Microsoft sure is giving plenty of free entertainment to its subscribers. It’s offering a handful of favorites as part of its Games With Gold program next month, including Rayman Legends and Bioshock Infinite; and it recently announced a promotional Forza Horizon 2 expansion that ties in with the forthcoming film Furious 7. However, perhaps the biggest shocker is when developer Lionhead Studios decided the fate on the adventure game Fable Legends, opting to give it a free-to-play business model.
Microsoft announced the plan this week, in an effort to promote the forthcoming Xbox One/PC adventure game for its release later this year. The game will operate on a cross-platform basis, and its content will be wide open for players, with the option to purchase other goods through Microsoft’s virtual Xbox Live Marketplace.
The move is an important one for several reasons. First, while both Sony and Microsoft have allowed free-to-play games on their consoles before (World of Tanks on the Xbox 360, Warframe, DC Universe Online, and other games), this a major exclusive by the console owner, and it’s not an MMORPG. There will likely be many more free-to-play games appearing on consoles, and if they become increasingly successful this will put pressure on games that have a $60 up-front cost. Microsoft isn’t waiting for some other publisher to get established in this sector, but it’s going there ahead of them. This may accelerate the move to free-to-play, if it does well.
Speaking with Eurogamer, Lionhead Studios lead John Needham explained the decision, which, in a way, was influenced by Riot Games’ immensely popular adventure game League of Legends. “There’s no denying the similarities there,” he explained. “We all play League of Legends. I’ve spent a good year-and-a-half of my life hard playing League of Legends and love it. So there’s no denying that was the big inspiration of ours.”
Director David Eckelberry explained how well the free-to-play model works with certain console games, noting Wargaming’s World of Tanks for Xbox 360 – which is coming to Xbox One as well this year. “For me, the better ones for the customers are the ones where you get to enjoy all of the content without paying money. And then you pay if you want to.
“Our mission is for a fun experience on any platform. As a first-party studio our goal isn’t to invoke anything vaguely like buyers remorse. I want my players to feel like, oh, I bought something cool. I don’t regret that purchase. That’s what matters to me.”
He continued, “When I’ve played my 30th hour of Hearthstone, at some point I decided, I should probably give Blizzard some money. I felt like I owed them something because they’d made such a great game for me to play, and I didn’t need to spend money in the game, but I thought I should. So I bought some card packs. I did the same thing in Team Fortress and eventually in League of Legends.
“That’s the kind of feeling I want to invoke with our players. I want them to have such a fun experience that some percentage of them go, okay I’m going to buy a hero that just came out, or I’ll get Winter a new hairstyle and a cool-looking hood. That’s the kind of feeling we want to generate in our players where, we’ve offered them such a good time that they’re spending time in it that they feel valuable,” he concluded.
With the move, Microsoft could easily shift the market more in the favor of Xbox One, and intends to add even more to its library with announcements coming this June at E3…and perhaps even sooner.
Fable Legends will release later this year.