26. Publishing

Writing with Inform

WI §26.1 Finding a readership

So the new work of IF is written, and tested, and has all its bibliographic data and a fancy cover illustration lined up. What next?

Releasing and gaining attention for independent games - commercial or otherwise - is a big, complex, and constantly changing field, and other online sources will be able to provide more up-to-date information than we can offer here. However, there are some resources, events, and community spaces specifically for authors of interactive fiction and text adventures in particular.

First, though, a word about terminology.

For many years, the phrase "interactive fiction" referred primarily to parser-based games like the ones Inform produces by default. For those games, there has always been an avid hobbyist community, but few sales, and most parser IF writers have not felt that it would be more trouble than it was worth to charge for their games, because the income would be slight relative to the effort of setting up a storefront.

In recent years, other forms of interactive fiction - those that do not rely on typed input from the player - have experienced a commercial revival. There are a number of commercial game studios that write text-rich, choice-driven stories, especially for a mobile market.

Simultaneously, the communities of interactive fiction readers and players have grown and diversified. Once "the IF community" referred to a specific group of people; now, there are many communities of people who play text-based games, in various formats, with various amounts of overlap.

Although it is not a typical tool for choice-based mobile games, Inform has been used to produce commercial works, both parser-based and not. Users are very welcome to sell works created by Inform with no royalty or requirement for rights clearance. It's also widely used in education, and as a prototyping tool for other kinds of stories, such as interactive narratives that will ultimately take another (not text-based) form.

WI §26.2 Editing and Quality Assurance

Authors coming from a literary background may think in terms of editing; people coming from software development and the game industry may think about playtesting and quality assurance.

Whatever the background, it's good practice to have your work checked by other people before you release it. Other players can identify issues from typos to missing hints to thematic incongruities.

Play-testers can often be recruited by placing an ad on intfiction.org.

WI §26.3 A Page of Its Own

One option for sharing your work with the world is to set up a web page and a copy of the story file on a private web host. That host should ideally be as stable as possible, so that the URL is likely to remain fixed for what might be a long period. Freeware stories have a long period of viability relative to commercial games, which means that players may still be hearing about and checking out a story years after its initial release. A stable address helps everyone with links, and makes it easier for search engines to direct people.

Of course creating a web page involves a little design work, but tools are widely available which make this quite easy nowadays. And as we've seen, Inform can automatically generate web pages and whole small mini-sites to put all the information about a story file into a tidy format, even including the ability to play online.

A second approach - instead of or alongside giving the game its own website - is to put it on a distribution platform designed for sharing games.

One of the most accessible is itch.io. While it's a lot of work to put a game on a mobile app store or on Steam, setting up a storefront at the itch.io site takes only a few minutes. Doing so enables an author to list a game for download, set a price for their work or just to accept donations of the player's choosing.

A game on itch.io will still need promotion and other attention if the author hopes to make any significant amount of money, but the barriers to listing something for sale are much lower than they once were. And itch.io can be a viable way to share a game that isn't intended to charge money at all.

At the time of this writing, the itch.io platform lists 15,988 games tagged "interactive fiction."

WI §26.4 The IF Archive

Games and interactive works in general tend to become obsolete or unplayable fairly quickly. Many games written for iOS in the mid-2010s, for instance, are already impossible to access.

Because of the portable underlying format, however, games written in Inform are unusually stable and maintainable. Inform projects written in the early 90s can still be played - indeed, can be played on platforms that did not exist when the games were written.

If you're interested in the longevity of your project, you may want to submit the final version to the IF Archive.

The Archive is a mirrored, stable collection of thousands of interactive fiction games and programming languages, manuals, fanzines, maps, walkthroughs, and other materials. As such, it's likely to stay around even if a personal website goes off-line; it's also the primary resource for people doing scholarship on interactive fiction (and there are a growing number of these).

The Archive is very much a library, for long-term archiving, rather than a book-store. The catalogue is sober and textual, and there are no visual shop-windows, or posters advertising new titles hot off the press. Newcomers sometimes need practice finding their way around. And the Archive hosts story files (and associated manuals, as appropriate) but not advertising for them - it does not provide web-hosting for authors to set up mini-sites.

Uploading a work to the IF Archive is not too difficult, and can be done in two ways. One way is to use the archive's web form at:

The other is to create a new page at the Interactive Fiction Database, at:

It's then possible to upload the story file to the IF Archive from IFDB. This is easiest all round, since it allows both IFDB and IF Archive to be updated at once.

In either approach, an author chooses and uploads a file, and accompanies it with a name and email address (so that the archive maintainers can verify the legitimacy of the work). The "About this file" field is for a line or two explaining what the story is -- its full title and any critical information -- and is used in generating the archive index. This is normally much shorter than the "blurb" described earlier. There's also a field to suggest where in the archive the story should be stored, but this is optional and intended chiefly for people expert in how the archive is filed. The archive maintainers will file a new story file in the obvious directory for its format. For Inform works, that means other Z-Machine - "z-code" - or Glulx story files. The maintainers sometimes place the same story file in multiple places in the Archive, using links.

As with all large libraries, it takes the Archive a little while for new acquisitions to be processed. When this happens, one of the volunteer maintainers will email with the official URL from which anyone can now download the story file.

