Fallen London studio says its latest game 'didn't sell particularly well', but don't worry—it's been sensible enough with its cash to avoid layoffs: 'We've had better years, but also much worse'

An NPC from Mask of the Rose regards the player with a coy smile.
(Image credit: Failbetter Games)

2023—and, unfortunately, 2024—have been dire years for industry layoffs, carrying a number so staggering and routine that you need to put the 16,000-person (and rising) loss of working talent on a chart to get a proper perspective on it.

Some would blame this all on the aftershocks of a post-Covid tech bubble's burst, but it's hard not to point at reckless over-hiring practices too—or, as Dwarf Fortress' creator Tarn Adams passionately put it earlier this week, decisions "driven by greedy, greedy people trying to make some kind of venture capital thing work out."

Regardless, some good news came out of (appropriately-named) Failbetter games yesterday: yes, their last game didn't sell that well, and yes, they're doing fine. As announced in a state of the studio address, "we've had better years, but also much worse."

Failbetter is known primarily for Fallen London, an old school browser RPG that's kept a cult following for over a decade, as well as games like Sunless Sea. Its latest venture, a gothic visual novel called Mask of the Rose, arrived last year—and according to our own Joshua Wolens, it was pretty dang good, netting a 78 in his Mask of the Rose review. Regrettably, however, few seem to have played it.

That's not just my own speculation, it's direct from the (inscrutable, grim, and likely wearing a bowler hat in a rainy alley somewhere) horses' mouth: "it didn't sell particularly well," reads the post. "We don't expect to make back the money we spent developing it. And yet, we're doing alright."

Failbetter owes its lack of card-based infrastructure collapse to avoiding expansion-hungry nonsense after the success of Sunless Skies in 2019. "In that situation, the expectation nowadays is that you hire aggressively. Perhaps in tech in particular, being profitable isn't seen as enough. A good company is one with a plan to vastly increase the value of the business, preferably at least tenfold. Some companies take a lot of risks doing that."

However, as the studio notes: "We decided to focus on sustainability." The post outlines what it sees as a common cause of disaster for studios—namely, a production cycle that spans years when "... most of the time, you can't be sure how it will do. We make unusual games, so that holds true [for us]."

Failbetter instead tucked away its newfound money for a rainy day. "We decided that a key goal for us would be that if one of ours sold poorly, we could afford to make the next one without doing anything drastic. We don't want to be forced to lay off our team members, or to take outside investment."

That's not to say the studio didn't have to make any sacrifices—Mask of the Rose won't be coming to Xbox or PlayStation any time soon, for example, with the studio noting that "we'd rather focus on our unannounced project: it's at a point where the extra programmer time would be really useful."

As for that project, it'll likely have an early access period, with pre-production wrapped up "in a few months". Failbetter promises a game "gentler than what players may expect from us … You will find the same attention to narrative, atmosphere and mystery that you've come to expect from us, but this time, you won't go mad or eat your crew." 

While that might be a disappointment to the fledgling 'cannibals for games' community, I'm just happy to see Failbetter has been sensible enough to tank an unfortunate miss like Mask of the Rose without imploding. This kind of calm, sustainable growth definitely seems like a better way of doing things—even if our current systems are allergic to the idea of keeping things comfortable and humble. 

Staff Writer

Harvey's history with games started when he first begged his parents for a World of Warcraft subscription aged 12, though he's since been cursed with Final Fantasy 14-brain and a huge crush on G'raha Tia. He made his start as a freelancer, writing for websites like Techradar, The Escapist, Dicebreaker, The Gamer, Into the Spine—and of course, PC Gamer. He'll sink his teeth into anything that looks interesting, though he has a soft spot for RPGs, soulslikes, roguelikes, deckbuilders, MMOs, and weird indie titles. He also plays a shelf load of TTRPGs in his offline time. Don't ask him what his favourite system is, he has too many.