Cabinet Noir: Persons of Interest is a new release from Failbetter Games, and the first release on the company’s new StoryNexus platform, a means for building browser-based interactive stories that helps to build revenue directly for content creators. It’s the follow-up to the company’s previous title Fallen London (formerly Echo Bazaar) and works in much the same way, albeit with a significantly different setting — swashbuckling musketeer-era France rather than steampunk London.
StoryNexus games are designed to work through “Storylets” — virtual playing cards that the player draws from one or more “decks” and then chooses in which order to play. Storylets unfold with a brief piece of very well-written descriptive text and then provide the player with one or more options to click on — in the simplest case, this is simply to confirm what they have just seen, while in more complex scenarios the player has choices of how to respond to a particular event. A further, usually longer piece of text then appears describing the outcome of the event.
In the case of Storylets that present choices to the player, most options require a tabletop role-playing game-style “skill check,” where a virtual dice roll is performed behind the scenes and adjusted according to the player’s core statistics of Guile, Panache and Charm. The player is given the opportunity to check how risky the skill check is at their current level of expertise before committing to it, and taking a chance rewards the player with progress towards another skill point, regardless of success or failure. Successfully passing a skill check rewards the player with various items (most of which are abstractions such as “Favors Owed” or “Secrets”) and often sets various “flags” that will determine how the story will continue to unfold; failing means that the card disappears and returns to the deck, potentially to come back again later. Certain cards are flagged as “Sometimes,” which means that they will not return to the deck after they have been attempted, regardless of outcome. This is to prevent “grinding” and maintain the game’s focus on narrative rather than mechanics.
Certain Storylets carry prerequisite items or skill levels, and some “premium” stories require the expenditure of the game’s hard currency Nex to participate in. Nex may also be used to replenish the limited number of actions that players may perform in a single session without waiting.
Nex is a single hard currency that persists across all StoryNexus games and provides content creators with revenue according to how much has been spent in their game. In other words, players purchase Nex directly from Failbetter, and then how much of that Nex is spent on an individual game is converted to a revenue share for the content creator.
Unlike its predecessor Fallen London, Cabinet Noir does not feature any social functionality beyond signing in with Facebook and Twitter, but the game’s FAQ page suggests that such functionality may be added in the near future. At present, the game only consists of the one overarching “Persons of Interest” story that Failbetter estimates will take players a “week or two” to play through, but new stories will be added if the game proves to be popular. While the game is not relying on viral promotion through social network posts, the goodwill the company has built up with the high quality of Fallen London — and, for that matter, Cabinet Noir as it currently exists — will certainly help the game to build up a loyal player base more than willing to “manually” promote the game through word of mouth.
Cabinet Noir is free to play and available now on its own dedicated website. AppData indicates that the StoryNexus platform as a whole currently has 8,000 MAU and 2,000 DAU signing in through Facebook. This figure does not reflect the total player base, however, as some sign in via Twitter and others via a proprietary StoryNexus account.
A great indication of the potential of StoryNexus: for players, it’s a hugely atmospheric experience; for content creators, it’s a strong platform that allows complex stories to be both told and monetized.