Storium Kickstarter turns writing into a game, seeks to fund educational version

With under a week left on the Kickstarter, I wanted to go into more detail about Storium, a slick, well-constructed web-based system for moderated play-by-post storytelling gaming that I first mentioned a few days ago.

With $129,000 kicked in so far out of a $25,000 goal, it’s definitely getting funded. But unlike most Kickstarters, you can actually start using it right now—pledging at least $10 gets you access to the beta, even if you later decide to cancel the pledge.

The way it works is that you’ve got a narrator and several players, and a system of virtual cards that serve as tokens to buy influence over the outcome of the plot. The narrator sets the scene and poses "challenges," which are plot points that require a certain number of cards to resolve.

Depending on what cards the players play, the challenge can have a "strong" outcome (good things happen), a "weak" outcome (there are complications), or an "undetermined" outcome. The player who puts down the last card on the challenge gets to write out what happens next, with the narrator-defined outcome to guide him or her—unless the outcome is "undetermined" in which case the narrator writes it himself. I’ve been playing it lately, and it’s LOTS of fun.

Settings in the game, or "worlds," are defined by sets of cards that contain information about places, people, potential challenges, and the traits that make up characters. The game comes with nine generic worlds (epic fantasy, medical drama, cyberpunk, etc.), but part of the Kickstarter’s stretch goals has been to fund the creation of additional worlds, many of them written by fairly big names in gaming or writing: Keith Baker, Chuck Wendig, Ursula Vernon, Tobias Buckell, Seanan McGuire, Robin D. Laws, Jordan Weisman, etc. So far, over 40 of them have been funded. People who kick in at the $40 level will get access to all of them as they become available; people who pay less can buy the worlds they want for a few bucks each.

After launch, people will be able to create their own worlds and sell them at whatever price they deem is fair. They have also made it very clear that any content created during the game explicitly belongs to the gamer/writers who create it.

If the Kickstarter reaches $200,000, they have a stretch goal of coming out with a special edition of Storium for use in schools. I’m dubious it will get quite that far, but I can hope…and spread the word to try to help it happen. Anything that gets kids reading more is great, but something that gets kids wanting to write would be amazing. Of course, Storium will be useful enough in schools as it is now, but a more education-focused version would be even better.

In order that they can run this game as a sustainable service without having to fill the page with advertisements or do anything even less desirable, they are looking at a yearly fee of $25 for people who run a lot of games; people who kick in at the $20 level or above get the first year’s fee included for that. The ability to run or play in up to 3 games will be free without subscribing. During the beta, only people who kick in at least $10 can narrate games, but they can invite people to play in them with no kick-in needed. (People who don’t kick in can only play in, not narrate, games.)

Selected blog posts:

Hour-long video interviews with the game’s creators by:

This is a really great system, I hope it reaches its $200K goal, and I hope some folks here enjoy it as much as I have.

4 Comments on Storium Kickstarter turns writing into a game, seeks to fund educational version

  1. #1) Paying to be a Beta tester is a dangerous precedent that had been started by a lot of the game manufacturers and should be avoided at all costs. Beta testers are doing work and providing a service to the developer by playing their buggy half completed software.

    #2) The kickstart perks are a bad deal. Getting $5 off your first years membership wouldn’t even fly as a Groupon. Hold out for a better deal from the company as they will surely occur.

    #3) This service is almost certainly going to fail. There are scores of free and open tools that can do the same sort of thing and if there aren’t look for some to pop up in response. Those who are very enthusiastic like Chris Meadows might plunk down $ to play, but the free version gives one access to three games….period. It’s not a free version so much as a limited trial. Once people have to actually pony up they are going to use one of the many other services or just RPG over skype using systems that don’t keep begging for more $. End result is the service never reaches critical mass and all the work Narrators may have done to create their “worlds” will have been for nought.

  2. Ah, so a service that reaches 500% of its original goal in three weeks, with thousands of satisfied users, is “going to fail.” Yeah, that makes sense. I have a sneaking suspicion that the people who are actually putting their money where their mouth is will probably have more say in how it goes than someone who’s only letting hot air out of his mouth.

  3. Get back to me when the novelty wears off and the users either have to pay for the first year or the second year of the service. This is a network effect service, the more users the better for everybody, but it isolates itself with a pay wall that will drive users away and will make it hard for casual players to engage.

    The free service needs to less limiting, in fact making it a razor blade or freeminum model would probably be the best where large numbers of users can buy stuff a la carte. World creators should simply split any revenue with the company instead of having to pay a recurring membership which could render their investment useless if they ever stop paying.

    Storium is a gimmick. It will be fun for a bit, but a lot of what it does can be replicated elsewhere. Yeah, I’ve bought gimmick games myself, but “We Didn’t Playtest This At All” doen’t charge me $15 every year.

  4. 1) Hello? They playtested it for months and months before they ever brought it to the Kickstarter. They’re playtesting it further now, and will do an even more advanced playtest before public launch.

    2) People happily pay more than $25 a year for games that don’t even leave them with anything after they’re over. I paid $15 a month for years into City of Heroes, and what do I have to show for it? A lot of memories and a few screen captures. At least with Storium I’d have the stories I took part in writing after it’s over.

    For that matter, people pay three or four times that for services that let them listen to music and stream movies, and they don’t even necessarily use them enough to get any good out of them. The cost of an extra cafe mocha a month? Most people won’t even notice that.

    3) Three games isn’t all that much of a limit. A single game can run on for weeks or months, by which time someone should have been able to decide whether it was fun enough for them to be worth shelling out a membership fee.

    4) Consider the alternatives: Annoying banner ads (which people would block anyway), or selling customer information for marketing purposes (hello, Facebook!). This isn’t a service they’re providing out of the goodness of their hearts, it’s their full-time job, and if it’s going to work they have to be able to make a living at it. Will they be able to do that? We’ll see. But with over 3,700 backers so far and a lot of celebrities boosting and taking part in it, they’ve certainly got a heck of a good start.

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