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I've seen a few visual novels on Steam and Kickstarter that mentioned how many words they already contain and what they are planning for the final amount. The problem is: I have no idea how those numbers compare to other games. As I am currently doing some research about the creation process of visual novels as a sort of "hobby indie developer" I'd like to know more about the rough statistics of visual novels and how to compare them to each other.

Therefore I would like to know how many words a visual novel contains on average. As there are really, really long professionally done visual novels and really, really short indie games I'd like the answer to try to estimate the amount of words in relation to the length of gameplay, as that is a statistic that is often used in all kinds of games to express how much a reader / player can expect from the final product and thereby influences the price they are willing to pay.

Obviously there are many differences between individual games and there are many things you can use to change the play time, like longer cutscenes, longer puzzles, different routes that only diverge after a certain amount of time and therefore force the player to replay some of what he's already played through. That means answers to this question should only try to provide some context to the amount of words and play time as best as they can with the available data.

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Very short and incredibly rough estimate: 10.000 words are around 1 hour play time.

After some research I've found that the answer is... even more difficult than I had first imagined...

First of all some statistics that I have found about the visual novel Fate/Stay Night, one of the longest visual novels and one of the more widely known ones in the community of players:

So, pretty long and nobody knows exactly how long. One of the biggest problems is that the original is in Japanese and therefore you should really count japanese characters. And japanese characters apparently are of different length, at least when looking at the byte count, which would otherwise be an easy way to estimate the size when taking care not to count visuals into the calculation. For example the already mentioned site gamicus.gamepedia.com mentions:

Japanese character count - The number of Japanese characters used. On average, one English word is roughly equivalent to around three Japanese characters, though it can vary depending on the game. The Japanese character count here is measured in kilobytes (KB, equivalent to 1024 bytes), due to Japanese characters varying in size from one to two bytes each.

This means that you will never get a really good estimate for the really long visual novels.

But anyway, let's take F/SN and look at how long players need to complete the game on average. Accoding to howlongtobeat.com players need on average something between 60 and 100 hours to beat the game.

This depends a lot on the specific playstyle. For example those players who just want to beat the game clock in at around 60 hours on average, while those who want to unlock some extras need something like 80 hours. And the perfectionists need around 100 hours.

Therefore depending on the amount of branching narrative in your visual novel you can massively adjust the play time for certain play styles. When mentioning how long the game will probably take it would be best to estimate the time for different play styles. In an imaginary situation where someone was pitching F/SN to a community they would otherwise have to say "The game will roughly be between 700.000 words and double that amount, and it will probably take something like 60 hours to beat the game or maybe double that amount if we are somewhere in the middle of the word range... probably..." which would be a weird sales pitch...

You get information like this for a lot of different bigger visual novels. For example "The Fruit of Grisaia" takes according to *howlongtobeat.com" something between 20 and 70 hours depending on play style. Seems like there are lots of different paths to go... And according to gamicus.gamepedia.com it's around 1 million words long.

That means F/SN and Grisaia have (very, very) roughly the same word count in english, which takes the average "main episode" player either 20 or 60 hours and the average completionist either 70 or 100 hours... Which doesn't really help with getting a feeling for the average play time in relation to word count...

So, let's look at the indie scene where you find... lots of information that is totally incoherent...

For example the Kickstarter "Silent Voices" mentions 200.000 to 300.000 words, but without a play time estimate with a demo version that should contain something a 1/14 of the final game and has something like 12.000 words.

The Letter mentions that they are around 180.000+ words and around 6 hours of game time. And howlongtobeat.com mentions for this game... 20 to 40 hours, depending on play style... which is not too far away from Grisaia, which had 5 times the word count! But then again, the amount of reviews is vastly different, so maybe the people reading The Letter were simply slower. Low numbers of participants are always a bad thing for statistics to be valuable...

Pastelia Stories, which is still in Early Access, mentions it will have more than 1 million words (in chinese) and be around 10 to 30 hours. It's not categorised as a Visual Novel, but it still mentions these numbers, so I'll include it here. This means it's around the same size as F/SN and Grisaia in the end and around half the play time as Grisaia and maybe a third of F/SN according to the developer estimates. At least if you would count chinese words the same way as english words. I'll just use the simple guideline from before and assume chinese and japanese work roughly the same in this regard, which means that three characters in chinese are roughly one english word. Which means the english word count would be one third of F/SN and Grisaia and therefore the play time fits into this estimation again... Obviously there are a lot of things in this paragraph that are very, very rough estimates that mostly depends on what the developers really do in the end...

