When Fable III was announced back at GamesCom this year, the warm up news was the announcement that Fable II would be released in an episodic format. Indeed, the first episode is already out. At the time, this was viewed as another interesting experiment as the industry increasingly flirts with more extensive digital distribution and whilst Microsoft likely always had one eye on Fable III, they were tight lipped on the prospects of the sequel receiving the same treatment. The irrepressible Peter Molyneux however, recently implied this is already the plan in a recent interview at the Golden Joystick awards.
TR: What about storytelling? You made some interesting comment recently about how you were inspired by Dickens’ “Penny Dreadfuls” when thinking about story in games.
PM: Yes. It is why I don’t like demos. The first part of our game [Fable 3] is going to be free. And at the end of that first part you can choose to continue playing as normal, by buying the full game. Or, if you are still not quite sure, just buy the next episode.
And because it is constructed like that, by pure coincidence, the really big inspiration for Fable 3 was the world that Charles Dickens’ had painted – the idea that there was a very two-faced rich versus the poor society… and the very visual ways in which he wrote about London, everything from Highgate Cemetery through to the workhouses.
It was fantastic inspiration and you can see how that will fit well with theFable ethos. The moment you start to realise that all of Dickens’ books were written to promote the sales of these ‘Penny Dreadfuls’ – where the idea was that he wrote a chapter, there was a cliff-hanger and people were literally raiding the ships where the magazines were printed on in their desperation to find out what happened next!
Credit for this should go to Adam Hartley at Tech Radar who aside from scoring a great interview was kind enough to confirm to us that Molyneux was definitely referring to Fable III and not it’s predecessor. The majority of the rest is about Project Natal and is also well worth a read.
Immediately however, bigger questions arise from this possible slip. Will the Fable III episodes be released simultaneously with the physical retail version? Because if so, that would imply that Fable III would be available for digital download day and date with the retail release (as Molyneux said, you can opt to buy the whole game and just carry on playing). If that’s the case, as much as it is another big step for Microsoft in of itself, what about the pricing? Microsoft’s Games on Demand service has been oft criticised as too expensive, with no adequate compensation to purchasers for the lack of a physical product they can release value from by selling on or trading in. Not to mention the saving realised from cutting out the middle man. If the first part of the game is free, it seems nonsensical to charge gamers the same price digitally for the rest of the game as the physical version of the whole thing in the shops.
This all could be moot of course. Perhaps Fable III won’t be another milestone on the way to full digital distribution of games, instead adopting the same approach as Fable II by releasing the episodes post the disc release. Admittedly, there doesn’t seem to be any word on the second Fable II episode as best we can tell and after all, seasoned Fable fans would likely rather pick up the entire game at once on disc than wait impatiently for each episode if they were to be staggered.
Such a move however, would strike us as a missed opportunity and the question isn’t dodged so easily by circumstance this time around. Whilst the transition to digital distribution is going to be a rocky one, with the issue of pricing and keeping retail partners happy non-trivial, at some point someone is just going to have to bite the bullet and make the jump with a day and date release of a full game on one of the console download services. The PSP Go is not exactly setting the world alight partly because it is compromised in it’s own way. Half measures are only going to go so far. Will Fable III be the first serious shot across the bows of the game retailers? Only time will tell.
(CC photo by `jez)
Chris combines writing full time for Couch Campus with a job working for a media regulator where he specializes in games and the games industry. He also moderates at Gamersyde and can be followed on Twitter.