October 25th, 2019

Me 2012

4thewords!

4thewords.com is a writing-gamification site. As of October 29, I will have been using it for exactly three years. I can track the length of time because it has a daily streak counting every consecutive day you've logged 444+ words. As of this writing, mine is at 1091. Yes, I have an unbroken streak starting the day I began using the site.

That's not as impressive an accomplishment as it sounds: the site allows you to use a consumable -- "stempos" -- to repair broken streaks or to extend your streak into the future, if you plan a vacation. I used a lot of stempos when Lut was in the hospital in 2017, and I've used them on occasion before or since. Most often I use them when I forget to log words rather than when I write; I do most of my writing offline and then log my words later.

4thewords is now, and always has been, a subscription-supported site. Like many games these days, it has two in-game currencies, one of which, core crystals, is mostly purchased with real money. The subscription cost is therefore a little wonky, because 4thewords runs periodic discounts on crystal packages. There's a 25% discount for Nanowrimo participants, for example (current code is wrimo19), and Nanowrimo winners get a larger discount; I think last year's was 40%? Anyway, if you're paying month-to-month and never buying crystals with a discount, it's $4 a month. If you use the Nanowrimo winner discount code and buy a huge package of crystals up front, it'd be more like $60 for three years.

While my favorite business model for a site is something like Dreamwidth's, where the paying customers are sufficient to support free accounts for those who can't afford it, I much prefer a subscription site to one based on advertising, or pay-to-win games. And 4thewords does offer a free 30-day trial, so you know what you're paying for by the time you give them money.

I've written about this site before, I know, but not in a while, and I wanted to post about it again because I really like te game and want it to do well. I don't always love the choices the 4thewords developers make in terms of gameplay, but in terms of company philosophy and the way the developers interact with their customers, I've always been impressed. It's a tiny company making a niche product -- I think there's one coder, one illustrator, and a few part-time writers -- and they are all good people who care about writing and want to make a tool that will be useful and fun for their customers. And they listen to their customers!

One example: when I started playing the game, you created an avatar. You could pick male or female, and there was a bunch of gendered clothing and hair styles. You couldn't make a male avatar with long hair, for instances.

A few months ago, they re-did some of the art and renamed the body types. Now, instead of "male" and "female", there are body types "1" and "2". All the clothing options are available for both body types, and the only changes are to accommodate the different base shapes. (Although body type 2 still has a tube top around the breasts as unremovable underwear, while body type 1 gets to be shirtless. It's a kid-friendly site, my solution to this would be to put both models in a tube top, but I am not gonna fuss at them over it.) You can save up to three different outfits, and you can change all the options between outfits, including the body type.

What I love about this change is not just that they made it, but that they made it without fuss. A lot of times when gaming companies are told "you could be more inclusive about [X]", developers responds with defensiveness. They don't want to be criticized for choices they made without realizing they were choices. "I didn't INTEND to be biased and that means I'm not and everyone does it this way and why should I change?" And 4thewords went "Oh, yeah, it would be better with some changes and that will take some work, but we'll do it."

Over time, they've added some enby NPCs to the game, too. It's nice. I feel seen.

The site did its "official launch" several months ago (it had been in paid beta for most of the time that I've been playing), and they re-did the whole main story line to be more cohesive and interesting. They run a lot of mini-events for various things -- there's a Love Week around Valentine's Day, and a Tico Week for the Costa Rico Independence Day (the company is based in Costa Rica), and they always do an event for Pride. The biggest event is for Nanowrimo in November, with the Camp Nanowrimo events in April and June being also pretty substantial. So now -- right before Nano -- is a good time to get started, especially if you plan to do Nanowrimo.

They've made a lot of gameplay decisions that I really like, too: the game has a much larger variety of monsters to fight, and a lot more of them that are small and unintimidating. I've written this post on the site and have defeated several monsters with word counts of 100, 300, or 600 today. They added a 10-monster queue, so that you can pick everything you want to fight and not have to think about it while you write. You can also toggle "auto-start next battle" on or off, so that if you want to fight the whole queue in on sitting, you can. And if you want to set up the queue all at once but only do one battle in a writing session, you can do that too.

One of my favorite little changes is the "pasting in words" behavior. There's now a setting you can change for whether words you paste in always add to your wordcount, or never add to it, or ask each time if you want to add it. This is great if you want to add a story you wrote a long time ago to the site without having it mess up your stats on the site. Since I paste all of my writing into the site, I have left it on "always add to word count". But I've thought about adding things I wrote years ago, and this will be a nice feature if I decide to do so.

Just so this doesn't read like 4thewords advertising copy, I will mention a gameplay decision I do not love.

Shortly after I started playing in 2016, 4thewords added a "wardrobe", with customization options for your avatar. This was with separate from the "inventory", which included miscellaneous crafting bits as well as weapons and armor that affect your combat stats but not your avatar appearance. As with other games that have a separate "inventory" and "wardrobe", the inventory was gameplay-only and had no impact on appearance, and the wardrobe was appearance-only and had no impact on gameplay.

In April 2019, for the CampNano event, they added monsters that you could only fight if you had particular wardrobe items equipped.

Not inventory items. Wardrobe. The appearance-only stuff that had never before affected gameplay.

Why. Why would you do that. The whole point to having two separate sets of items you have to manage is because they do DIFFERENT THINGS. If you're going to have both of them affect gameplay why are they separate? Just. ARGH.

They have stood by this decision and certain monsters in some areas continue to require you to go to your wardrobe and equip appearance items so that you can play the game. I still don't understand. Bleargh.

However, it's a pretty minor thing; I haven't even gone to the areas with wardrobe requirements in the months I've been playing since they were added. And it only bothers me because it's a nonsensical mechanic to add; it's not that it makes the game harder or easier.

Overall, if you like writing, I definitely recommend 4thewords.com. It gives that little bit of extra incentive to write, and that never hurts. I have a referral code: LBQFV83845. If you use a referral code (anybody's code, doesn't need to be mine) when you sign up, you get 44 core crystals, enough to pay for a month of subscription (in addition to the free trial). Right now, they're running a special where you get an extra 14 days of subscription time, which means it'll carry you through until the end of November so you'll be able to use your Nano winner code to buy more crystals before the free time runs out. :D (I remember being very annoyed that I had to buy $4 worth of crystals without a discount so that I could keep my streak in 2016.) Full disclosure: I get bennies for people using my referral codes, too -- right now, 66 core crystals and 14 extra days of subscription time. But I didn't write a 1500 word post to get freebies. I wrote it because it's a great game and I want other people to enjoy it too. And also for the developers to do well and keep it going. n_n

Oh, and to defeat a bunch of monsters in 4thewords.  That too. 

I mean, it's called "4thewords" not "4thedeathlessprose". Every word counts!

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