Committing a story to the Archive is meant to be permanent. While the maintainers will happily replace older versions of stories with new improved releases, they are less eager to remove stories entirely. If that doesn't seem appealing, or if we do not want our story to be treated as freeware with essentially unlimited distribution, the Archive may not be a good choice. But it is deeply valued by the IF community, and has saved many works which could otherwise easily have been lost forever. Many contributions important in the history of IF were made by people who are now not easy to trace, and whose websites are long gone. But their work lives on.

WI §26.5 IFDB: The Interactive Fiction Database

Once the story file has a home online, and a URL (that is, a web address) at which it can be found, it needs to be registered with IFDB:

the Interactive Fiction Database. Just as the IF Archive is a repository for stories themselves, IFDB is a database containing information about them - titles, authors, locations, solutions, reviews, recommendation lists and more.

The name IFDB echoes the Internet Movie Database (IMDB), but in some ways it is also like the iTunes Music Store. For one thing, it's a shop-window for what's new, with cover art to catch the eye. For another, IFDB serves as a portal for players to try games directly in their browser. Promoting IF is all about pulling in impulse players -- people who are passingly interested, but might not try the story if there is any significant work involved in setting it up. This is what IFDB is all about.

IFDB is community-editable, like Wikipedia, though editors are required to create an account and log in first -- this is free, of course. A standard form is provided for creating a new record (accessible by selecting the option to add a story listing). More or less the same information that appears on Inform's library card in the Contents index needs to be copied over: there's space for the author name, story title, genre, and so on. IFDB will also ask for an IFID, a code identifying the story uniquely. Inform generates one of these automatically for each project, and it, too, is on the Library Card. It can always be found by typing VERSION into the compiled story and looking at the line that says

Identification number: //[some letters and numbers]//

The part between the // marks is the IFID. If there's cover art, that can also be uploaded, and good cover art makes a big difference to shop-window-appeal.

The download link should give the most stable URL available. If you have not yet uploaded your story to the IF Archive, you may do so by selecting the "Upload it to the IF Archive" link instead of pressing the "Add a Link" button. The benefits of submitting your story to the IF Archive in this manner are two-fold. One, IFDB will fill in much of the information required by the IF Archive for you. Two, the link to your story will not appear until the IF Archive maintainers move it to its permanent home in the archive, at which point the download link will be automatically updated and presented on the story page.

If you choose to upload your story file to the IF Archive independent of IFDB, then once the story file is safely up at its permanent home on the IF Archive, that is an ideal address to quote here. Otherwise, the URL of the work's own website is best. (Note that the IFDB entry can always be edited later, if the URL moves.)

Commercial works which aren't available as free downloads can be registered on IFDB just the same, and this is almost certainly a good idea.

Some awards for interactive fiction, such as the annual XYZZY Awards, require a game to have an IFDB entry as an eligibility requirement.

WI §26.6 Competitions, Exhibitions, and Jams

One very common way to get players for IF is to enter the story into an IF competition. The annual IF Competition, often just called IFComp, is the most prestigious and has the widest field, but the Spring Thing, ParserComp, EctoComp, and other events also catch people's attention. Entering a competition is a path of least effort for authors promoting their new work, because the competition organizer usually takes care of hosting and archiving submitted stories, promoting the competition as a whole, collecting votes, and encouraging players to post reviews. Different contests have different arrangements. The ifwiki usually posts a list of current and upcoming competitions, as well as lists of results for those recently past, on the front page:

Some competitions also have their own websites, at least at the relevant times of year.

All the same, there are many IF works that aren't cut out for competition release. Competitions tend to be best for short or medium-short works, because judges don't necessarily have time to play a lot of long stories at once, and sometimes this is a condition of entry.

It's also good for publicity to win one of the annual XYZZY Awards. All interactive fiction stories released in a given year are eligible, as long as they are listed on IFDB.

Meanwhile, itch.io hosts many jams every year. A small handful of these are specifically intended for interactive fiction or parser-based adventures, but there are many other jams that allow entrants to put up any game with an appropriate theme, regardless of its format.

lists the calendar of everything currently upcoming.

Finally, if your project is heavily focused on procedural generation - creating or remixing elements on each playthrough - then it may have a natural home at procjam:

Procjam is a yearly event to "make something that makes something", and welcomes all kinds of generative projects, whether they are games or not.

WI §26.7 Meetups and Conferences

There are a number of different local groups that get together to play or discuss interactive fiction, including a number that hold remote meetings. Announcements of some of these can be found at

Joining these groups may provide a context to discuss work in progress, and many are willing to do a group playthrough of games written by group members.

There are also a range of conferences that accept talks or presentations about interactive fiction, both academic conferences and conferences adjacent to the game industry. While it is not a complete listing, Emily Short's blog attempts to link upcoming events:

WI §26.8 A short concluding homily

It's natural to want to make a huge splash with a story, but in the IF community, instant widespread adulation for any work is pretty uncommon.

For one thing, players tend to play when they get around to it… which may be weeks, months, or even years after the initial release. Reviews trickle rather than flooding in. Appreciation builds slowly. And sometimes works that placed unspectacularly in a competition, or seemed to be overlooked in the annual XYZZY Awards, gradually come to be regarded as classics because of some pioneering technique.

So it's wise (if difficult) not to judge a story's success entirely by its immediate feedback. Even after its debut, a story can often use a little care and attention if it's to reach all its potential fans -- whether that means building further releases, posting hint files or walkthroughs, developing new websites, or approaching outside reviewers.