Heart of the woods says they are around 130.000 words and according to howlongtobeat.com they clock in around 8 to 13 hours, with only 1 or two reviews...

For example on our sister site Anime.SE you can find the question Visual novel profits and costs with an answer from an indie developer mentioning 10.000 words. According to the comments that was less than 2 hours of game time. There is no indication about this being the average time, or which play style, or whether there are lots of branches and minigames and cutscenes and long animation pauses.

So let's take 10.000 words for less than 2 hours and probably more than 1 hour for completionists for an indie game from a developer from our sister site. 130.000 words for Heart of the Woods at 13 hours for completionists and a bit more than half as much for a normal run. 180.000 words and 6 hours for the Kickstarter project The Letter, but remembering that this was advertisement, whereas the other data was from someone who actually played the game. And 1.000.000 words for roughly 100 hours for completionists for a professional widely known game in the genre.

Those very rough numbers can be generalised so that you can expect 10.000 words for 1 to 3 hours for a completionist run. Probably half as much for someone who just wants to play through the main story.

This aligns with the average reading speed of an adult, which supposedly sits somewhere around 200 and 250 words per minute. 10.000 words would take an average adult roughly 40 to 50 minutes. Adding a bit of time for gameplay, cutscenes and other animations would easily get you to the 1 hour. And depending on how much players have to read through again for a different branch you could crank this up to the 3 hours I mentioned before.

It's easy to try and take this number for the average speed an average player will need, but when designing a visual novel you have to keep in mind that most of the time you will write more than your average reader will read. The completionists are rarer than the ones simply going through the main story and maybe one or two additional branches. Depending on the amount of branches some players might only see 5 or 6 thousand of those 10 thousand words you write.

This is an extremely rough result because there are lots of things to consider with the length. The best thing you can do is to make a small-scale prototype of the specific kind of game you are creating and letting a handful of people you are trusting play through it and note their time. From that you can extrapolate for the final result. You should be careful that the small-scale prototype includes a similar branching structure, similar amount of minigames, cutscenes, animation, ... in relation to the pure text as your final game will have.


Just as a little extra, if you want to go into prices you are in for a lot of research... with the result mostly being: it depends... What kind of game specifically? What specific genre? What is the current state of the market? How high quality is your art? How high quality is your writing? How many branches? How much extra "game" elements? How is the marketing? Kickstarter campaign? Demo? Social Media "hype train"? Steam sales? Platform used? Tools used? Team size and salary expectations? Previous success stories? ...

You are probably a hobby or indie developer if you are reading this expecting to find new information, so you'll likely want to aim for something like 2 to 3 dollars for the first few little games at maybe 20 to 30 thousand words trying to get a feeling for how things will work out for you and maybe go up to 5 to 10 dollars once you've found how out how things work and have some people that will help and funds to get high quality conent via contracts from professional artists/ editors/ musicians/ ...

So, as a very, very rough guideline you will probably want to aim at 0.5 to 1 $ per 10.000 words and therefore 0.5 to 1 $ per hour of gameplay. The more "indie" and new you are to the creation the more you want to stick to the lower end of this estimate or even below this for promotion. If you ever get into the AAA professional region people will likely have way better ways of estimating these things and vastly more personal and professional experience and resources to draw from, leading to different ways of calculating the price for the final product. I don't remember seeing Visual Novels in the range of 100$ alone, so those high-end products that will sell a lot more often than your indie games ever could will probably be at the lower end of the guideline, too. In the mid-range section I'd expect something more like 1$ per 10.000 words and thereby 1 hour of gameplay for some high-quality products from not-so-widely-known studios.

And if you want to know more about the current market situation for Visual Novels, Gamebooks and similar games you can find a few pointers in my answer to the question Is there still a market for solo adventures game books?. Basically the market is still there and in general expanding, but you will need to be a bit lucky with your specific genre and how you execute it. Visual Novels are definitely more sought after these days than GameBooks, but the quality of your work and your marketing will be what determines your success in the end.

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    10,000 words per 1 hour sounds close to my own experience. I calculated on a long scene that is non-linear but all story elements need to be completed: the scene roughly equates to 20min of reading and is ~3500 words (it's the only scene that forces the full content to be read, and I was concerned about how long the reader is forced to stay in it before they can opt-out). – wetcircuit Mar 10 at 14:10
  • Maybe say something about wpm of reading? Quick Google says 200 to 300? – Malady Mar 10 at 19:41

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