News

Why is Fallen London still free-to-play?

By Alexis Kennedy, January 3, 2015 · Fallen London

Someone on our forum just pleaded with us to make Fallen London an AAA-price, all-you-can-eat banquet, rather than our current day-by-day free-to-play rationing system. It’s a request we hear from time to time; it’s perfectly understandable, and it’s something we’ve talked about internally as well. But Fallen London will stay free-to-play, and here’s why.

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First, the cost of changing the model. We currently only make about 30-35% of our revenue from action refreshes, so we seriously discussed the possibility of removing the action cap and retuning the content to be grind-free, monetising it exclusively through Nex-locked content (a smaller task than repackaging it as an AAA game). The ballpark figure we came back with for making that change is 20-25 writer-months. Yes, seriously. The content is designed to be read in small chunks, the pacing is baked into the drip-feed, the economy is all based around restricted actions. That’s a hell of an investment and it would consume our entire writing resource – even with a new hire – for a year or more, meaning we couldn’t work on anything else.

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Secondly, text is a hard sell for a AAA price. Take 80 Days, an excellent game that’s been all over GOTY lists. It contains a huge amount of text – inkle says it’s about 350K words. You can buy all of it for GBP 2.99. Fallen London is four, five times the size – about 1.5 million words. I doubt we’d be able to sell it for even four or five times the price, let alone an AAA price. It would be a fire-sale deal for years of work. It would drive away the 90% of our audience who have never paid for the game (but who tell their friends, and may some day decide to pay, or buy other games like Sunless Sea).

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Thirdly, we do a lot of free content updates. We wouldn’t be able to do those any more, because we need to pay the writers. The whole game was conceived as an ongoing project – it would be like one of those TV shows where a cancellation means major plotlines get tied up quickly.

But fourthly…

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Failbetter nearly went out of business a couple of years ago. StoryNexus didn’t work out for us, we weren’t getting any more client projects (the Last Court was the last) and I had to lay off half the team, all of them personal friends. Sunless Sea has done pretty well, and we’re growing, and we’re in a good place. But that near-extinction left me determined that Failbetter’s priorities would be safety, fun and profit, in that order.

Priority one: we want to be sure we can stay afloat. Priority two: we want to keep doing projects that we genuinely enjoy – which is the whole reason we’re in this business. And thirdly, money’s always nice, but that comes last.

Games are a hit-driven business. We don’t know how well our next game after Sunless Sea will do – the games industry changes wildly every year, and we are competing with entertainment leviathans and passionate, ambitious indies. So we’re spreading our bets. The great thing about Fallen London is that although it never covers all our costs, it gives us a steady and reliable income every month as long as we keep feeding it content. This gives us space for experimentation and polish elsewhere . If our next game flops – which could happen for reasons completely outside our control – we have a bit of breathing space. If we mess with Fallen London, we risk losing that breathing space, and alienating a long-term, loyal fan-base who’ve grown fond of this approach – a game you can play in five minutes in a browser tab at work.

Fallen London is staying F2P because we’re not after a quick buck – we’re in this for the long haul. This is, of course, the same reason that our monetization strategies are about the most gentle and polite in the whole industry, which is why we’ll never be rich. Industry consultants point and laugh at our bizarre strategy of earning money by making new content.

All that said…

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We want to make Fallen London less grindy. We’ve taken steps in that direction already, and we’ll be taking more steps in 2015. The Gift, our latest bit of premium content, was an experiment – a chunk of lovingly polished, non-grindy, pure narrative that took extra time to make and merited a higher price. The reception has been really positive. It turns out that many of our audience like lovingly polished chunks of pure narrative. WHO KNEW. So we’ll be doing more of that.

We’re also looking at giving more value with Exceptional Friendship subscriptions. It’s difficult to make them a better deal without giving away the farm, but we think we might be able to manage a steady trickle of unique premium content each month, for EFs only. We recognise that people sometimes feel happier about signing up for a predictable expense – five or ten dollars each month – rather than picking through our giant store-house of content and guessing what’s worth paying for.

And you can also expect more stand-alone Fallen London experiences. Stay tuned.

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We’re not going to stand still – we’re going to keep improving Fallen London. But Failbetter is about safety and fun first, and profit last.

If we ever go public, perhaps I’ll leave that last part out of the prospectus.

27 Comments

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Ian Oct 14, 3:48pm

Tell the Industry Consultants to shove it. You releasing zubmariner got me to buy the original game and the expansion! I am just now starting Fallen London as well. You must be doing something right by releasing new content.

