John Needham, the current head honcho of Lionhead Studios has recently announced that their latest installment into the Fable saga will keep gamers busy for five to ten years. It's another bold proclamation from a developer known for having plans more elaborate than reality ever seems to bring to fruition, but despite their grandiose promises the Fable series does a lot of things right. An open world, engaging combat, and decisions that often alter both the story and development of the character are all staples of the Fable franchise; elements we expect from one title to the next. But to survive for five to ten years those elements alone will not do.
So forget a ten year plan, lets tone that down a bit. What would it take to survive for five years in a market that often abandons titles after their first year has passed?
1. Randomized Dungeons
An open world is only so much fun once you've explored it all, and even a setting like Skyrim can lose its luster once you've memorized every single nook and cranny. One option Fable has to overcome this is by providing the same feeling of untamed and uncharted wilds time and again. Randomized cities, terrain, or dungeons would not only provide a remarkable new element to the franchise on an ambitious level but would also provide quite a bit of incentive to play long term.
2. Low Cost Expansions
Asking players to pay for the right to have more content to be able to enjoy your game for years is somewhat insulting, but an expansion pack is at least perceived differently than DLC which can often provide an insignificant change to the game for a "˜premium' price. On the rare occasion that the DLC is almost required to enjoy the story? Well, we'll just look to Mass Effect 3 to see how well that turned out.
If Fable can find a nice balance between providing expansions on design and gameplay while at the same time not breaking the bank, it's quite possible that Legends could last for years as a great console RPG.
3. Somewhat Low RNG
There's nothing less satisfying than exploring the world and running out of upgrades in an rpg. Half of the excitement is in gaining new equipment to enhance your abilities or finding new means to get the extra mile from special moves and attacks. High Random Number Generation (RNG), as Diablo III pre-patch has shown, is the fastest way to kill a community. It leaches away any reason players would have to invest in a game long-term, and if the goal is to create an environment in which players are excited to come back time and again to play the rewards must actually feel like rewards.
There's a fine line between too much work and too little; but if Lionhead can discover the balance then Fable Legends could provide ample excitement for years to come.
4. User Created Content
Nothing stretches a game's longevity like user generated anything, and given how the Fable series is pushing a world where players can be either the hero or villain it would be impressive to see those choices have severe impacts that could affect multiplayer. Being able to share environments you've altered or challenge hero players to endure your villainous schemes would be a storytelling dream come true.
At the very least it would be nice to have a crafting system which allows item/weapon sharing amongst friends and allies. The stage for such open world cooperation has already been set by games such as Borderlands, to not build upon such a foundation in an action-RPG setting is almost a heartbreaking waste of opportunity.
5. Regular Updates
Tossing an expansion onto a game once every eight months and then saying your game has gone on strong for a year is dishonesty of the worst sort. It's also in no way indicative if your game has actually been enjoyable enough to maintain interest over an extended period of time. If Lionhead is looking to keep to their word on this we can expect Fable Legends to be a title that updates frequently; as in multiple contributions to the game a year.
This doesn't mean that an expansion or two isn't expected from an excellent game, but there needs to be support throughout just like an MMO. Lionhead must be willing to actively patch their game, tweak with aspects as players give feedback and make adjustments to items or drops. It's a sign of good caretaking and communication with players.