Microsoft Studios boss Phil Spencer plans to spill a certain bean at the manufacturer's Gamescom presentation next week, sometime on Tuesday morning. We can expect to hear about a "unique exclusive" for Xbox One and "Europe's biggest franchise", or possibly a "unique exclusive" for Xbox One that's also "Europe's biggest franchise". What could it be? Join me, if you will, for a quick ponder.
This is the same Spencer who recently told us rather a lot about the Xbox One first-party software strategy, yes - you might want to give that conversation a once-over, before reading the below.
Lionhead's appointment of former Cryptic CEO and MMO expert John Needham as studio head is the latest in a long, long line of hints that Fable 4 will be an online-centric, even dependent game. "John's deep understanding of all aspects of the gaming industry, from subscription-based, massively multi-player to client-based console and free-to-play online, PC and mobile experiences, will be a huge benefit to Lionhead and European Studio operations more widely," commented a release at the time. Given that Lionhead is a UK studio, and that Fable wears its culture of origin like a badge of honour, this seems a strong candidate for the title of "Europe's biggest franchise". Well, providing you mentally append "that's published exclusively by Microsoft".
Here's a boiled-down version of the formidable paper trail. OXM spotted Lionhead job listings for experienced multiplayer designers back in May 2012. A month or so later, creative director Gary Carr told us that "we are building something more ambitious than ever before", noting that Fable: The Journey is more of a "support" or "sister" title than a proper continuation of the series. In December, Microsoft advertised for a services/monetisation designer to work on an "upcoming online game", implying that the project will support microtransactions of some kind.
Lionhead announced Fable Anniversary in June. This is obviously good news in itself, but it's possible the idea is also to road-test a development team and/or raise the franchise's profile ahead of a true Fable sequel on Xbox One. Place your bets.
Spencer's proven suspiciously willing to not shut up about the Crackdown franchise, making a new instalment a cert for announcement at some point, if not next week. Speculation began to ferment when Microsoft snuck an Agility Orb tile into the Xbox One reveal proceedings. A case of absent-mindedness? Far from it. "Crackdown is one of my favorite games, and not just because it's a Microsoft first-party game," Spencer declared subsequently. "I have a lot of love for that franchise. The homage to Crackdown in the reveal screenshots was... I know there was some, like, 'Did we accidentally sneak that...?' It wasn't accidental. Definitely.
"I don't think Crackdown is dead at all," he continued. "It's a franchise that's still close to me. I think there's a lot of room, especially... for me, the natural progression for a game like Crackdown - and you see this showing up on our stage - is in these living, open worlds that live in the cloud." Apparently, Microsoft is waiting for "the right team and time".
Who might fit the bill? Well, original developer Realtime Worlds is no longer with us, and Crackdown 2 developer Ruffian has denied any involvement, declaring that "it's simply not an offer that's on our production table right now". In pleasant news, Just Cause developer Avalanche has displayed an interest - the latter's Christofer Sundberg "would love to make a Crackdown game at some point". Rumour has it that the studio has two other games in the works besides the recently announced videogame adaptation of Mad Max. Riddle me this: which would you rather play first, Crackdown 3 or Just Cause 3?