Hannah Flynn Oct 10, 2:39pm

Aw thanks!

Evangeline Oct 8, 2:13pm

I know this is an old post, but I just wanted to say that I love you guys and thank you so much for the awesome stuff that you create. Fantastic! <3 <3 <3

Razzel Sabidalas Sep 12, 5:42am

I love the game and I'm planning to be an EF once my budget allows me. Anyways can I play Fallen London Offline? And if so how? I would love to hear from you soon, thanks and keep up the great work!

Very Happy and Content person Sep 10, 12:48am

I really want to thank Failbetter Games for their dedication to quality and fun for both themselves and the customers. It is rare to find such a passionate and high quality game company that provides such beautifully written prose and a well-thought game completely for free. The decision to completely forgo much profiting off of the game and losing the chance to create the different things they want is very admirable, and as a happy high school student benefiting from the enrapturing and high level writing that this game has at every step, I am happy to be able to continue playing without added costs. I started playing Fallen London by a friend's recommendation, and am saving up to be able to play Sunless Sea or unlock more stories in Fallen London - I can't get enough of this incredible browser game! Thanks so much for all you do, and good luck to all of your future ventures!

Brittany Jun 10, 12:48pm

I third Darren's and Jennifer's comment I would def pay more for a shorter timer. Even having 40 actions as a subscriber only helps the 1st time of the day that I play. Great game!

Jennifer Apr 23, 3:57am

Ditto on Darren's comment - higher monthly subscription tier that reduces the timer. I'd pay double for a 5-minute timer. I can never bring myself to buy more actions because it never seems worth it, but a subscription payment for a faster timer would be something I'd be into.

Darren Apr 23, 3:32am

What about a higher monthly subscription tier that reduced the 10 minute timer down to a 2-3 minutes. I pay monthly at the moment and would happily pay more for this. I'd pay double for a two minute timer.

Josh Mar 1, 5:24pm

Thanks. Being rather young, I have a limited gaming budget, and I haven't been able to afford any of your content yet. You've been on my radar for a while, through Extra Credits. I've become a huge fan of your work, and got Sunless Sea through the recent Humble Bundle, which is when I decided it was time to get into FL. I wasn't disappointed. The game is great, and I appreciate you making it free to play.

Charles Jan 9, 4:05am

Failbetter, I love Fallen London. And I wish the world had more experiences like yours. Love you guys. Good luck in the future. Someday, in the distant future, I hope Fallen London will become a relic, a milestone for games and narratives.

Welison Douglas May 28, 5:42pm

My dream scenario is this: Failbetter allows the creation of a community project which aims to make a standalone, non-grindy. offline version of Fallen London, with no action system. The community itself deals with balancing, plugging story holes, updating and whatever other challenges arise. Why do I think the community would be up for it? Because that is a pretty similar endeavor to what the wikis already are. Why it won't happen: Because even if this standalone version links to Fallen London and/or allows you to purchase locked content directly, it is still a huge risk with a tendency for the two versions of the game to cannibalize each other.

Vincent Asmund May 1, 2:51pm

I only started playing days ago, and it's a really great game. I'm rather annoyed the candle takes 10 WHOLE MINUTES per action refill, but hey-- I'm grateful the game is free-to-play. Thank you for your dedication to this game.

Gerald Edgerton Apr 19, 6:22am

Thank you, sirs, madams and all others not constrained by such feeble titles. Thank you for your dedication to your craft. We do so enjoy visiting your world. I found my way to Fallen London when I fell into the Unterzee in search of great roguelikes. Video games can have addictive tendencies - not often in the long-term destructive ways of certain illicit substances, but a constant need for "power" - the ability to take immediate action for immediate result. Many video game players are not satisfied if they are not playing terminal-level content in a game, and constantly receiving new content. With a F2P model, players can use 20 actions per 200 minutes, or 144 actions per day if they log in really often. If they distribute that towards the "training " of any primary state and log in, say, before school/work, for 10 minutes during lunch, after school/work and once or twice throughout the evening, it's very realistic to use 100 actions a day. With such an approach, it is realistic to gain dozens of skill points per week, rapidly progressing from a lowly urchin to an agent of fearsome power and intrigue. Making money requires more nuance, but players can still seek a rhythm that suits them if progressing their character is important to their satisfaction. With the Exceptional Friends model, they can cut down their number of logins significantly, progress a lot faster and exploit other benefits, in addition to enjoying exclusive content. I like that people can't grind indefinitely. People shouldn't achieve 100 Dangerousness in a weekend because they choose to grind all day and night. And Sunless Sea's model offers that kind of freedom, albeit with a harsher economy to match. Fallen London is well suited to those with a taste for beautiful and thoughtful writing, and who care to enjoy the ride. Carry on, delicious friends.

