What can MMO devs learn from Fable 2?

As a comment to yesterday’s post, DM Osbon of Construed asked if Fable 2 had anything to teach console MMO developers.

I thought this was a great question and worth a post of its own. I don’t have any answers, just ruminations. But I do like to ruminate, so without further ado…

Let’s start with character development. Fable 2 is not class based. It has three ‘schools’ of combat: melee, ranged and magic. There are 4 kinds of experience: one for each of the schools and then some “generic” experience that you can apply as you see fit. Using a school of combat to defeat an enemy causes that enemy to give more experience in that school of combat. So if you prefer slicing and dicing with a sword, you’ll get more melee experience than ranged or magic experience.

Fable 2 is not level based. (Incidentally, Syncaine just posted a good essay on the topic of levels: How important are levels in our MMOs?. Ironically, I argue for them.) Instead, you spend experience points to buy skills to better your ability to perform a particular school of combat. There are three ‘branches’ of skills in each school: these could easily be expanded for longer-term play.

In Fable 2, your actions have consequences. This, I think, is a big one. You have a Good/Evil and a Purity/Corruption rating, and those ratings change depending on your actions in the game. In turn, these ratings impact how others treat you and what opportunities are open to you. Some MMOs have tried to embrace this kind of system, but the problem is you can’t code player behavior. So if my character is evil and corrupt, but I, the player, am a genuinely nice guy chatting with you… is YOUR character going to react to mine as an evil and corrupt entity, or are you going to react to me by having your character treat mine as if mine was nice. Erm… does that make sense?

Fable 2 has business ownership. This is an interesting ‘sub-game’ in Fable 2, and one I enjoy, but I’m not sure how you’d implement it in an MMO. So you have a coin purse bulging with gold, you see a nice house, and you buy it. The people that live in it become your tenants and pay you rent. Or you buy a business and get profits from it. You can tweak prices and so forth, which can impact your Good/Evil and Purity/Corrupt ratings.

This works well for Fable 2 as a single player game, but most MMO’s struggle to put in gold sinks, not gold fountains. Plus, cities would have to be huge in order for everyone to get a chance to buy a few businesses. Otherwise players joining the game months after launch would have nothing to purchase.

But speaking of gold… creatures in Fable 2 don’t drop loot when you kill them. You get experience and that’s all. Doing quests gets you renown and impacts your Good/Evil rating. Gold comes from Treasures you find, gifts that people give you, jobs (blacksmith, wood cutter, bartender, bounty hunter, etc) you can take, and goodies you dig up. Most gear comes from vendors. This is far different from the lotto-corpse system of most MMOs. I’m not sure how well MMO players would take to such a radical change, honestly. Oddly, this has been pretty transparent to me so far… I had to stop and think about whether I’ve gotten any gold or gear rewards from doing quests in Fable 2. I assumed I had…but then couldn’t think of any. So I guess I haven’t!

I wanted to add story here, because I while I am very confident that Fable 2 has a really interesting story but I have to be honest: I haven’t seen it yet. I’ve been having so much fun just being “immersed” in the world that I’ve been very slow in following the main quest/storyline. But it’s hard to put a good story into an MMO without instancing the game into a single party experience.

/end rumination

But getting back to Fable 2 as the game I’m playing now, and story progression…

WHOA. Some stuff happened last night that I can’t really talk about yet, because I was forced to stop playing right in the middle of it. Suffice to say that so far the game has been pretty upbeat in tone, even with all the bad things happening. It’s felt “light.” Last night…that changed. I felt it in my heart, not in my head. Which I found pretty freaking astounding for a video game. The only analogy that springs to mind is the feeling I had when reading about Sam & Frodo’s journey into Mordor. Tolkein wrote such heaviness into those pages that I felt their struggle and it seemed like the very pages of the book I was reading were getting hard to turn. (And no, I’m not comparing Molyneaux to Tolkein.) And maybe it was just my mood or how tired I was or something. But events in the game really hit me in a pretty emotional way, and when I shut down the console to head to bed, I felt dazed by the experience.

I can’t wait to get home and get some closure to this situation and see what happens next!

3 thoughts on “What can MMO devs learn from Fable 2?

  1. Argh. I need to stop reading other people’s blogs. They are just making me want to buy this game. And I don’t have enough time for the ones I have already! Darn you all to heck.

  2. Thanks for the mention, Pete – glad my comment gave you some material. I personally think MMO devs rely too much on what previous MMOs have offered & not looked at winning a ‘new’ audience by taking the good concepts from other gaming genres & moulding them into a new vein of MMO gaming.

    MMO gaming will suffer if devs keep rehashing the main elements of WoW plus a few additions(see WAR).

  3. Is it that devs are shortsighted, or is it that there’s no funding for anything but “this will KILL WoW, we promise! It’s just like WoW only better!”?

    I suspect the latter. Games designers are usually creative, box-busting people, but if the money’s not there for creative and it *is* there for doing what’s been done for a decade, then it’s easy to guess what they’ll do if they want to be able to pay the rent and send Princess to college in a few years.

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