Failbetter Co-Founder Alexis Kennedy To Leave Studio

If I’ve one regret with regards to games I’ve let slip through my fingers over the years, it’s Failbetter Games’ Fallen London. I’m told its mysterious world, its lovingly illustrated interface, and its quirky character ensemble is rather wonderful; yet this is exactly how I feel about last year’s follow up Sunless Sea [official site]. Not only did the latter bag a place on our list of best RPGs, we singled it out for bestest best words of 2014 – testament to Failbetter’s storytelling prowess.

Which is why it’s a surprise to learn today that their creative director Alexis Kennedy is parting ways with the studio he co-founded seven years ago.

Taking to a blog post on Failbetter’s site, Kennedy spoke of how proud he is of his studio’s rise to success since forming in 2009, and the impact they’ve had on the games industry. Yet it seems the day-to-day running of a company has left him unable to pursue the creative side of the trade quite as much as he’d like. Here’s what he said:

“We’ve built something that’s changed the world, ever so slightly. But it’s been seven years in one place, and I’m too busy running the company to do enough of the creative work I love. So, rather to my own surprise, once I’ve finished off one last project, I’m leaving.

“Failbetter is in an excellent place, and delights in an excellent team. Everything will be the same except that it will also be different. All of you are going to have a great time. Me, I’ll be walking the earth like Jules in Pulp Fiction walking the earth like Caine in Kung Fu. Oh all right I mean I’ll hang out my shingle as a freelancer. I have the entrepreneur’s bug and I’ll probably found another studio eventually, but I want to learn as much as I can from as many different kinds of project as I can, first.”

A few years back, Adam spoke at length to both Alexis Kennedy and fellow Failbetter co-founder Paul Arendt, which is a really interesting interview and one well worth revisiting. I also really enjoyed Kennedy’s musings about what videogames might be like if D&D hadn’t become popular over on Eurogamer last year.

Anyway, best of luck Mr Kennedy and all the best wherever your next move takes you. I think I’ll mark the end of your seven years at Failbetter by finally delving into Fallen London.


  1. person678 says:

    I wanted to love Sunless Sea a lot more than I did – The actual sailing was just so slow and boring.Shame as the writing I really dug.

    • klops says:

      Try fallen London?

    • dontnormally says:

      I absolutely agree with you. I plan to go back to it after looking for (and I assume finding) a mod that changes that up.

      After Fallen London, I was so stoked to be able to consume their amazing writing without the piecemeal / energy / chunky arrangement and slow progression. Then Sunless Sea made it even harder to get to the writing.

      • AyeBraine says:

        There was an article about it on RPS – basically, the infuriatingly slow movement is a boon. It gets more and more swift as you familiarize yourself with the map (and of course install upgrades), but it also never lets you blast through the stories at speed that would uncover their mechanical innards, their discrete nature. Every expedition is an ordeal, an endeavour – every piece of story is earned.

        I spent about two hundred hours in Sunless Sea. It really has its rhythm. When you already learned to read its mechanics and meta-leveled, it almost wears thin, its stories becoming text quips on the legs of your brisk journey. But it never becomes “fast travel” which would kill it. And every time you translate to a new captain (a scion of the previous one, if you played your cards right), you feel the dread of exploration again, against all your prior knowledge and new game+ bonuses – and it’s ALL in the slowness of the initial crappy tug ship.

        Face it, Sunless Sea is a primitive mobile game on a small, flat, static drawn map. The only thing that really jolts that world to life is the peril of navigating it. It’s the whole concept. Only this molasses-like slowness makes monkey colony feel thousands of miles away from London. Only the prospect of an hour-long expedition turns a rational, pragmatic trading and questing route into an adventure, when, against your better judgment, you *will* run out of something at some point, distracted by some sinister ambition; the adventure that feels tedious, laboured, and thus pricey.

        Only this investment of mental energy and time makes an isolated adventure on a far isle (of which there are many) into a truly distant tale of bizzarre happenings in a faraway land. And only this difficulty of circumnavigating the Zee makes visits to forsaken places few and far between – which allows them to reveal their stories gradually, make your brain mull over their mysteries, forget and return to understanding, connecting the dots and even feeling some nostalgia for long-time harbors that you witnessed changing immensely and irreversibly.

