How to Write Interactive Fiction and Interactive Audio Stories – 041 – Monetization

Monetization

Actually, this chapter should have been at the beginning. Because no matter how much you enjoy writing interactive stories and creating things that delight others, at the end of the day, you want to be rewarded for your work. And money is not an unimportant aspect of that. Thus, any information on how you can earn money with interactive stories will no doubt be of great interest to you.

The reason why this chapter comes at the end of this guide is as follows: Voice is a new technology and its sales market is – today, at least – still very young and small. We ourselves are extremely confident, however, that this will change noticeably over the coming years. The evolution of the Google Play Store has shown this, and the growing trend for Voice in the United States underscores this estimation. At the moment, Voice is still in a phase where market penetration has not yet peaked and where players are not accustomed yet to pay money for premium content. However, this will certainly change in the near future, and it is also an advantage: in contrast to the book or eBook market, where new authors will have more difficulty to stand out, gain a foothold, and find new readers, VvVoice is still widely unclaimed territory with many future prospects.

For instance, in 2020, our interactive stories have been played by more than 120,000 players making almost 3,000,000 million choices. And that despite the fact that we haven’t even seriously started writing stories yet since most of our adventures are mainly old prototypes, created to test the capabilities and new features of our software. Our interactive audiobook series for children, “Der Zauberwald” (“The Magic Forest”), reached approximately 40,000 players in Germany in 2020 and has generated a total of 1,180 reviews. These are strong numbers for a format that is still widely unknown, and a technology that is brand-new.

But let us have a look at how you as a writer can earn money with your interactive audiobooks.

In-Skill Purchases

In-skill purchases (ISP) are comparable to in-app purchases. The player can use the Voice assistant to buy something directly from within the active skill. As is commonplace in the industry, the Voice assistant provider will retain 30 % of the purchase amount as commission but in return, of course, provides the necessary platform and technology. Amazon Alexa, for instance, offers the following forms of ISP:

One-Time Purchases

With a one-time purchase the player can get access to additional skill content or stories. The price for these purchases has to be paid only once after which the player will have permanent access. This way you can offer expansions for your stories or additional episodes.

For the very successful game skill “Yes, Sire”, for example, there is an expansion pack with new scenarios that go beyond the Middle Ages.

Consumables

Consumables are purchases that the player can make several times since they will get depleted or used up over time. Typical consumables for interactive stories could be hints for the solution of a puzzle, better equipment, an in-game currency, or extra lives. Basically anything that enables your players to play more efficiently than in the free version of your story.

The escape room skill “Escape the Room”, for example, offers packages with puzzle hints and has a conversion rate of 34 %, that is, every third player has bought at least one of these packages.

Subscriptions

Subscriptions grant your players unrestricted access to all of your stories. They can play them for the duration of the subscription as long and as often as they want. The fee for the subscription can be charged either once and in-full, or on a recurring basis, for example, monthly.

Recommendations for ISP

The recommendations for the use of ISP vary greatly. The main choice will be between premium or freemium; whether your player has to buy the story itself, or whether they can play it for free and then have the option to pay to play it more efficiently. We lean towards the latter for reasons we have already mentioned. As the author, you want to have as many players in your story as possible. Medium-term, your gains will be higher than trying to make a quick short-term dollar.

A great option for ISP is unlockable content. This can be side quests or new storylines which the player can buy for their favorite story.

Another very interesting way is to make the story freely available, but to limit playing time. In the free version, for instance, the player would only be able to make five choices per day, or play one chapter per day, and then can continue the story on the next day for free. By spending money, however, they can unlock the whole story at once or gain extra free choices. This not only has the advantage that your story remains freely accessible and that your players can decide for themselves how much their patience is worth, you also create suspense because players of the free version will return regularly to discover how the plot develops, tying them strongly to the story.

The interactive story “The Vortex” by the gaming studio Doppio uses exactly this mechanism and has been very successful on the English market.

While stories for children can be monetized in the United States, this is not yet true for every language region.

