Lionhead has revealed that its new game, Fable Legends, will be free to play, with the developer admitting that the decision was heavily influenced by a desire to emulate the success of Riot's League of Legends. The game will also operate cross-platform, enabling play between PC and Xbox One.
The game itself is an asynchronous mixture of MOBA and tower defence, with four heroes taking on a single villain who manipulates the field of play. Various in-game purchases will be available, such as health-refreshing standing stones and out-of-rotation characters, but the game also appears to have a relatively generous approach to the model, with four free heroes and the core villain gameplay always available.
"There's no denying the similarities there," studio head John Needham told Eurogamer. "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."
There are free-to-play games like World of Tanks out there that are very much a pay-to-win kind of experience," added director David Eckelberry. "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.
"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."
The move is a strong indicator that Microsoft wants other studios to follow its lead. If Lionhead is able to lead by example and turn a profit from Legends, and other games follow suit, there could be a great deal of profit in the revenue share from microtransactions, a market which the company must be painfully aware could well pass consoles buy. Coupled with last week's announcement of the arrival of World of Tanks on the One, Microsoft definitely seems to be stealing a march on its Japanese rival.
Needless to say, player reactions to the news have been mixed at best. Best to avoid the comments on Eurogamer's story if you're susceptible to salty language.