Once upon a time I started a business called Westfield Chandler Publishing. This name stunk, so I took on a name related to the old Textfire hoax which generated some pretty great small IF games. I mostly chose Textfyre with a Y because the Textfire.Com domain is owned by a squatter.
The original goal was to develop traditional Infocom-like fictional games and try to sell them in bookstores and to school libraries or to get them in classrooms as supplemental reading. I really had very little experience with such an endeavor and a large part of the process of developing Textfyre was to learn how to build a business. This was all in or before 2007.
In the first two years we produced two games with a third remaining incomplete. Secret Letter is probably targeted at 3rd or 4th grade readers (based on current lexical requirements in schools) and has an intentional Disney-like princess theme. Shadow in the Cathedral is much more accessible with its Steampunk theme. I’m actually very proud of both of these games, have played them many times myself, and enjoy both for different reasons. Ian and Jon were very clever about a lot of things in Shadow while Mike was, at least from my perspective, brilliant at capturing the tone and intentions that I asked of him.
In the years since those first two publications, the economy and “other things” put a lot of the business side push of Textfyre on hold. There simply was no time or money for me to push anything and it had become clear that my first few business plans were never going to fly. Instead of closing the business, which I had thought to do many times, I simply set it aside and used it as a conduit for my daytime consulting practice.
In the last twelve months the economy has improved (although not for everyone, I’m very aware) and Chicago has become a burgeoning market for digital start-ups. GroupOn and GrubHub have gotten a lot of people very excited and the new digs at 1871 have made it possible for entrepreneurs to come together on a daily basis for a small amount of money (I pay $125/month for nights and weekend space).
This has opened a lot of doors for Textfyre. It’s given me a place to bring people together to talk about building a company. It offers “office hours” from mentors and investors. It has the StarterLeague.Com (formerly CodeAcademy.Org) which teaches computer classes to people who travel to Chicago from all over the world. It has Excelerate Labs, where every year ten start-ups are chosen to work at 1871 on their business, with mentoring and support. A lot of start-up business is done through Built In Chicago, a website and group that hosts networking events, awards ceremonies, and more. Another group, Technori, hosts pitch nights every month at the Chase Auditorium in downtown Chicago.
In the last six months I took a long look at what I’d done with Textfyre and what was still possible. I knew traditional IF was going to be a tough sell without a lot of money or a built-in-audience. I have neither so I had to look at other angles. The education/school angle had been dismissed in the past because there were very complex barriers to entry. At all angles, it was just impossible for start-ups to disrupt anything in the education world. Something changed all of that…
The iPad and the continued adoption of computers in schools has altered almost all of the perceptions of education processes and at all levels people want things to change and are actively seeking new methods and tools. There’s a new Common Core Standard that needs to be adopted over the next few years. Students are coming into primary schools (K-5) with more expertise with computers than their teachers. The system was not and is not prepared for these students.
This leaves open a host of opportunities that many small and large companies are tackling from many different angles. But the one thing that has changed the most is that start-ups are being heard and being funded. Education funding has doubled in the last year and is expected to be the number one source of funding for years to come.
With this new understanding, I started to put a management team together which is complete and we are working and meeting every week. It’s a very strong and passionate team that includes sales, marketing, curriculum, art, and technology expertise. We’ve had meetings with Microsoft Learning and The Gates Foundation and from those meetings we’ve developed a clear path to success. We have a new mission, a new plan, and a part of the plan is the use of the underlying engine, world model, and natural language parser used in Interactive Fiction game development. We’re going to do non-fiction supplemental curriculum and it will have a lot of bells and whistles that you’d never see or need in a traditional IF game, but it’s going to be great.
We recently updated the entire Textfyre website so that it reflects most of the changes we see in our mission.
Of course we still love traditional IF and we plan to work that into our future, so if you have a game you may be hearing from me at some point, asking to put it into our system as supplemental material.
Textfyre is reborn as an education technology company and this is just the beginning.