Last week, Peter Molyneux, creator of the record breaking and award winning Fable franchise made the announcement at the BAFTA’s (British Academy of Film and Television Arts) Annual Video Games Lecture in London that Lionhead Studios, along with Microsoft Corporation, is indeed developing a new installment to the series: Fable III. The latest installation of the single-player fantasy game series is scheduled for release during the 2010 holiday season, but beyond the overall buzz of the game itself, Molyneux also said that the game would feature the sale of virtual goods.
Already we have seen a number of mainstream console developers adopt the virtual goods transaction model (Electronic Arts and Atari especially), but the adoption of this revenue method will make Fable III one of the very few Xbox 360 games to utilize this method, and also one of the largest. To get a sense for the significance of the move, consider how large the franchise actually is. During its first week, the original Fable grossed a whopping $18.7 million in the United States (over 375,000 copies were sold), and Fable II conjured up around 800,000 box sales in the US within its first two weeks (1.5 sales million worldwide).
In the previous Fable titles (Fable II) players could purchase additional content (i.e. Knothole Island), but according to Molyneux, Fable III will take the idea one step further. The third installment will feature an in-game shop where virtual items will be made available. The primary example given was a sword with a tiny cost of £1, or $1.63. However,, according to That Video Game Blog, that purchasable content may also include new game areas as well as game walkthroughs and guides (similar to those seen on GameFAQs).
Of all of this, however, the most significant element to look at is the game design itself and how well it will play into this new revenue model. The Fable series is known best for its deep player immersion. Users could enter this world and live out the life of a fantasy-style hero with every decision they made affecting the environment around them. If a player looked evil or frightening with their clothing, the non-player characters would react to it, and the same applied conversely. Human players could court women, buy houses, build up physical prowess and a myriad of other things. Now, players will be offered a kingdom to rule that will likely contain all these options and then some.
How is this pertinent? Consider that social users buy clothing and items for an avatar just to make it look better and express themselves. Also, consider freemium MMOs and how much money players spend on virtual swords and items to progress in the game. Fable III looks to be combining these two elements. This begs the question of whether or not other Xbox Live users will be able to see a friend’s Fable III avatar, as the series has always been single player. At this point, we do not know. With this game, players will have a character that personifies them visually, but social as well in how the game world perceives them. Furthermore, they will gain the benefits of buying better weapons. With every action affecting their world… with every purchase affecting their digital self… the possible fiscal reward for the franchise is likely very big.