Bas Mar 26, 2:47pm

That is a very well put case! Thank you.

jacob Mar 25, 5:49am

i just want to say that rarely i find a game so captivating in plot and mystery and story rich as you have provided in this fallen London ...sunless sea is a good game but i go back to fallen London more. and try to "donate" in money purchase for i see a great thing here and understand your "artist" in pen, er typing/story telling is very talented and starving as they say...so i try to feed a little in hopes that you all continue your great work here, I have an autistic part of me that usually attention wise tends to be distracted easily from pen and paper and reading and so forth, however I am quite captivated by the brilliance of the writer(s) here and look forward to even more greatness and rich expansions in stories to come...as my character has slyly been creep up the corners to find more and more delicious feedings of the secrets he has found so far and continues to dance with the devils and mistresses alike,while detective and a bit of quick fingers and robbery help weigh the pockets well with gold and other riches. I love the H.P. Lovecraft feel of this I'm sure others would relate to it with many of his style and other fine authors...but that is where the writer(s) tallent shine in the fact that they compliment the atmosphere of such sooo well ...keep up the good work and i hope you have a long future with this and other games develope...it would be quite interesting to see this someday come to a visual life of game...but then again it is great as is.

Potzder Mar 23, 10:34pm

Having been thoroughly charmed by the world of Sunless Sea; I couldn't help but try out FL as I knew it had a lot of content for free. Since I've started playing this fairly seriously over the last week, I felt compelled to subscribe to the EF tier as FL is one of the very few F2P games where I have been so impressed and immersed with the world that I wanted to pay. I felt guilty playing it for free! As has been mentioned by other posters, I love that the fact that the game is clearly made be people who love what they do and respect the player enough not to constantly badger them for money. Excellent work! One of the few worlds which I tend to think about, even when I am not playing. Now.. off to indulge in some Prisoner's Honey (not Red Honey though; that would be most improper!)

Rebecca Feb 15, 7:11pm

I came to Fallen London recently through word of mouth about both FL and Sunless Sea, and have LOVED it so far. The honesty and commitment displayed in your work -- and this blog post -- are nothing short of marvelous. Your priorities may not make you rich, but money can't buy happiness or awesomeness, and if you're a happy game studio with an awesome product, I call that "winning" even if the venture capitalists don't. Well done, Failbetter.

Mak Feb 1, 8:26pm

I've really enjoyed playing Fallen London, perhaps all the more so because it was free. I've been drawn so much into the world you've created that I've recently purchased Sunless Sea, and I have no doubt I will enjoy it just as much but in a different way. I also have no doubt that I would have completely overlooked it if I had not got to know the FL world first. Keep doing what you're doing, I applaud you for it and I'm sure your fanbase will continue to grow and grow because of it.

John Bruce Jan 28, 10:30pm

You know, it feels weird to defend anyone choosing to use the F2P business model, but I think you're right. Fallen London couldn't be the same game if it were pay-once-and-done. The candle is part of how the game maintains pacing, and locking a choice with Nex is a signal about the quality of that option compared to others as much as it is a way to make revenue, plus it adds an element of tempting you to make a sacrifice as the player to better your character, which is important flavor. And truth be told, FL is the one game where I don't usually MIND that it's F2P, even when I'm being offered the chance to spend money. I guess it's because you worked the energy mechanic into the pacing of your game, so it's not obtrusive like in games where it exists purely as an obstacle to the gameplay, and you use a very artistic touch in when you offer to let people pay. Also, the game and its text are just plain amazing, so it's totally worth supporting, unlike F2P "games" that offer no substance worth paying for. So, yeah: Keep doing what you're doing! You guys still have what may be the only F2P game worth talking about.

Jabberwok Jan 12, 3:31am

I haven't paid for any content yet, but I probably will in the future. I've found that I actually like the action limits, as it turns it into something that stays with me longer (though the fact that they regenerate instead of coming back all at once has cost me a LOT of free time in the past). And the fact that some parts are built more around repeated actions and other parts are not I also like, because it means I can choose how much attention I feel like giving to it that day while still making progress. I think Sunless Sea's release is what reminded me about the existence of FL, but I probably wouldn't have bought Sunless Sea without it. Now I'm enjoying both.

