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How Failbetter flubbed, then rescued the launch of Mask of the Rose

During Develop: Brighton 2023, we had the opportunity to attend various engaging talks and candid reflections on the ups and downs of game development.

Among these talks was one hosted by Hannah Flynn, the communications director for Failbetter Games, known for the indie browser game hit Fallen London and its spin-offs Sunless Seas and Sunless Skies. While the studio hasn't ventured into mobile game development yet, Fallen London remains accessible on mobile browsers, attracting a devoted fanbase over the past decade.

Hannah's presentation, titled "A standout campaign retrospective," offered insights into the launch of Failbetter Games' latest title, Mask of the Rose. This murder mystery game generated much anticipation among longtime fans and Kickstarter backers. Despite a robust promotional campaign, things didn't go entirely as planned.

Understanding Failbetter's usual audience was crucial for effective marketing. Their player base consisted of "nerdcore" enthusiasts and fans of traditional British culture, often referred to as "teaboos." Unconventional tactics, such as releasing a game-themed tea in collaboration with FridayTea and offering crochet kits for players to create characters from the game, helped build a strong community around the game.

Hannah also shared her takeaways on advertising on TikTok. She emphasized the importance of doing the least possible, as creating viral content on the platform can be challenging. Instead, she found success in sharing multiple shorter TikToks about the title before stumbling upon a few widely shared and liked posts.

When it came to the game's launch, a significant issue emerged – the game was too short in terms of the time limit imposed on solving the central murder mystery. Players expressed disappointment at not having enough time to fully explore the story and interact with the characters. However, Failbetter chose to learn from this setback and communicated openly with their community without over-apologizing. They assured players that patches to address the concerns were on the way.

Failbetter's engagement with their dedicated community, including backers who actively participated in the community even before launch, helped retain goodwill and interest in their titles. Additionally, a creative partnership with Youtube musician The Stupendium allowed them to promote the title with a musical number, which fortuitously coincided with the patch release.

The key takeaways from Failbetter's experience apply beyond their niche audience: avoid focusing on advertising with poor return on investment, listen to your audience, communicate openly without excessive apologies, and understand your audience to create effective campaigns.

As more studios explore niche narrative-driven titles, the lessons from Failbetter's journey remain relevant. Building an engaged and loyal following for such games is essential for their success.

Source: Iwan Morris, Staff Writer at PocketGamer

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