The compulsive draw of Echo Bazaar

If you haven’t tried it yet, go and sign up for Echo Bazaar. You’ll need a Twitter account, but if you don’t have one it’s worth signing up just to play #ebz. Come back when you’ve had a taste…

Greetings, delicious friend! Tell me, what what secrets are you uncovering in Fallen London? I’ll trade you some juicy tidbits about the dirigibles and the bat swarms.

Secrets are the essence of Echo Bazaar. There’s very little gameplay to speak of – you have a selection of possible actions, some randomly drawn from a “deck”, some unlocked by reaching certain levels in various stats (or “qualities”). Success or failure at that action is determined randomly behind the scenes, but increasing your stats makes actions easier. It’s basically an RPG grind with no animations or combat tactics.

And yet, I can’t stop playing. Some people have claimed that it’s the quality of the writing that draws you in, but I disagree (although it IS good). No, the real draw is the secrets. Like LOST, there are many very weird things going on in Fallen London. And anything you do to investigate gives you a half-answer and two more questions. And it is the IDEAS that are revealed that keep you coming back for more. What do the sorrow-spiders do with the eyeballs they steal? Where do the Rubbery Men get their Deep Amber? Why was London stolen?

Playing Echo Bazaar is rather like reading a China Mieville novel that has been shredded. You slowly piece together an elaborate, horrific picture of life in the ‘Neath, fragments of story unlocked as you grind your stats upwards. And grind you must, because the human brain hates unanswered questions. And what Echo Bazaar offers, more than any other fictional universe I’ve encountered, is questions. And FailBetter Games know this well – three different classes of secret are even used as currency in the Bazaar! Yes, the writing is elegant and wry, which makes you care about knowing the answers, but it is the continuous drip-feed of mysteries that hooks so many players.

Long may it continue…