As of April 26, you can add the App Store to places where Frankenstein will tell its tale.
Frankenstein the app sells for $4.99 and is the joint effort of software design company inkle, Profile Books--which handled publicity, financing, and "directed both the written and artistic content," according to Joe Ingold, co-founder of inkle--and writer Dave Morris, who has written a version of the classic that’s “pretty faithful to the original, but with important points in the plot that are open to Rashomon-like interpretation.” The story is 155,000 words compared to Mary Shelley’s original 70,000, and is in the first place notable because readers make decisions along the way. But these decisions aren’t about solving problems or steering the plot, they’re about subtly affecting Victor Frankenstein’s character. Players are “the voice in Frankenstein’s ear,” Ingold said, and how he behaves and what he reveals to players depends on the variable trust they cultivate.
Ingold is quick to point out the delicate “interactivity” question when it comes to more adult-targeted storytelling in apps. “One of the things for us in developing the platform for the app was to get away from the idea of ‘making choice = changing the story,’” said Ingold. “While we can do that—and we certainly do—the idea that the only benefit of making choices is to affect ‘what happens next’ is a bit of a strange one. There's a joy in being told a tale and we don't want to throw that away in the name of ‘innovation.’ If everyone wanted control of the plot there'd be no readers and no surprises.”
Indeed, the level of interactivity for adult-targeted apps is one of the many questions both publishers and developers are trying to figure out in what’s still a nascent market. Said Morris: “If Kindle books are the new paperbacks, book apps on tablets are the new hardbacks. That means they will need to be dressed up to look more like a premium purchase.” He noted that nonfiction titles have the greatest potential for adult-targeted apps, as the inclusion of audio and video clips, interactive maps, etc. enhance the reading experience, but would potentially disrupt a fiction narrative.
Profile’s digital publishing manager Michael Bhaskar stated that though his company hasn’t seen much of a long tail in the App Store yet (“there are a very small number of apps that seem to account for a disproportionately large volume of downloads”), he’s hoping that the growth of the market will broaden the opportunity for enterprising developers.
For his part, Ingold was optimistic: “[With adult-targeted apps] it feels like there was a period of colorful experimentation, and that's now settling down, with publishers and developers producing consistently usable, engaging apps, with great content and solid design. That's good news for everybody - if the focus in the market is purely on innovation, then things can cost a lot to make for huge risks and little reward.” Speaking about the hope for a more steady marketplace, which would allow developers to focus on adding value to their apps, Ingold said that would in turn mean “consumers can enjoy great content that isn’t let down by first-iteration design. I hope that’s where we’re headed.”
For a trailer for Frankenstein, click here.