer – both because it’s a decent chunk of money in our real actual pockets (we make ~$5 from each sale of “Fifty Miles South of Lexington,” our first Nex-locked content) and because no one would ever buy our Nex-locked content if they didn’t love Zero Summer as much as we do.[/li][/ul]
We want you to play Zero Summer and enjoy it. And we don’t want you to feel frustrated by the action refresh rate. I hope this has helped you see where we’re coming from on both our pricing and our action pool/refresh rate. If you have any other questions or feedback, we’d love to hear it. You can always get in contact with us here, or else on our Facebook page or at

  • See for example this except from DFW’s Infinite Jest, which is both right in line with Zero Summer and the kind of sentence you can’t read too many of in a row without getting totally burned-out on page-scanning, let alone comprehension:

    “Hal some weeks back had acquiesced to Lyle’s diagnosis that Hal finds Ingersoll — this smart soft caustic kid, with a big soft eyebrowless face and unwrinkled thumb-joints, with the runty, cuddled look of a Mama’s boy from way back, a quick intelligence he squanders on an insatiable need to advance some impression of himself — that the kid so repels Hal because Hal sees in the kid certain parts of himself he can’t or won’t accept.”

Also, we’re heading toward a Kickstarter in the first part of 2013. If you’re still playing Zero Summer at that point, I’m ABSOLUTELY SURE we would appreciate you endorsing that bit of digital busking. ;)

As a story-creator,

I’m creating a storynexus world where paying for actions would be grossly against the spirit of the world. As would paying for unlocking a particular story.

I’d still like to make it possible for tips, in case people were feeling generous.

Just voicing my position, it’s not that important to me, but I wouldn’t add monetization in it’s current shape. If I could just use that one part, tips, then I would.

As a player,
I hear Bahumat and think being able to buy-out a specific game at an affordable price would be a great option. There’s something special about buying something digital and knowing you’ll ‘have it’. Even if you don’t play with it. Extra actions are not like that. I can see that it wouldn’t be for every game/world (would be horrible for echo bazaar for example), but there’s definitely games/worlds that would benefit from it. And it’d probably be the only thing I’d open my wallet for, personally.
edited by Azelea on 12/18/2012

I haven’t really thought all of this through in a massive way but, with nearing the end of writing my thing, I don’t know if the current monetisation options suit my world either. (Basically because it’s not like Storynexus worlds. It’s a defined story that progresses on, and people may have to stop playing at an exciting bit of the narrative, rather than being delivered smaller parcels of narrative at their own pace. And I went to a panel on the ethics of free to play game models recently, and it doesn’t quite feel right to me to hook people on a part of the story that forces you through, like sequential must cards, then expect them to pay to keep going, when the structure is by my design.)

On the other hand, I could just give free item refreshes each “day” and people should probably be able to just play without paying anything, almost, but I’m unsure if that undermines FB’s intent, or the community, here, somehow. When I started up with music tuition, 15 years ago, for example, I’d sometimes offer free lessons to kids, because I wanted to help them get in a bit of extra cramming for a concert, or whatever, and it wasn’t a wealthy community. Then, two separate colleagues contacted me and reminded me I had earned a music degree and this was my livelihood. More important, it was their livelihood, too, and that’s why there are loosely established pay rates for music tuition etc, within all communities. I’d consider making my Storynexus world a hobby, but I do get paid for other kinds of writing; journalism, so I do get that other creators may consider a “deliberately free world” to be undermining their genuine intent to spin some coins with lots of effort and a high quality result. (And, in the monetisation info provided by FB, they indicate you don’t have to turn it on, but people will have to wait for refresh.)

shrugs A donation system seems like it would suit me better, too. Alternatively, I’d appreciate direction, so I can make monetisation suit my model and not undermine the community.

[color=#009900]Azelea: it’s possible that we’ll add fine-grained control over monetization at some point. But revenue from tips is so low that it’s just not a priority for the foreseeable future, I’m afraid.[/color]
Firky: your point about the effects of free work is well made. But also, one thing I neglected to mention on my post upthread: actions cost us something to process. It’s a very small fraction of a penny, but over months of play and thousands of users, it adds up, and if we need to bring more servers online, it adds up sooner. [/color][color=rgb(0, 153, 0)]Although we’ve added options to increase the action bank size (and will add more soon) we’re doing it with some caution. And we may ultimately clamp down on liberal use of ACTION_REFRESH_EFFECT if a world starts eating server time. But we haven’t been really strict about this yet, and we’re hoping we won’t need to.[/color]
[color=rgb(0, 153, 0)]
[color=rgb(0, 153, 0)]So if you’re looking for direction, avoid using ubiquitous action refreshes to subvert the model, and use larger action banks (if we stay on schedule, you’ll see 50-action banks before Christmas, and may see larger ones in the New Year). We might ultimately clamp down on ubiquitous action refreshes, so be cautious. But! It is definitely okay to add a few action refreshes at key choke points in the middle of a very structured narrative. If that solves the issue for Thirst Frontier and other worlds, cool[/color]

I hadn’t considered that, beyond vaguely wondering what this free tool costs to provide. (Because I don’t know how your back end works.)

