Portal Entertainment’s ‘The Craftsman’ has just launched and is billed as ‘the world’s first thriller for the iPad’. Joanna Ellis got a sneak preview.
The Craftsman is a thriller involving murder, missing people and a mysterious sect-like group. The reader takes on a key role in the story, playing an old friend of the protagonist who is called upon for help.
Julian McCrea, founder of Portal Entertainment, has a background in TV, and it shows. The production values on The Craftsman are really high which makes it a pleasure to read (and watch, and listen). As with Malcolm Tucker: The Missing iPhone app, the story cleverly bleeds into the ‘real world’ of the reader – events sync to your calendar, you receive emails, texts and calls – and this works to great effect, bringing another unsettling dimension to an already unsettling story. The Craftsman is also time-limited, unfolding over 5 days, which adds a sense of pressure and urgency.
Most importantly, the story is a winner, with pay-off and intrigue carefully balanced at each stage. The Craftsman was a year in the making during which time Portal engaged in a level of research and testing that, whilst common in the film industry, is rare (and often controversial) in publishing.
Portal worked with audiences to unpick the thriller genre working out what are its constituent parts and which of these might be successfully amplified using the technologies at hand. The writing team worked alongside a psychologist who tested how readers’ reactions to the story, and to the actions they are invited to perform, might vary according to whether they have more or less empathetic personalities. Business models were also tested. An incremental purchase model, day by day (or chapter by chapter) was ruled out because tests revealed that if readers enjoyed the first day (which is free to download) they would happily pay to download the rest in one go. This chimes with McCrea’s firm belief that readers will pay for a premium experience delivered to where they are.
New forms of fiction have not proved easy to commercialise. One of the challenges is nomenclature – how can you engage an audience if there is no common handle for the work you are making? Recognising this problem Portal have smartly chosen to describe the work by story and the feeling it elicits rather than form. One of the other challenges for immersive fiction, especially where there is a strong written component, is creating a seamless experience for the reader as they move from passive to active modes. For my money, The Craftsman is as seamless as they come and with two more thrillers and a ghost story in the pipeline I very much look forward to the next production.