As an interactive storytelling platform, Dorian offers writers a new way to monetize their storytelling by turning their stories into Choose Your Own Adventure mobile games. As users navigate the free app, they can spend in-game currency to unlock alternate story routes, with part of the payment going directly into the author’s pocket.
Dorian today announced a $14 million Series A round raising led by the Raine Group involving March Gaming, vGames, Gingles and London Venture Partners, where Dorian co-founder and CEO Julia Palatovska was once an investor. Prior to that, she spent seven years at G5 Games where she was Head of Business Development and Licensing.
“I invested in some early stage startups for about two years and I was so inspired and eager to start building again, and that’s how the idea for Dorian came about,” Palatowska told gaming-updates. “I think the biggest inspiration and idea here is how can we give more people the opportunity to participate in the sports industry?”
The No-Code app is available on iOS and Android and allows anyone to turn their stories into interactive games, even if they have no background in game design. Instead of publishing stories for which authors typically receive a flat fee (or don’t get paid in smaller markets), Dorian provides a more consistent stream of income. But the trade-off is that nothing is guaranteed, especially on a new platform.
But Palatowska is optimistic about Dorian’s ability to support creatives.
“We have about 250 creators monetized, and that number is growing much faster than most creator platforms, where it takes years to monetize,” she told gaming-updates. “I think it’s interesting in light of this period, as we can get as many creators and fans as possible who want to support them. In terms of revenue, top video producers are currently earning around $15,000 per year. We have several creators who have already made Dorian their main work, and this is just the beginning.”
Dorian is similar to Episodes, a viral interactive storytelling app created by Pocket Gems. But on episodes, in order to earn money, the writers must provide at least 500,000 views within 60 days, which is not easy. Dorian doesn’t need a reader before the creator can start monetizing. Any user over the age of 13 can monetize Dorian through Tipalti, the same payment provider used by Twitch and Roblox.
When a reader makes an in-app purchase to follow the story paywall route, the payment is split 50/50 between Dorian and the author. But Dorian is different from other platforms (and the online fanfic market in general) because creators are encouraged to create fanworks from stories that are already on Dorian. It’s because of the author’s consent that authors sign Dorian before publishing a story—authors retain their intellectual property, Palatowska says, but they also allow other users to reproduce their stories.
Fanfiction authors are usually afraid of monetization of their works. Last year, Tumblr users turned to the platform to invite bloggers to pay for their fan art through a new subscription feature. Fan creators may also be suspicious because they have historically been used. In 2006, a platform called Fanlib raised $3 million in venture capital to create a platform where copyright holders could run fanfiction contests to generate excitement among fans. But Fanlib required contestants – even those who didn’t win the competition – to give up the rights to their work so it could be used commercially (the platform was sold to Disney and took two years, later closed). Amazon’s Kindle World then tried a different version, allowing self-published authors to create stories in licensed fictional worlds as long as they forego some of the sales. This didn’t work either.
Dorian is targeting a different market – it’s not about writing Harry Potter fan fiction, but about building other authors’ stories on the platform to help the original authors maintain some financial interest in the derivative works they inspired.
“Dorian owns the technology, but the creators still own the intellectual property,” Palatowska explains. She said that if someone publishes the original story about Dorian, and later the author decides to publish a novel based on his story about Dorian, it will be allowed.
In some cases, writers can monetize fanfiction based on more popular works – Dorian teamed up with Lionsgate last October to license The Blair Witch Project for a limited-time event. But, for example, if someone tries to use Dorian’s “supernatural” fanfiction, they will fail because the owner of the IP has not licensed this content to Dorian.
“Most creators on stage have been writing sci-fi and sci-fi for years and they never make a living from anything,” says Platowska.
If a fan wants to tell a story based on a game originally published on Dorian, the original author can choose what percentage of royalties will be paid to fan authors if their derivative stories generate revenue. As long as these derivative creations exist in the Doric ecosystem, it’s fair game. But if a fan writer uses their derivative works outside of Dorian to monetize them, they could get in trouble with the law.
Dorian offers an additional opportunity to earn on live broadcasts. Users can live stream their story for promotion, or they can stream another user’s story (again, the original IP owner can decide the distribution of royalties).
While the live streaming feature helps creators expand their audience, it’s a bold move for a relatively new app with a small team. The app is suitable for kids ages 12 and up, it’s aimed primarily at Gen Zers, and if there are no content moderation tools, things can go wrong very quickly.
We are newbies, so [content moderation] It’s definitely something we’re thinking about,” Palatowska said. “We are very happy and lucky to have a very well educated and supportive community. It’s almost 100% female, including streamers, so we’ve never had a problem. Of course, this can happen as we grow, but we are introducing some security measures.”
Currently, hosts can kick people out of their streams for bad behavior, and viewers can report intruders. Dorian also has his own moderation team to help where possible.
With a new capital investment, Dorian plans to expand its team and license IP addresses to host programs in applications, such as a partnership with Lionsgate. But as the Ukrainian founder expands her business outside of San Francisco, she also faces violent attacks on her homeland and tries to help her family living in Ukraine.
Many tech startups are helping to support Ukrainian refugees, but Palatovskaya’s attitude to the conflict is very personal. Dorian donated $10,000 to the Ukrainian military and $10,000 to the 1K project, which helps families affected by the war. More than 3 million Ukrainian refugees are estimated to have fled their country since Feb. 24, and as Dorian creates more roles, the company says it will actively seek out talent that has fled Ukraine or will want to relocate when it is safe to do so.