The ability to go back is probably one of my favorite features of the games on CYS. I have had games that I never even finished from CoG because I went through hundreds of pages only to pick an option that leads to my death. I mean, if the game was good enough I'd probably slog through the choices again but it is extremely frustrating to spend an hour or more reading a story only for a fake choice or unclear stat check to lead to you having to restart the entire story.
I do prefer having a back button... Except when it comes to random results. One of the games I'm working on has a lot of random results, and it's kind of annoying knowing that people can just go back and roll a better score. That's cheating! (I mean I totally do it, but that doesn't mean I want other people to.)
All other things equal, I prefer story over game. That's not to say I don't think choice is important, but when I read a story-game, I usually just want to click links and read rather than solve puzzles. Branching style is something that means a lot to me too. I prefer the Cave of Time style rather heavily for various reasons. Reading a story and finding that every choice led to something new was the coolest thing ever when I first started reading CYOAs and a big reason I'm here right now. Additionally, it makes reading every page of the story way easier than some styles. I don't want a story to finish in the first two links no matter what I do. Otherwise I have noticed no preference between broad and long. Either way, I'm probably reading all of it.
Readability is important too. If I have to stop and decipher what sentences are supposed to be, it takes away from the story, and I will probably start noticing other mistakes too.
Occasional paragraph breaks are a blessing that I often forget to be grateful for until I read something without them.
Also, I don't really care for delayed choices. It's not something you notice until you play through it again, and then I start wondering if I need to try different choice combinations, et cetera. They can be cool, I guess, but I wouldn't think it was a positive if someone was telling me about a story.
With the story that I am currently writing, I am hoping that readers will want to explore as many of the different story paths as possible. It's being structured in what this site calls the "Time Cave" format, and so far there will be at least 29 unique endings.
Some of the original CYOA books seem to have been written with the assumption that readers would read through multiple story paths; rather than writing one "main" story line that includes all the details and answers all the questions, these tidbits were spread out through multiple story paths with unsatisfactory endings. Those unsatisfactory endings--where you die, or fail to solve the mystery, or get side-tracked by a minor B-story--motivated the reader to backtrack and try again. If done well, the reader could see the connections between the various plotlines and piece together the overarching narrative.
But if the mystery was fully explained in multiple "successful" endings, then the reader gets what s/he wants in the first or second try, and the book gets quietly put back on the shelf.
Some of the comments on my first story on this site, Marooned on Giri Minor, suggested that there could have been more development of the secondary characters. Yes, I agree I could have sprinkled in more details here and there, but at the same time I think those highlights need to be inserted into places where they are organic to the story, and not just written as exposition for exposition's sake.
For instance, the first choice in Giri Minor asks if you want to hang out on the bridge or go on a spacewalk. If you choose the first option, you get to hang out with Captain Siggo and interact with him, but if you go on the spacewalk you get to interact with Tira Indrian. Later in the story, if you pick the right path, you will find a good character moment where you learn about both Dionysya Andrade and "you" in a single passage of dialog. As in real life, if you choose not to interact with those characters, then you don't learn much about them; and because this is a "Time Cave" story no one plot line answers all questions.
The follow-up story to Giri Minor, with its 29-and-counting unique endings, will take this element up a notch. That story will be far more enjoyable if readers take the time to explore as many of the branching plotlines as possible--not necessarily all 29, but at least each of the four main branches. Going straight to the "win" ending will result in a very thin story, and therefore garner poor ratings and reviews. On the other hand, I worry that if the reader gets mired in one unsatisfactory ending after another--and don't worry, I am trying not to rely on cheap deaths as a way to inflate the ending count--they will just get frustrated and quit reading the story altogether.
So as the writer, I am being mindful of my obligation to create an intriguing world and populate it with compelling characters. For the readers, I will probably insert a disclaimer at the beginning reminding everyone that "Time Cave" stories were designed to be read multiple times. Don't base your rating or your comment on the very first read-through.
We are in agreement with your initial three ingredients. I tend to prefer story over game as I find the use of second person POV (with a little help from my ego) draws me into the world. I also primarily browse the site at work, so a small window of text is a lot more inconspicuous than a series of images and abundance of links. I find that great world building can overshadow mediocre writing when it comes to CYOA stories since my mind is filling in the details making up for lack of description. The CYS site isn't visually impressive on its own, so a great story is definitely needed for the "game-focused" storygames as I don't find as much pleasure in clicking links as some of the other members here. I think most people tend to include branching and replayability as a criteria for a great storygame. I think it's a cool element, but I doesn't really affect my rating for a game. I'm just as happy navigating through a singular path, avoiding dead branches, and picking links that are actually meaningful for the story. To answer your question, a perfect storygame in my mind entails the three things you mentioned, an immersive world, and choices that matter/develop the story.
I play as myself and imagine I'm the main character. It definitely leaves me in a strange place after stories like Love SICK and Repression.
Wrote a poem for my sister the other day. Made my mom jealous.
Were you interrupted by Mormons and/or a girl scout? They really get in the way of writing nice poems for your sister, ya know?
But you can always get them to sing for her. ^_^