Posts Tagged ‘social studies’

In the start-up world, the pivot is talked about like a bad dinner. You made reservations, you ordered what looked to be an appetizing meal, but after eating it you almost instantly had regrets. After a few days, you’re asking yourself why on earth you went to that restaurant.

So you’re an entrepreneur and you think you’re pretty smart. You have a great idea and you think you have enough charisma, talent, or hustle in your bones to make it become a reality. If you went to school, you know everyone will want a business plan. They’ll want a pitch. They’ll even want an obvious list of customers willing to shell out for your amazing product or service. Or they’ll want to feel comfortable that you can get people to spend money regardless of the quality of your service or product. Are you the next Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, or Huck Finn?

The world will only know if you pivot. Why? Because it’s nearly a guarantee that your original idea will stink and no matter how charming you are, talented you are, or how much hustle you got, that first pitch ain’t selling to anyone. It’s a dead dog. A bad movie script. It’s got no legs.

So you’re one of the smart ones and you pivot. What no one tells you about pivoting is that you may or may not know when you should pivot. You may or may not know what to pivot to. If you’re lucky and you pivot to the exact right thing at the exact right time, things might just work out for your nascent start-up. Odds are against you because the odds are…you won’t pivot correctly or in a timely manner.

Textfyre has been around for a lot longer than most businesses that call themselves start-ups. In fact, we’re well past the age where seed money is likely to come in the door. Angel investors look at anything past a year old and smell a rat. They run for the hills, ignoring any potential there may be within the targeted business model. I have always been of the mind that building anything related to Interactive Fiction would be a marathon, not a sprint. I’ve never had any illusions about the potential of this market. I’ve always been highly confident that there is a market. But also very sure it would be extremely difficult to tap. I was also sure that building the right technical profile would be the one thing that allowed us to break the mold of being an old start-up and still become successful.

Textfyre hasn’t really even launched. Our pivots have all been internal. It’s been five years of research and development. That’s changing as of today. This year we’re going to put real services in classrooms and develop relationships with real teachers and real students in real schools. We’re going to partner with content developers outside of the “IF” world and develop material that coincides with curriculum being taught at the middle-school level. We still believe that fictional content is important to young readers, but the key to this new effort is putting teacher-identifiable content in classrooms. We’re going to put their curriculum in our format using our tools.

As mentioned in previous posts, I have been working on a cloud-based engine for Interactive Fiction. This is completed and working. We’re now working on content that weaves fiction and non-fiction together so that students can learn about social studies and history in a new format. They’re still going to be playing Interactive Fiction, but the goals won’t be to find treasure. The goals will be to learn.

Our first large-scale pilot program will begin in fall at the Chicago Public Schools. We’re going to bring our client-server engine into the classroom where the teacher can monitor the progress of all students in real-time. They’ll be able to watch every command entered, help when needed, and determine each student’s capabilities from their efforts. It’s our belief, which studies have proven, that narrative or story-based education methods provide a much stronger connection to the student. They retain more information, understand the information more intuitively, and are able to use the information in real life. We plan to enlighten the education world to the enormous potential of Interactive Fiction.

This is a big push by Textfyre and we’re very excited about the future of adaptive learning. We’re hoping to bring our T.A.L.E.S. to every student around the globe in every language, in every classroom, and in every home.


Up until recently we’ve been sparsely testing Secret Letter because there was a much stronger focus on the user interface design and development. Now that we’re closing in on a production quality UI, I’ve handed Secret Letter out to a select few play-testers and we’re going to bring the content up to production quality too. Jack Toresal and The Secret Letter is nearing completion.

Each game we produce is likely to have a rating, both by the ESRB and a Textfyre rating. The Textfyre rating will note the difficulty of the game and the targeted Grade Level. Secret Letter is probably going to land in the Easy/6th Grade category. The ESRB rating should end up being Everyone or Everyone 10+ with Mild Violent References. The ESRB rating is likely to be one of those for most or all of our games, but that brings us to a change in Textfyre publishing policy.

Up until now we were looking for designers and writers to target middle school kids, 6th grade through 8th grade. But as I recall, I was reading Catcher in the Rye in middle school as well as a few other books with adult or strong adolescent themes. I had thought to curtail any references or material that fell in these categories, but I recently realized that we can’t have that restrictive of an editorial policy. We need to let designers and writers have a much wider range of topics and themes that they can address within their games. So from now on, the editorial policy will allow a much broader type of game material. In relation to ESRB ratings, I would say Teen and Mature are within scope. Mature games shouldn’t have things like Sexual Violence as interactions, though it probably should be allowed as secondary material. I would look at this sort of thing on a case by case basis, but writers should be aware that any strong content will be reviewed and edited for public consumption.

In other news, we’ve started looking at developing social studies content for middle schools and high schools. This would include any standard state historical topic like Mesoamerica, the Middle East, Europe, the Roman Empire, the Far East, the British Empire, and similar. If you’re interested in helping us develop this kind of material, please let me know. In relation to educational themes we’re also going to research the development of religiously themed games. We’re not targeting any particular religion nor would we base any decision on a proposal on any particular religion. I think my personal preference would be to develop games that were religious in a secondary manner. So a mystery game with Muslim characters or an adventure with Christian characters. These characters would be positively portrayed in accordance with their respective religions. I’m not sure if I want to get into doing direct Biblical stories like Moses or The Resurrection or similar, but if I were presented with a strong proposal, I might consider it.

If anyone would like to formally review Jack Toresal and The Secret Letter before its release, please let me know and I will allow access to an online version.