Amid Controversy, Echo Bazaar Will Soon Bring Fallen London to Facebook

Failbetter Games‘ casual browser-based game Echo Bazaar is coming to Facebook. Described in The Guardian as “a beautifully moody and lusciously written faux-Victorian game,” Echo Bazaar takes place in an alternative 19th-century London that exists a mile beneath the surface of the earth. Fallen London is a place where, in the words of EB’s creators, “laudanum-sipping hedonists rub shoulders with romantic devils and rubbery squid-men. Echo Bazaar is an unholy combination of casual browser game, choose-your-own-adventure book, and quasi-steampunk MMO.”

The game’s 10,000-plus users have taken the world of Fallen London into their hearts, creating fan fiction communities and themed parties. One mysterious player even runs a dedicated Internet radio stream called Radio Free Neath. As reported previously here at ARGNet, the world of Fallen London came to life in An Expedition with Mr. Mirrors at the Victoria & Albert Museum in the real London, part of Hide&Seek’s Sandpit Night. It was a delightful experience and smashing success, based on informal reactions from participants.

Players may already be familiar with how Echo Bazaar uses the Twitter authentication protocol to link players to the game, and to each other. At the end of this month, the game will open its doors to new online audiences through Facebook. Echo Bazaar will not be an application within Facebook itself but will use Facebook Connect to provide an alternate entry into the game and maintain a Facebook Fan page where some in-game content will be streamed.

Echo Bazaar‘s blend of pithy writing, unique atmosphere, and complex moral choices has won the browser-based game tremendous acclaim, including praise from respected interactive fiction commentator Emily Short. Failbetter’s Chief Narrative Officer Alexis Kennedy notes that “[a] lot of the social games on Facebook and Twitter are cynical time sinks . . . [w]e wanted to build something that felt like a proper fictional experience in your coffee break.” Successfully taking the casual gaming world by storm, Echo Bazaar was named Escapist Magazine’s Best Browser-Based Game of 2009.

In addition to the rich gameplay in Fallen London, part of Echo Bazaar‘s wild success comes from Failbetter’s “extreme politeness” policy. Because EB relies on its players for viral marketing, the game always asks permission before tweeting and never auto-tweets. Additionally, players are completely free to edit their status updates however they like. Every major character in Echo Bazaar inhabits Twitter, allowing for player interaction on a grand scale. These interactions have added a deliciously personal dimension to the overall playing experience.

Echo Bazaar‘s move to Facebook is at least partly inspired by the recent Twitter outages caused by the World Cup. Whenever Twitter is down, players cannot connect to Echo Bazaar, and it is hoped that using Facebook Connect will provide more access to Fallen London for many players. Moving into Facebook also seems like a natural outgrowth of Echo Bazaar‘s success. “Twitter is our natural home,” adds Kennedy, “but we’re growing and changing, and there are half a billion people on Facebook. We’re looking forward to it.”

But, not everyone was looking forward to the move to Facebook, and at Failbetter Games’ company blog, a little scuffle broke out over the expansion, perhaps exacerbated by the Blizzard RealID controversy earlier this month. Players’ concerns over Facebook’s less-than-stellar privacy practices, however, are largely canceled out by Failbetter’s “extreme politeness” policy. Players may opt to link their Twitter and Facebook identities together, which would enable them to interact socially within the game with both sets of friends. Players that connect their Facebook and Twitter accounts will be able to connect to the game using either service. However, no player will be required to use Facebook to play the game, and all players can continue to use Twitter to connect to Echo Bazaar. If a player has a “real” identity on Facebook and a “gaming” identity on Twitter, Failbetter Games clearly advises not linking the two.

Echo Bazaar‘s creators assure its community that no player will be penalized for not using Facebook Connect. On the contrary, to interact with the in-character residents of Fallen London, players will still have to use Twitter. Besides a “few delicious treats” for signing up through Facebook, the same content will be available to both Twitter users and Facebook users. And Failbetter will continue to roll out new storylines, tons of content, and engaging hooks for all visitors to Fallen London to enjoy.

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