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Fable 3 preview: It's the economy, stupid

If you played Fable 2 anything like the way I played Fable 2, you ended the game a very, very, very rich player. Why work a virtual job pouring cold beers when you could buy a piece of virtual property, turn off your Xbox, pour yourself an actual cold one (or 10), and when you come to in the morning, you're dehydrated and groggy -- oh, and you've been earning rent money in-game, too?

That feature -- the ability to earn rental income while away from the game -- went a long way towards making Fable 2's Albion feel like a living world; one that went on regardless of whether or not your hero was there to see it. That feature won't be returning for Fable 3. "It was a Fable 2 feature," Lionhead lead designer Josh Atkins tells Joystiq. "With every feature, we spend a lot of time reevaluating new things that make sense for the emotions we want to impact and get from players in Fable 3."

Gallery: Fable 3 (economy) | 4 Photos

This is about making the economy "matter," Atkins says. "When we get into the idea of wanting the economy to matter and wanting players to really think about the gold; and whether or not we want them to have pause before making a big donation to the treasury; and whether or not we want to be emotionally involved. I think if you turn on your Xbox and you have a giant deposit, that kind of makes the experience tamer."

Tamer, yes ... but why didn't that matter in Fable 2? "We weren't as worried about the economic balance of [Fable 2]," Atkins says, "because we really wanted players to experience all the facets of the game. So putting up what we considered to be artificial barriers was something that was kind of against the overall philosophy of the game. We let players essentially play as they desired." But even though people were "enjoying themselves" with Fable 2's the-rich-get-richer economics, it didn't "matter" in the way Lionhead wanted.

The economy in Fable 3 is designed to make you stop and consider your actions before spending money.

"When we started Fable 3, we wanted the economy to matter more for a variety of reasons. Partially because we wanted it to be a real way for players to problem solve in the game and pick and choose their own path as to how they wanted to take advantage of the economy," Atkins explains. As a revolutionary fighting his or her way from insurgent to ruler, your relationship with money is more complicated and "therefore, it had to be more stable."

"Once you become the ruler, there's going to be a lot of people looking for handouts and a lot of people looking for help," Atkins says. "And you're going to have an interesting choice -- and we hope it's an interesting choice -- of choosing to give away or donate the money you've made in your personal fortune over to the greater population. And we want that decision to be interesting. And if that decision is flat, if there's no meaning behind that decision, then that moment is kind of lost."

But there's another reason the economy matters: co-op. Fable 3's co-op does away with Fable 2's awkward "henchman" implementation and replaces it with a co-op that matters. You play as your hero with your weapons and -- here's the important part -- your gold. You can marry a co-op partner or become business partners and, as would be expected, your gold also becomes their gold, and the requirement for a more meaningful economic experience becomes clear.

"We wanted the economy to matter in co-op so we added these two features that allow you to get married and allow you to be business partners," Atkins tells us. "One of the side effects of those two ideas is that if the economy is totally broken, then one of the benefits of getting married or being business partners -- that you get to share your gold -- is gone." So earning and keeping your wealth has to be a more lean-forward, participatory part of Fable 3. "The goal is for it to feel like you need to put more time into it if you want to amass that kind of fortune. It isn't just an easy decision. You need to think about each property; you need to think about whether or not you've put the right furniture in it."

Wait, hold on ... would-be real estate barons will need to actually take care of the dozens upon dozens of pieces of property they could collect throughout the game? Don't worry, that's what the fine tradition of English butlers is for. Atkins says, "The nice thing is that you have Jasper there, the butler, who will help you with these economic decisions.

"We wanted the economy to matter." - Josh Atkins, lead designer

You basically have the choice of having Jasper manage your property. He can go in there and basically make sure that all the houses have good furniture and that you're getting the most amount of rent for the state of the house. The butler is going to help you with all of this, so while you need to put more time into this, we have made it easy on the player as well."

Most importantly, the economy in Fable 3 is designed to make you stop and consider your actions before spending money. Finding a co-op partner to either marry or enter into a business relationship with has the ancillary benefit of making you wealthier. Money, and access to money, can open up parts of the Albion for those willing to spend. "There's a guy you run into who's requesting a donation to restore the bridge to the Fable 2 gypsy camp as a commemoration to the Fable 2 hero," Atkins told us. "You'll have a choice as to whether or not you want to help him build that bridge and then, when you do build it, you'll find that there's a lot of interesting stuff across the bridge. Maybe a whole other village," he teases.

Having a partner allows you to leverage your combined wealth to explore more of the world of Albion; however, with that also comes the weight of deciding how to spend your money. "There are a lot of aspects of the game that are easier if you have somebody who's your partner, your comrade-in-arms for solving these problems. And then, those partnerships become really interesting again when you get into the ruling section of the game, because it's not one person's decision. You're going to have to talk those decisions through because you are pooling your resources."

All the while, back in your Sanctuary -- Fable 3's new menu-system-that's-really-a-room -- your pile of gold waxes and wanes, giving you a literal, Scrooge McDuck-style representation of your wealth. "The reason we think the economy is important in Fable 3 is it's one of the areas of the game that's really up to the user on how they interact with it," Atkins suggests. In other words, you don't need to be wealthy, just like you don't need to be well-liked or honest. It's all part of the effort to make the economy -- and really all of your decisions in Fable 3 -- matter.

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