I Published 100 Text Adventure Games in 4 Years
How'd that go?
Today’s Post: This week, I’m going to take you behind the Dungeon Master screen of Adventure Snack and tell you what I’ve learned publishing 100 micro text adventures. For next week, I’m working on a preview of what’s to come in 2024.
So rest your questing legs at the inn, and be sure you’re subscribed, and I’ll tell you a tale…
In tabletop roleplaying games like Dungeons & Dragons, you’re asked to roll a die to determine the success or failure of a stated goal. For example, say my character Lord Partyanimal wants to eat an entire birthday cake by himself all at once. The Dungeon Master (DM) might ask me to roll a 20-sided die and pass a Constitution check of 14. If I add the Constitution score on my character sheet to my dice roll and it’s more than 14, Lord Partyanimal eats the cake and burps comically. But if I fail the roll, he may choke to death on a birthday candle. Roleplaying games are weird!
However, games built on the Powered by the Apocalypse engine have another category besides pass and fail for their checks. It’s called a “mixed success,” and it means, “Yes, but…” The player gets what they want, but not without some negative consequences. In a mixed success, Lord Partyanimal eats the cake, but has to spend three hours squatting in the woods later.
After publishing 100 text adventure games in four and a half years, I believe Adventure Snack is very much a mixed success. Not a “critical hit,” as gamers say when they roll a perfect 20, but certainly not a “failed roll.” A success, but a qualified one. Here I’ll show you, goal-by-goal, where I’ve succeeded and where I’ve fallen short with Adventure Snack…
💖 But before I begin, let me say how grateful I am for you. Whether you just signed up or have been on this epic quest since the beginning. Whether you play the quests once in a while or every month. Whether you quietly enjoy my games or weigh in on your adventures in Table Talk. A DM without players is just a weirdo rolling dice and shouting in their basement in a wizard robe at no one.1 My obsession with VCR board games already makes me enough of a weirdo, so sincerely, thank you.
⚔️ Goal: Start Adventure Snack as a creative outlet to develop my talent as a game designer, while exploring my voice as a writer.
😁 Critical Hit: There’s no question I’m a sharper, more thoughtful designer now than I was back when I first started, and I’ve never felt more confident in my authorial voice. If you want to make games, or write fiction, a tried-and-true way to get better is by publishing as much as possible and soliciting feedback from playtesters / readers. I’ve designed a lot of quests I’m really proud of.
⚔️ Goal: Use Adventure Snack as a springboard to get my name out there broadly in the world of gaming.
😁 Critical Hit: Recently, a former client of mine was streaming on Twitch and one of her followers brought my name up incidentally. She told me I was making a name for myself in the interactive fiction community. I do think the spotlights and features I’ve received from places like San Diego Comic-Con, Narrascope, IFComp, HyperRPG, IndieCade, and Substack have made an impact. Most recently, I was nominated for a Lunar Impact Award, which was very cool!
⚔️ Goal: Grow Adventure Snack’s player base to 5000 subscribers, then “go paid” and charge a $5 monthly subscription for a premium version. When 5% of players subscribe2, this newsletter becomes a solid side hustle.
😵 Failed Roll: I did grow the player base from 28 players when I first launched to 2,250 players today! That’s no small feat and it is humbling to think about. When I first started on Substack, they had these Zoom classes about how to grow your audience and make a living from your newsletter, which put this goal into my head. If I was going to run a paid version of Adventure Snack, I’d need to make it worth my while time-wise, hence the 5000 free subscribers → 250 paid subscribers target. Based on the way my subscriber numbers wax and wane, this goal feels very, very far away to me.
⚔️ Goal: Offset the time and effort put into Adventure Snack via client work secured for me by the newsletter.
😵 Failed Roll: When I started Adventure Snack, I thought of it as a kind of living business card and talent showcase. Fellow gamedevs would play the quests and want to hire me. But that hasn’t panned out in a meaningful way. This newsletter wasn’t designed to showcase the full breadth of my talent as a writer, my deep knowledge of narrative design, or my ✨ winning ✨ personality. If it did showcase these strengths, I think it would be more likely to convert readers into clients.