But thanks for the info. I’m keen to make sure that I don’t undermine creators, or yourselves. I currently have a free action refresh card, but my game isn’t finished. It’s horrendously buggy and I’m hoping that someone, anyone, will come and play and help me find bugs. They wont be enjoying it, yet, that’s for sure. Once I’m fairly well done, I might just make those pivotal moments, and must cards, free and keep the rest as is.


Another kind of monetization that I usually like is to by-pass randomization.

I don’t like to buy my way out of grind content when the grind is about repeating an action 50 times (either the grind is acceptable and I’m fine with it, or it is not and I stop playing), however when a specific grind requires luck (say you need to get an object that has a 5% chance to drop for a given action), then I am ok to pay for it because I don’t feel like I’m cheating, I am just “buying my luck” and it is absolutely possible that someone who doesn’t pay would have the same luck as me.

Alexis, that’s very informative. Thanks.

[quote=Firky]I haven’t really thought all of this through in a massive way but, with nearing the end of writing my thing, I don’t know if the current monetisation options suit my world either. (Basically because it’s not like Storynexus worlds. It’s a defined story that progresses on, and people may have to stop playing at an exciting bit of the narrative,

As someone who’s played Fallen London a fair bit, I’ve always found that “[having] to stop playing at an exciting bit of the narrative” is part of the fun. It creates little cliffhangers, like the gap between one episode of a serial and the next, which make you anxious to come back to the story. And it can spice up the excitement of a difficult “challenge for your X” - because if you’re low on actions you really want it to succeed, rather than just thinking you can try again (which you almost always can in Fallen London).

It’s psychologically tricksy, of course, but you shouldn’t assume it’s a necessarily frustrating or negative experience for the reader.

As a creator, yes, it worries me that I can’t control when the “cliffhangers” occur - but I tend to think it will all come out all right in the end.

[quote=Firky]And I went to a panel on the ethics of free to play game models recently, and it doesn’t quite feel right to me to hook people on a part of the story that forces you through, like sequential must cards, then expect them to pay to keep going, when the structure is by my design.)
If you literally just mean the annoyance of being interrupted in the middle of a sequence of Must cards, then you could always set all the branches except the first to have an action cost of zero. Which would mean that as long as you can start it, you can definitely finish it. Come to think of it, that’s definitely the courteous thing to do - I shall adjust my own (very short) chains of Must cards forthwith.


[color=#009900]There is, in fact, a bug with Must cards in FL that I think also occurs in StoryNexus. If a Must card has 1-action branches, and you end up in there with zero actions, the engine will tell you the choice is locked, but it may not be apparent that this is because you ran out of actions. (This is the bug, the lack of visibility as to why - there are valid design reasons for wanting to keep someone stuck in a Must card until their actions regenerate, e.g., the less desirable branch is zero-cost.)[/color]

Hmm. I think that means I want to set all Must action costs to 0 - since they generally occur at key points where it would be really, really unfortunate to be distracted or confused by a bug.

(I’m not disputing the point about “valid design reasons”; they just don’t apply to the naive interstitial kind of way I’m using Must cards.)

A bit out of topic, I want to thank to Alexis. In none other place I wold find explanations more clear and transparent, also in FOSS community.

At the topic, we have the scale problem here, but a bit more complicated.
A very big user base will allow to low the prices for everything, but also increase the flat costs of SN.
To get any relevant revenue for the worlds the creator will need to deeply engage the payers, for pay large sums of money, what can be a little scary when in comparison to million-user-MMO’s prices.

The nex locked storylets approach requires high quality free storyline, and as a DLC requires not be required for the main story.

A game who uses the action buy approach (and none of them appear to be) must require a lot of grind in game, but in most of cases excessive grind is bad for gamer engagement, and need a million user ecosystem for low the prices.
In FL the low action bank make the decisions very strategic, and made me play some risky moves, and this was good, but in general, FL have much grid to me, what explain my stuck at 45-higher-attribute. My brother instead likes this a bit more and is a person of some importance, then the grind-limit is very personal.

Then, we have the pacing/actions problem. A smart use of the sometimes/always decks, actions bank and action refresh at must branches maybe can solve 90% of this (I hope).
It’s not easy make money, because it’s implies someone else to spend money, but I hope SN can be a good place to get revenue of the writer work too, not only journalism and editorial adverts.

The strategy I have in mind is very odd, and I’m not sure if it will work. The entire story is free, and you can reach any ending. It’s designed to be played repeatedly. What I’m considering is having nex locked “uber” weapons that allow you to progress through a couple of sections much more easily so when you get to those grindy sections you dont need to spend so many actions.

The other thing I’m considering is “adult” content which is also behind a nex lock which is not required to complete the game, but affects a lot of other sections, and allows the player some resources they wouldn’t otherwise have.