Why is Fallen London so dominant?

1.3M visitors

Even their story hosted site isn’t doing well.

If there is over a million players, shouldn’t they have better competition?

I’ve never played Fallen London, but Emily Short’s name is on it. That might be your answer.

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Emily Short joined Failbetter way after Fallen London launched (a decade or so?), by which point it already had a huge playerbase - I think she’s since moved on too.

I know we have some posters who play it so I’ll defer to them on their theories for its success; my sense is that the secret sauce is some combination of a cool, evocative setting with broad appeal (while being a very specific flavor you can’t get elsewhere) plus well-calibrated casual game/free to play mechanics that support long-term engagement plus being in the right place at the right time to capitalize on a moment when indie games and web based free to play games were becoming a thing (like, they represented that trend but also had actual good writing and gameplay - so that’s a way to get both word of mouth and attention from the gaming press).

Edit: that last part is the main reason why they don’t have much competition, to my mind. As you note, StoryNexus hasn’t been nearly as successful.


Fallen London has an incredibly distinct house style, for better or for worse. It has incredible (very gothic) writing, and is rich for roleplay potential- which definitely helps drive engagement as people seek to characterize their own creations and interact with others.

Plus, years and years and years of engaging content to dig into- even long term devotees (like myself) haven’t- and cannot see it all on a single account, in large part due to the sheer variety of choices.

Poison the cup? Scare off the devil stealing orphan’s souls? Which devil would you like to romance? What type of poem would you like to compose? To whom do you toast, when no one is there to hear? In matters between high society and the criminal element, who do you help, at the expense of your relationship with the other? Fancy sailing across the oceans? Playing governor on a remote island? Going hunting for caches? Diving into a mirror universe and shaping people’s dreams? Publish a newspaper? Run an ad campaign? Build a salon? Build an orphanage? Become a brilliant scientist in a dead, dangerous language? Smuggle souls? And that’s not even a fraction of the content…

Plus, on top of that, there’s multiple overarching Ambitions, or major character arcs/plotlines. Use of alt accounts is pretty popular to be able to play those.

You can make large scale (your Ambition) choices, and thousands on thousands of smaller choices that flesh out your character while ploughing through your assorted quests and travels, like- what kind of cute little pet do you want? You can collect so many types of cats. Plus, with newer festival events- all the players band together for epic adventures that unlock new places, and more things to do…


For example, my character recently just established a church of her own out in the wilderness- which involved, among other things- entombing an angry drummer below in the crypt and cobbling together a skeleton out of odds and ends to canonize as my own saint. Her job is to meddle with people’s religious faith and convictions, and is described on the wikia / canon lore as: “The Crooked-Cross is a tempter. He invites the ignorant to knowledge, and opposes any monopoly on morality. He tests the boundaries between right and wrong. He has parted a priest and his faith, convincing the priest to deface the sign of his God.”

She also beat the snot out of a big bad villain after chasing him into the tomb colonies, and freed a whole bunch of tormented people filled with evil bees. She got married to a bewildering procession of paramours, of which a few Orchestra musicians will play music for her on some evenings.

She’s currently cooped up in her laboratory studying something that should not exist, after having just sacrificed oodles of possessed goldfish to figure out piscine anatomy- not by ghosts, but by shadows of things that were once kings, and now are malicious actors that usurp dreaming and unsuspecting bodies.

Before that, she was schmoozing at a fancy house and repeatedly using magic tricks with a mirror to shrink someone to the size of his pocket watch and back again. She played with her little pet kitten to extract gossip from him, (as all cats can speak in Fallen London, and the slyest little skittish ones know all the best secrets.) And fed the orphans that live at the orphanage she founded.

And that is like, a normal day in Fallen London.


That’s my view. To be a competitor in that space, you have to start small and then work tirelessly for several years to accumulate fans, content, gameplay, and loyalty. “Work hard for years for a modest success” is not an attractive target for competitors. If you’re in the business of chasing hits, you want to chase big hits that pay off fast.

See also Kingdom of Loathing, which isn’t as big but had a similar slow build. (And similar reliance on a very distinctive, albeit totally different, house style.)


Both Fallen London and Story Nexus have a habit of hiding what they actually are. Maybe that’s an intentional marketing move?

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Fallen London is a really neat thing to check in on throughout your day. It was fun to pop in while I was cooking dinner, waiting at the doctor’s, etc. Though, I eventually fell off because my short term memory isn’t great, and often I’d lose track of bigger goals and things I was supposed to be pursuing in the game. Playing a narrative game in micro-chunks didn’t work well for me, and the game’s interface isn’t great about tracking those things either.


Fallen London is notable (if that’s what you mean by “dominant”) because it’s been around since 2009. It started as Echo Bazaar and has spawned two mainstream exploratory rogue-likes Sunless Sea and Sunless Skies.

It hasn’t been doing well because it’s been inactive for a decade. StoryNexus was an attempt to provide Fallen London style story creation tools to authors who wanted to create a similar type of persistent story-world with most of the same tools including monetization and revenue sharing with Failbetter. It was only active in 2012-2014 (thereabouts) when they determined it wasn’t commercially viable. The site was basically left in place with no fixes or support until 2019 they started decommissioning it.