        • Morgan Joylighter says:

          This. All of this.

        • Muzman says:

          Yep, tend to agree with all that. I suspect many folk will never enjoy that sort of thing at all and insist the game must be broken and it should be fixed by going faster and making resources easier (even though it basically throws stuff at you now).
          I understand their problem, but there has to be a place in gaming for experiences that aren’t entirely derived from tacking different fictions onto the same refined genre mechanics for ever and ever and/or that should not be what every game aspires to.

          I wouldn’t mind the ‘4X-meets-Pirates’ monster budget version of Sunless Sea either. But they focused on their strengths without overreaching and made something pretty fascinating.

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          basilisk says:

          Indeed. I managed to get the fastest engine in the game, which is *really* fast, and was surprised how badly it affected the pacing of the game. Zipping around completely erased any tension and paradoxically made zailing more boring, not less.

        • skalpadda says:

          Agreed, but then I’m also aware that I personally have a big tolerance for this sort of thing that I wouldn’t necessarily expect everyone to share. There *are* ways of drastically increasing your speed even early on without heaps of cash for the very best ships and engines, but that requires a little knowledge you can’t really expect from someone brand new to the game.

          It’s also hard to blame Failbetter too much for the combat being a bit pants seeing as their first design for it didn’t ultimately work out, but I think a lot of tedium could have been lessened without sacrificing anything by simply having more interesting and random events pop up while at zee that weren’t tied to combat or resources. For a game that’s all about story, the story of getting from one place to the other is very weak compared to what you do while in port.

      • laotze says:

        I never thought the speed was a problem so much as the massive amount of repetition required for a basic refit after every death. I started enjoying the game a lot more once I gave up treating it as a legitimate FTL-style roguelike and enabled saving/loading.

    • Zeroebbasta says:

      There’s a mod called Sunless Speed that doubles (or triples) the sailing speed. Try it!

    • municipalis says:

      Yeah, that’s how I felt. I absolutely loved exploring the universe but the actual gameplay of moving around, combat, earning money was painfully dull. I ended up cheating so I could buy the most powerful ship and skip the grind.

  2. AyeBraine says:

    First, I learn that the guy who launches inflatable habitats for Mars colonization to orbit has, as a kid, vowed to earn enough money to found a spacefaring company, told nobody about it for half a century (including his family), became a veritable hotel mogul, and fulfilled his dream in his sixties, pouring hundreds of millions into space R&D – like a comic book character.

    Then, I learn that Alexis Kennedy, after building one of the most mind-bending and enticing worlds literally by hand (including talking with people on forums), and successfully translating an ultimate niche text nerd thing into a resounding accessible indie hit, goes off on an adventure to find even stranger shores and build a new life for himself. Like a western / epic character.

    This day could not be more crushing to my perception of my own integrity, and also couldn’t be more inspiring at that.

  3. TillEulenspiegel says:

    Alexis wrote one of my favorite game-related articles of recent years, pointing out one really important obvious fact that somehow nobody talks about: the huge influence of D&D on nearly all genres of games which followed.

    link to

    It’s such a useful exercise to examine our assumptions and where they came from. Someone capable of that kind of analysis is at least prepared to design better, more innovative games.

  4. Rogerio Martins says:

    Still waiting for the damn font fix on their game, maybe then I might like it.

    • Frank says:

      Same. Hoping they don’t leave it in this unplayable state but in no rush.

  5. Jekadu says:

    I feel I should point out here that Alexis Kennedy was Creative Director for The Last Court, which is a brilliant, often overlooked free browser game in the Dragon Age universe. It’s tempting to write it off as a microtransaction-driven cash grab (who wants to play a game over the course of seven days, twenty actions at a time?), but to anyone familiar with how StoryNexus games work, it’s absolutely wonderful (people who have played Fallen London, is who). It taught me to really appreciate the high-myth, low-magic aspects of the setting.

    I can only wish the tiger in a fez the best in the future. Last year was a very bad year for me and Failbetter’s games, and by extension Alexis Kennedy’s, were always and still are there for me to fall back on.

  6. laotze says:

    I never thought the speed was a problem so much as the massive amount of repetition required for a basic refit after every death. I started enjoying the game a lot more once I gave up treating it as a legitimate FTL-style roguelike and enabled saving/loading.