The Perfect Interactive Audiobook
This chapter is addressed to advanced and ambitious writers. It tackles precisely how to write a perfect interactive story for Voice.
While everything that has been shared and explained so far in this guide was mainly intended as recommendations, guidelines, or motivation we will now try to analyze what components make up an interactive audiobook bestseller. To write a bestseller, you will certainly have to create your story, world, characters, game mechanics, story paths, and Player Choices up front. Your story will have to be constructed carefully and in advance for it to meet all the criteria of a successful interactive story.
You have to conceive your story in such a way that it
- appeals to a large number of players (Reach)
- who are playing it for a long time (Attraction)
- and also several times (Retention),
- and for which players are willing to spend money (Value).
To accomplish that, your story will not only have to
- work flawlessly from a technical point of view (Usability),
- be of high production value (Quality),
- and tell a gripping tale (Excitement),
- but will also have to be so innovative and exceptional (Innovation)
- that other media will report on it (Discovery).
Of course, there are no ultimate guarantees, but if your story satisfies as many of these criteria as possible, it will at least have a good chance of becoming a bestseller.
But how exactly can all of these points be achieved? To gain some insight, we can take a look at other bestsellers. We will use three examples from different genres and settings, realized in different formats. The scope of this guide only allows for a superficial analysis with a focus on their most prominent attributes. It would be useful therefore for you to compile a bestseller checklist of your own that is relevant to the specific kind of story you want to tell, and analyze it thoroughly. Try to identify the core features of these stories and what distinguishes them from other stories. Keep your analysis as short as possible and summarize your findings in just a few sentences or bullet points. It is better to analyze many different bestsellers and compare them rather than getting lost in an in-depth analysis of just one.
Bestseller Analysis: Star Wars (Movie)
Star Wars is one of the most successful brands in the world. Hardly any other fantastic universe has been fascinating people from all age groups for the last 40 years, and it has been doing so across almost every media format available. The reason for this is simple: Lucasfilm came up with an exceptionally good premise back then. If you think about it, Star Wars is actually not really a sci-fi story but rather a fairy tale. In fact, we are given no explanation, at least in the movies, for what exactly the Force is, how a lightsaber works, or how the technology enables people to travel and jump through space. Instead, we get a short introduction that starts with, “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…” and it is no coincidence that it sounds extremely similar to the beginning of many fairy tales, “Once upon a time in a kingdom far, far away…”
One thing that Star Wars excels in – because Lucasfilm implemented it so well – is that its universe appears to be more complex than it actually is and that it is reduced to maximum simplicity and familiarity, making a clear distinction between good and evil and using many well-known stereotypes like princesses (Leia), cowboys (Han), and knights (Luke).
Or put another way, Star Wars became a bestseller because it took something familiar (fairy tale) and turned it into something new (science fiction). This made the genre mainstream, but at the same time offered more novelty and attraction than just another fairy tale movie.
Bestseller Analysis: Harry Potter (Book)
The success of the Harry Potter books follows a similar approach to Star Wars. Here, once again, we have a fairy tale world dressed in a new, although noticeably more refined and occasionally gloomy, fashion. Familiar elements from our own mythology, but also everyday objects from today’s world are reintroduced in modified, but recognizable ways in this parallel magic school universe: witches, wizards, and dragons, the Goblet of Fire (Holy Grail), pure-born and Muggle-born (nobles and peasants), Dementors (vampires), flying brooms (that are being treated like car brands), just to name a few.
The main success of Harry Potter however is based on its high identification potential and the hero’s journey. Initially, the main character is just a despised and rejected outcast whose parentage is unknown. Or in other words, he is a teenage hero whom everyone can identify with and whose seeming ineptitude forms a perfect starting point for the hero’s journey as all of us certainly would love to experience it. The similarities here to the character of Luke Skywalker are obvious.
Furthermore, the books by Joanne K. Rowling are very well-written. They are easy to read, the secondary characters are quirky and funny, and the world has been designed with passion for detail. Still, the keys to success were the high identification potential and the perfectly enacted hero’s journey.
Bestseller analysis: Game of Thrones (TV Show)
The books themselves were very successful and breathed new life into a whole genre. The show, however, broke all records and made sure that fantasy entered mainstream entertainment completely. The reasons for this almost uncanny success are many.
First and foremost, George R. R. Martin is linguistically superb. The dialogues and the language of his characters are to the point, alternating between cynicism, humor, drama, and epicness. Much more important, however, is that Martin has mastered the craft of writing like no other. He perfectly adheres to each and every rule a course on creative writing would have to offer. He develops multi-faceted and distinct characters, each with their own motives, leading to a multitude of conflicts. And he uses short, catchy names and animal symbolism that make it easy to remember the many characters and always tell them apart. And most notably: he knows when to break these rules.