Ideally they’d hoped that the built-in audience for Fallen London would carry over and Storynexus would be a brand, but authors who tried weren’t able to produce viably extensive enough stories even 1/10th the scale of FL that would prove marketable quickly enough. My personal opinion is they shut it down too soon. Fallen London has grown and grown, and singular authors did awesome things with it but not on the epic scale they were hoping for. I don’t know what they were up against so I could be wrong, but I think if they had been able to keep it funded another year it would have gained some momentum.

Most of us who liked Storynexus would love a similar alternative, but nobody’s been brave enough to attempt it.


I have to agree with this statement based on what I’ve read about Fallen London (2009) and Kingdom of Loathing (2003) in Aaron Reed’s “50 Years of Text Games”.

This reminded me of the post Thinking About Seltani Again by @zarf.

I played Fallen London briefly a few years ago but I’ll have to check both it and Seltani out again to see how the game experiences overlap in function and form.

I’m also reminded of this post by @dfabulich.

Personally, I’m definitely interested in the possibility of selling parser-ish games to a larger audience, but I don’t know how viable that is given the current state of the art.

I have some ideas but, like most people here, I’m just an amateur doing this part-time. I’d love it to be a full-time job but that will probably entail working part-time “for years for a modest success”.

One of the things that I’m doing right now is playing more parser IF on iPhone and Android (Frotz, The Dreamhold, Hadean Lands, Detectiveland, Zeppelin Adventure, etc.) to get a feel for the good, bad, and ugly of parser IF on mobile.


I’m gonna fold this because it’s likely a personal “Quint from Jaws is drunk and ranting about what’s stuck in his craw” type of post that might be way too much stream of consciousness blather if you’re not interested.

(Hanon is not actually drunk...)

The other factor which I’ve already sort of mentioned - Fallen London remains popular because it’s a game you can play for months and years due to the metered pace of play and the vast amount of content, and they way Failbetter craftily structured “grind” mechanisms as gameplay and made them interesting. Often to advance in a story arc, a player would have to repeatedly attempt an action which had a chance of success or failure based on “qualities” which are basically variables representing physical resources, relationships, mental and physical state.

Due to the finite number of turns, this “chance to succeed” in some cases might have the addictive real-world allure of a slot machine and consequences: if you don’t succeed the choice repeatedly and your candle goes out, you’ve got to wait and return to try again. Sometimes choices would offer a better chance of success or a guaranteed chance of success if a player spent extra turns or burned precious rare qualities on a specific choice, so risk-reward.

Variables are commonly used in most IF, but a QBN (quality-based narrative) often relies on thousands of them. In an RPG you might manage a pageful stats like hit points, armor class, STR/INT/WIS etc and be aware of all of them throughout the game, in a QBN like FL they are not finite. Exploring a graveyard and meeting spirits there might produce a random new quality you’ve never heard of called “Haunting Essences” and start increasing it the more you grind. What the heck is that? Is it good? Is it bad? It’ll likely do something. One of Failbetter’s stated philosophies was to make what would be considered a failure state and a game over in other narratives just as interesting as success. As I spend time in this graveyard to gain Haunting Essences (which turn out to be a social currency in the underworld) if I occasionally fail a stat check choice, I might instead start accumulating “Terrifying Shocks” and if that gets too high, I won’t be allowed into the Masquerade Ball because I’m a raving lunatic after hanging out too long in the cemetery. But now I’m a haunted terrified lunatic seeing ghosts, which give me cred with the Society of Psychics since I believe in ghosts and a new storyline will open up.

You might think of a QBN as the IF equivalent of a “loot” game, only with interesting and unique quality variables instead of treasure. These thousands of qualities eventually shape the player’s character into a unique individual - I can’t go to parties because I won’t stop talking about ghosts, but now I’m a ghost-hunter. And I might also garden and bake bread, so my character’s individual standing in this enormous world is unique.

To get players to commit to that kind of narrative and come back several times a day requires a large amount of content. Fallen London had that and developed a fanbase. The idea was that players who liked the QBN style might want to play a similar but new games. What you’re seeing left on the site were the few larger moderately successful worlds - I think Zero Summer had a team committed to producing content. But the Directory of Worlds link which has nothing behind it now originally had maybe 30-40 small experimental playable worlds being developed and tested as the authors slowly figured out how to make the system work, and the scope of creating the content. I think we were just getting a handle on it when they shut down. I actually entered a Storynexus game into IFComp back in 2013

The other factor with creating a game system of any kind is you really need a “weenie” to draw people to it - to accumulate players and authors who go “Hey, I want to make something exactly like this! How do I do it?” It’s why when people announce they are creating a revolutionary new IF system the first question is “Where is the example demo game so we can see what this great system is capable of in action?” For Storynexus this was Fallen London. For Gruescript this was Detectiveland. For Inform 7 I believe this was Reliques of Tolti-Aph (and basically every Infocom game that Inform provides tools to replicate in style). If someone is going to make a Storynexus-alike, it needs to be compelling enough to attract players and authors. If Fallen London - possibly the longest-running persistent choice-based story world in existence - tried it and failed, it’s a hard road for any developer.