Art Jan 12, 1:22am

Having come into FL after discovering and putting many hours into playing Sunless Sea, I've found myself strangely more interested in FL. I really appreciate the explanation and approach being taken to keep the game F2P, some things I wish didn't cost so much...but perhaps I'm just cruising through it faster than I should. I'm one who can say I've definitely spent over $100 exploring FL content and I usually watch how much I spend on gaming, so I can understand how some addic...er...consum...er...players would like to be able to buy the game outright, but I've come to greatly enjoy the restriction of not being able to power-game through all the content in a few days. I think many AAA games could learn a thing or two from FL, ESPECIALLY polished narrative. Cheers Failbetter!

John Jan 7, 9:13pm

I love games, and game design. I've probably paid a good twenty dollars for Fallen London, and the wife spent five more; it's not what I'd pay for a AAA premium game but it's more than I'd probably have paid if Fallen London were a "for sale" product rather than something I tried and loved. I also bought sunless sea, and recommend both games to my friends. So good job in knowing what you really have going for you I may buy more content later, especially if it has the type of narration I got from "The gift". If you do want to make a AAA version of the game I would recommend applying the setting and the huge amount of lore you have accumulated from the past two games to the development of a table top RPG game that I could play here with my friends on a quiet Saturday night. That lore is your greatest asset. :)

ParaszTarcal Jan 7, 7:21pm

I cannot add a whole lot of constructive criticism, but I feel the need to tell you that you have all my respect, and I will look forward to all your future games, especially because you treat your audience with so much respect (unprecedented, I have to say). Though I'm poor enough in the first place to rather support the f2p models and such, I feel like locking out people by any means is the exact opposite of what the art of game development is about, and I don't even think it would yield any more profits than it does already. Best wishes!

Casaubon15 Jan 7, 10:02am

What a great post - eloquent and honest. I am an EF, partly because I like the fact that 40 actions lets me crack through a fair bit of content each morning (when I should be working), but mainly because it somehow seems unreasonable not to be paying at least something for the sheer quality of writing throughout FL. As someone who has become increasingly turned off AAA games because of the paucity of good writing/narrative, FL is a breath of fresh air (also loved Last Court, and now want to try DA: Inquisition to see if it references any of the LC characters!). FWIW I would absolutely advocate sticking with the softly-softly-catchy-monkey approach to content: the drip-feed narrative seems very fitting for the setting and the experience as a whole; crunching through the whole lot in a binge over a week or two would be fun while it lasted but ultimately much less satisfying. Can't wait until I can find the free time to sit down with Sunless Sea as a new year treat... Keep up the delicious work.

Weekly Links #51: free-to-play edition « No Time To Play Jan 7, 6:47am

[…] the opposite end of the spectrum, the fine folk at Failbetter Games took the time to explain why Fallen London is still free to play. Having played Fallen London since it was called Echo Bazaar, I can say it’s F2P done right. […]

Blaine Davidson Jan 5, 10:38pm

I originally became an Exceptional Friend for the sole purpose of getting closer to the Regretful Soldier. I have not renewed it since but had decided to if I ever needed to double my actions to grind towards something. Like say, an update to the Heart's Desire ambition, hint, hint. But monthly premium content would likely be enough to convince me to consistently be an Exceptional Friend, especially if it was of similar or superior quality to that of The Gift.

Rupho Schartenhauer Jan 3, 6:20pm

Great post and all perfectly understandable! There's one thing though: "It turns out that many of our audience like lovingly polished chunks of pure narrative. WHO KNEW." I could've told you that ;-) I think that is exactly your target audience with Fallen London: not typical "gamers" (whoever they are) but people who value the QUALITY of your writing above all else, and are willing to do the worst grinds imaginable just to unlock that next part of the STORY! It might not be the largest target audience in the world, but they are YOUR target audience because there is no other game like Fallen London (I've searched, believe me!). So, giving EF more value would be exactly the right move: currently, there is hardly any incentive for those players (like me) who've been around for years and have played it all (sometimes repeatedly) to subscribe for more actions when, most of the year, there is not much to do with these actions (except grinding for Cider etc. which is not everyone's cup of tea). But a guaranteed steady trickle of new content for EFs would, I think, persuade the larger group of those seasoned players who've already spent Fate in the past (and some of those who haven't done so yet) to make their EF subscription more or less permanent. "Industry consultants point and laugh at our bizarre strategy of earning money by making new content." I hope with all my heart that you'll have the last laugh!