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Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Why aren’t interactive-Novels big businesses already?

I count myself lucky to be of an age where I got to see the birth of computing. I got my first home computer, a VIC-20, for Christmas when I was 13, and have never really put computers down since. Without that present I may not even have had the career I’ve had, and what was the first thing to get me hooked? Well to look intellectual I could say programming; but not many 13 year olds are too worried about looking intellectual, and to be honest I would have to say games; but for me one software genre stood head-and-shoulders above the rest, and that was Adventure games. Suddenly, by single-finger-poking at the keyboard I had books that talked back… well almost.

For a good few years my new hero was Scott Adams, and I spent many hours wandering through Adventureland, trying to find treasure in the Pirate's Cove, or attempting to kill The Count, but the technology of the time was limited, especially in terms of memory and this meant the story had to be told in the smallest amount of characters possible. Descriptions were sparse and responses short and to the point. Non of this diminished the fantastical worlds that these programs built up in my head, even today’s photo-realistic graphics cant hold a candle to those imaginary worlds summoned up by a handful of text.

So why did text adventure games disappear? Well, they didn’t really. They went to the deed-poll office and changed their name to Interactive Fiction, and to be fair some of this is really well written and rather good. Long gone are the days where text is restricted by memory size, now everybody’s phone has more memory than anyone dreamt possible back then. Location descriptions can flow on as long as they like, character responses can say as much, or little, as they need to, and the atmosphere, characters and plot can be built up just as good as any traditional book can, given an author with the appropriate skill.

And so to my original point: why aren’t digital-based Interactive-Novels big businesses already?
I see this as a logical extension of the text-adventure, the technology is here, the talent is there, and the technical groundwork is already well-and-truly done.
There is a relatively large and thriving underground Interactive-Fiction scene nowadays, a ready-made market waiting to happen, but absolutely no mainstream interest. So why is this?
Is it just that quality writers don’t consider this a proper use of there talent?
Is it just that nobody is willing to take a chance on this market? Games publishers are now polarising around the big-money first-person shooter genre, and book publishers may see this as well outside their market area, but in a world of e-everything how much longer will this be the case? E-readers are now becoming fairly common, and look like they are set to grow their market share. Maybe the next generation of e-readers can go interactive?
Then again, maybe it’s just that most ‘serious’ readers view an interactive book as in some way childish, or solely in the realms of games, and not for them. If this is currently the case, how long will that attitude last? Remember, we are coming up for three generations of adults that have grown up with computer games, the world and peoples attitudes move on.

So what do you think, why isn’t it already big, and what’s stopping it?

As I finish this post, the radio is singing ‘that’s entertainment’ at me, I couldn’t agree more!

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