One of the processes the IF community is learning about right now and one that Textfyre has been going through since Secret Letter’s game file was completed was the process of provisioning. Turning content into product. Infocom was brilliant at provisioning their content. They made some of the most beautiful packages and “feelies” even by today’s standards. Actually, few games are packaged these days. They have a pretty box, but inside it’s just some cardboard and a CD or DVD jewel case. Infocom included specially made items and paperwork that gave the customer the feeling that they were truly on their own adventure.
It’s occurred to me that Infocom was popular in part because of their brilliant packaging. I wonder how well their games would have sold had they come in a simpler, less enticing box. And if their games had no feelies at all, would they have garnered the same passionate following? It’s an interesting point to speculate on and one that I take seriously. I think anyone that wants to reach a wider audience for an IF game should also take it seriously.
This is not a trivial process. Some of the things involved in provisioning include:
- Artwork. Every game should have at least one high end signature piece of artwork that represents the game. The community started doing this a few years ago with cover art. I think this was brilliant and the beginning of the community’s interest in provisioning their games.
- Documentation. Each game should come with its own introduction, help, and any additional paperwork that helps the customer immerse themselves in the world within the game. I think this is key to booting the relationship between the customer and the game. It probably gives the customer a stronger attachment to the game, which will help them overcome any initial difficulties. Where IF is concerned, any way to reduce start-up confusion is highly desired.
- Map. Each game should just give away the general setting secrets by presenting the entire game’s map in color, preferably drawn by a talented artist.
But these are things that go in a box or in a PDF. What about getting the game working?
- Installation. The customer should be able to very easily install the game. The game should install exactly the same way that any other application installs on a given OS. The installation process should include details about the end user license agreement as well as any information about open source software being used. The user should be offered the opportunity to “run” the game immediately as well as display the introduction documentation immediately. There are free tools to create installations for Mac and Windows and Linux. I highly recommend looking for these tools and making your game a standard install for all platforms.
And there are things that should be within the application itself:
- General help.
- Full set of hints.
All of this is hard work. Just when you’ve finished updating your game with that last beta testing report, you feel this sense of accomplishment and you should. But you’re not done. You then need to determine how you want people to perceive your new work and go through the process of provisioning it accordingly.
If you’re not an artist, there are plenty of starving artists available through Craigslist.org. I paid $500 for the cover art for The Shadow in the Cathedral and I think it was well worth the money. You can also find great photos and artwork at istockphoto.com. I’ve used their site to grab various little pieces of spot art like gears and clocks for Shadow’s documentation. Again, it was well worth it. Of course in a perfect world I’d have an art director managing the graphical provisioning process, but if you have to be your own art director, you can still do an excellent job.
Provisioning is a critical aspect of making your game look exciting and giving the game player the feeling that they’re getting something really cool. Whether you’re giving your game away for free or selling it, provisioning should be on your to do list.