GLOSSARY

Conversion Rate: percentage of skill users who have made in-skill purchases.

Freemium: a skill or application that is free-to-play (but can have additional, paid content).

Premium: paid skill or application.

One-Time Purchases: purchases that are made only once to then grant the player unrestricted access to additional content or new stories.

Unlockable Content: additional content in a story that a player can unlock by paying for it (or by reaching certain goals within the game).

Shopping Feature

Amazon Alexa also provides a shopping feature which enables Alexa users to put a product into their Audible, Kindle, or Amazon shopping cart. If you as the author have published other books, eBooks, audiobooks, you can simply add these items as an upsell at the end of your story and suggest your players buy one of your other stories. The ordering process is handled directly through the Voice assistant and from within your story. You can picture this similar to selling your books at the end of an author reading. A very interesting feature to consider.

Commissioned Work

The most reliable and safest way to currently earn money with interactive audiobooks is to write for hire. Your stories can be interesting for publishing houses and brands who are trying to move into Voice or to use interactive stories as a marketing tool.

For Publishing Houses

The market for interactive stories, especially on Voice, is still developing. We at EarReality are a small publishing house that is always on the lookout for authors and their stories, both for the English-speaking and the German-speaking market. We offer commission work and help authors to write really good interactive stories and market them as best as possible. If you are interested in our offer, feel free to contact us at the following email address: kontakt@ear-reality.de.

In any case, we are certain that, sooner or later, there will be many other publishing houses interested in your interactive stories.

For Brands

Did you know that BMW commissioned a sci-fi story in form of a podcast that you can listen to in the car via Alexa? This English series is called “Hypnopolis” and is part of the BMW Originals series. Not every brand lends itself that well to audiobooks, but there are many more examples that show how companies or institutions have used interactive stories to position themselves in Voice.

In Germany, the animal protection organization PETA has published an interactive thriller story “Tape Stories”; the TV broadcaster BR has called attention to itself with the dystopian end-times adventure “Tag X” (“Day X”); and the TV station RTL and Disney have both published interactive audiobooks for their respective franchises “Cobra 11” and “Toy Story”.

Since interactive stories are still a young format that is trending more and more, authors have many possibilities to use these stories to their advantage. The truth is that the main problem for these companies is finding a writer who can write interactive stories for Voice. So if you do not just want to write stories of your own but are also interested in writing a story for a known brand, now could be the best time to do so.

You can present your story idea to us. We are in contact with many of these companies, having not only completed several business projects, but also being constantly on the lookout for new authors to increase our pool. If you would like to apply to become part of our writer pool, send us an email to: kontakt@ear-reality.de.

Advertising

It can also be interesting for companies, instead of commissioning an interactive story of their own, to use your interactive story as a platform for their advertisement. The Voice assistant platforms have recently introduced the possibility for companies to place their advertisements in Voice applications. Whether you want to sacrifice part of your story’s immersion for this form of monetization is up to you. It is certainly an interesting possibility.

At least, do not rule it out completely, rather think about which company or product and what kind of advertisement would fit your story and your players. There are even commercials that tell a story or that are so funny and well-made that consumers really love them.

Summary

Monetizing your stories:

  • Voice technology is still young, but the market is growing constantly, first and foremost in the English-speaking world. Positioning yourself early on this market should be advantageous.
  • In-skill purchases allow the user to make purchases directly from within the skill, using the Voice assistant:
    • With one-time purchases, the user pays once and then has unrestricted access to the purchased product.
    • Consumables are elements that deplete over time and have to be bought again to be replenished.
    • Subscriptions grant the user access to the full product as long as they pay the designated price, either periodically or a higher amount upfront.
  • Your base product should remain free in order to attract as many players as possible. Unlockable content or restricted playing time can encourage your players to pay for that additional content or to have the time restriction lifted.
  • Commission work for publishing houses or brands enables authors to directly earn money with interactive stories.
  • Companies can use interactive stories to promote their brands and products.



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