The eagerly awaited Fable Legends was last week confirmed to be a free-to-play title for the Xbox One and PC. The announcement came as another surprise for fans of the Fable series, with this installment of the action RPG franchise coming out as a multiplayer only title.
Gamers who traditionally play on consoles and PC may be bemused by the free-to-play model being used for what is essentially a triple A title, but Lionhead studios aren’t the the first developers to try the model, which is more often used on mobile app titles. Established beat ‘em up titles Tekken and Dead or Alive have free-to-play installments, and DC Comics have got involved with DC Universe Online, a MMPORG game. In fact, the payment model seems to work well with MMPORGs and FPSs, with Defiance, Killer Instinct, and Dust 514 all using it, just to name a few. Even the big guns of MMPORGs, World of Warcraft, have introduced a free-to-play system for players up to Level 20.
So how will Fable Legends work? Those wary of the ‘pay to win’ model employed by less scrupulous developers will be glad to hear there’s none of that here. The game revolves around a rotating cast of heroes, four of which will be available to play at any one time. Every two weeks, the cast will be rotated out with a new one. If you like a particular character, you can wait another two weeks for them to be rotated back in, with all the XP and equipment you earned intact. Alternatively, you can pay to have that character unlocked permanently.
Sounds fair so far, but will the system work for such a high profile title? Kotaku argues that free-to-play may actually be a boon to the series, as it has such a low barrier to entry. After all, people are much more likely to try out a game if they’re not asked to shell out their hard earned cash before they’ve even seen it. They also argue that as Lionhead aren’t employing any shady tactics, such as the pay to win model, players will be more amenable to the concept.
Others aren’t so sure, though. Metro points out that multiplayer only games live and die on their player base, and very few, such as Team Fortress 2 and Counter-Strike, have ever been able to survive long term. On mobile, we’ve seen that a free-to-play game can spike in popularity very quickly, and just as quickly lose it’s players as they move onto the next thing. If the same thing happens to Fable Legends, the whole project could sink without a trace. Also, to make money, the game will need an enormous player base. As Fable is an established franchise, hopefully the game will attract enough players to make it financially viable, but a lesser known or new title would struggle to use the same model.
These arguments are somewhat moot, though, as console and PC titles are a whole different beast to mobile games, even if they use the same payment model. Fable Legends has been designed as a co operative fighter, rather than a pick up and play game like any popular mobile app. Free-to-play on non mobile platforms is still in it’s infancy, as there will most likely be teething problems. However, it will be interesting to see whether Lionhead can support such a huge franchise on the model.