Also, crucially, Adventure Snack quests are a very peculiar thing in the context of gaming. It’s hard for me to imagine a narrative director playing Bigfoot is Your Landlord and thinking to herself, “I should really hire Geoffrey to write barks for my ultra-violent cyberpunk shooter.”
⚔️ Goal: Meet a community of likeminded creatives through Adventure Snack. Learn from them and collaborate with them. Maybe even make a few friends.
😁 Critical Hit: This is one way Adventure Snack has enriched my life. I’ve connected with other writers – largely through Substack meetups, like through the organization I co-founded Fictionistas – with incredible talent and a similar desire to create and distribute fiction and humor via email newsletter. Some have even become friends, like(Situation Normal) and (Story Cauldron). , Mike Schramm, , , , , , , Matthew Ritter, and cartoonist Kenny Keil, who designed a few of the best game thumbnails. There’s a lot of energy and excitement and late night calzones that come with collaboration, which fuels me.
⚔️ Goal: Forge a community of Adventure Snack players who actively and enthusiastically play quests from month to month.
😓 Dice Rolled Under Table: As I said earlier, I have 2,250 total players. But in terms of reliable players – folks who regularly open these emails and actually click to play the quests – I think it’s really more like 90. And among those, about 9-10 players regularly like, comment, or otherwise interact with the games on Substack. To this small handful of regular and vocal players, I see you and I love you!!! ❤️🔥
If I’m being honest, I don’t think this player base has been molded into a “community,” and that’s on me. I’ve tried to inspire public conversation and a community feeling, but maybe I’m not a dynamic enough host. Or maybe the quests don’t inspire conversation. Or maybe a vibrant community feeling would require a larger base of players. Or maybe it’d work better on Discord than Substack. I don’t know. My suspicion is that Adventure Snack inspires good vibes and laughs, but not fandom, community, or conversation. Care to prove me wrong?
⚔️ Goal: Inspire other narrative designers and game writers to launch interactive email newsletters of their own, so we can create a scene.
😵 Failed Roll: To be fair, I haven’t tried that hard to make fetch happen here. I gave a talk at Narrascope last year about how I created Adventure Snack and why I think it’s a good idea for narrative designers to publish interactive fiction via newsletter. There was a lot of interest after the talk, but I can’t find other “Snacklikes” out there. On Substack, there are a small group of “vote your own adventure” games where the audience collectively decide plot points in a serial story, like in(which I miss!).
To anyone considering launching an Adventure Snack type newsletter, I wouldn’t recommend Substack as a platform for it. There are many email service providers that can send emails automatically based on whether a user clicks a link, which would allow for a deeper interactive experience right in the inbox.
⚔️ Goal: Develop a player base of text adventure players and roleplaying gamers, my core audience for Adventure Snack.
😅 Mixed Success: When I started, I believed these types of players were my target audience for Adventure Snack. It’s true that there are players of text adventures and TTRPGs who go on my bizarre quests, and my experiments in online marketing did suggest that TTRPG players in particular will sign up for Adventure Snack.
But I’m not sure Adventure Snack has a definable core audience. The more I learn about both scenes, the more I realize these players tend to value long games with deep immersion over short and/or funny games. Basically, I’m making a silly comic strip for people who want serious graphic novels. “Worse” yet, my strip often makes fun the conventions of the games they love. But that’s my wacky art, lol!
This is typical for me. I should be out celebrating a momentous personal achievement as a game writer by playing laser tag and zapping eight year olds. Instead, I sat down to write an honest and difficult-to-finish postmortem, which is basically the opposite of laser tag.
So, what now? Well, this newsletter is going to undergo big, exciting changes over the winter, informed by everything I’ve learned over the past 100 quests. I’ll have one more post for you next week before the holiday break. It’ll be a sneak peek into the future. Sure, I could keep Adventure Snack going as-is, but to
butcher paraphrase Robert Frost, I’ll take the branching path less chosen.
Sure, they could be playing a solo RPG, but sometimes metaphors only extend so far, okay?
The 5% figure is an estimate from Substack on how many free subscribers will convert to paid, based on their subscriber data.