There is an unwritten contract between reader and author that the hero of a story may not die. And this is exactly the contract that Martin breaks. Not just once, but multiple times. So often in fact, that one could argue that it underpins Martin’s narrative style. It is not just the characters who are not safe anymore, the same goes for the readers and viewers. This is unsettling and creates fear. And that is what makes it is so enthralling and contagious.
As an author you should look very carefully at what is it exactly that makes these stories bestsellers, that way you will find many commonalities and ideas that will help you in drafting your own concepts. They need not necessarily turn out as perfectly as our next example.
Discovery: visibility of a product (e.g. through prominent placement in an online store).
Reach: describes how large an audience your product can access.
Example: “Candy Crush”
If this is new to you, the following information will probably trigger a lot of questions from you. Candy Crush is a puzzle game that can be played on the internet or on a smartphone. It can be downloaded free and even be played free. The gaming studio Activision Blizzard, who owns the game, earns four million dollars with it every day. Yes, that’s right. The game is free and Blizzard is earning four million dollars with it. Every day. Remarkable, isn’t it?
How this works and why Candy Crush became so successful in the first place, is not a coincidence. The game was diligently planned based on the following criteria and is designed to reach as many players as possible and to earn as much money as possible.
1. Familiar Game Mechanic
Even though it might look different as an app, at its core, Candy Crush is just a simple puzzle game. And everyone can play puzzle games.
2. Mainstream Setting
One very interesting consideration is the setting the gaming studio decided to use. Instead of using a traditional genre, they decided to create their own setting. The advantage being that, right from the start, no one is excluded because they are unfamiliar with it. In Candy Crush, the game world and the levels simply consist of candy, chocolate, bubble gum, and other sweets. Everyone knows these things since everyone likes sweets one way or another.
3. Easy Access
Just like a jigsaw puzzle on the table at home, Candy Crush is self-explanatory. You can immediately start playing without having to learn anything about the world, the rules, or the controls.
4. Long Playing Time
Candy Crush has thousands of levels, all following the same pattern. The player can just play on and on. Little moments of pressure as well as time and space limits in the level design create sufficient variety.
5. Brilliant Simplicity
The core game concept of Candy Crush is easy and simple. New elements or mechanics are only introduced sparingly and one at a time at higher levels. This allows for dynamic gaming progress that presents the player with occasional challenges without overwhelming them.
6. Perfect game rhythm
To successfully complete a level, several attempts might be necessary, but each level itself does not take longer than one to three minutes. Whether you can complete a level or not, will only become apparent toward the end of the level most of the time. This creates the feeling that you just missed out on completing it. A five-second long animation of a world map leads on to the next level. Thus, pauses are very short and the player is quickly transported to the next level.
7. The Right Incentives
For the completion of a level, players receive rewards in the form of power-ups, additional game minutes, and lives. The possibility to hoard things, the feeling of constant progress, and the short duration of each level motivate players to quickly try the next level as well. Just to have a quick look at it, and, who knows, maybe complete it in one attempt.
8. Trigger Moments
The true ingenuity of Candy Crush reveals itself in its orientation at trigger moments, namely, those moments when players can, want, and are supposed to play it. Candy Crush has been designed to be played anywhere and at any time.
First of all, the game is free and requires nothing more than a smartphone. Furthermore, it can be played with just one hand, for example while sitting in a bus. Even if you play for just a few minutes while waiting for the bus or taking the bus to work, you can still make progress because levels are short and you are immediately in the game. At the same time, you can play for several hours on end, for example when you come home from work and lie down on the couch, because you are constantly being rewarded for playing.
Further advantages of Candy Crush are that you can easily play while doing something else like watching TV since you are not reliant on the game sounds to play. You can play it alone or with someone else, taking turns. The short levels make the waiting time for the other player short, and the motivation to complete a level that is driving the other player to despair, is huge.
9. Player Retention
Candy Crush traps the player with its “sweet” and harmonious setting, virtually a wolf in sheep’s clothing. The game can be very addictive. Levels are short, offer small rewards, and unlock new levels. Over longer intervals, the player receives rewards of higher value, for example more power-ups and lives than usual or completely new places and chapters on the world map.
This setup – a huge number of players, their attachment to the game, and their desire to keep playing – explains how the otherwise free Candy Crush can generate such huge revenues. The upselling in the game is simple, self-explanatory, and quickly used up. Since several easy levels are sometimes followed by a harder one, the player is in constant need of new power-ups and additional lives that allow them to finish the level and keep playing. Since playing well earns additional lives, and since the player receives new lives at the beginning of every day, players will always be able to either keep playing immediately or to return soon. This mechanic allows the game to remain mostly free. Players who want to play more often will have to buy new lives and power-ups.