When you think of Lionhead Studios, the person that you think of is Peter Molyneux. As the founder of the studio, he has a great legacy of many great games such as Fable, Black and White, and Dungeon Keeper. He is one of the greats in the game industry that made his mark in the PC game industry in the 90’s and helped lead the way for simulation games and strategy games. He founded BullFrog Productions in 1987 where he made his biggest mark in the industry for PC games with his biggest games being Populous, Syndicate, and Dungeon Keeper.
He left the company in 1997 to then form Lionhead Studios. Lionhead is most recognizable among console gamers as his most known game series he made while there is the Fable series. Among PC gamers, he is also known for the great strategy series Black and White. Before Peter Molynuex departure from Lionhead, the studio started to enter a very rough state.
Back in 2006, Lionhead was purchased by Microsoft where they would only make titles for the Xbox 360. All these titles were Fable based which were all very good with one being very poor. The most criticised game that was made while Peter Molyneux was with them was Fable: The Journey which was a title for the Kinect. It stepped away from the traditional RPG system and was a game focused on casting spells using gestures with the Kinect.
The aggregated score it received from Metacritic was a 61 with reviews being fair to very poor. With the success of Fable 2 and 3, it was a bad decision to make and was made solely to help make the Kinect a viable platform for motion based games. Peter Molynuex left Lionhead soon after the completion of Fable: The Journey in 2012 in a very bleak state with the hope that Microsoft would bring the studio and the Fable series out of the slump it was in. Sadly, this was not the case.
Microsoft announced the next new Fable title from Lionhead at Gamescom 2013 for the Xbox One. Everyone had hope that they would bring it back to its roots but instead introduced another different game called Fable Legends. The game was to be a co-op game where you and 3 other people played as heroes with different classes and another person would play as the villain who would control the quest the heroes are on deciding where enemies spawn, how aggressive they are, where the boss would spawn, and put traps to separate heroes.
It was received with mixed reactions with some liking the concept and others not impressed with it. It was intended to be a game with a 5-10 year lifecycle that would be expanded upon continually. In January 2015, Microsoft announced that the game would be available on Windows 10 in addition to Xbox One and would feature cross-platform play. This was done to help push forward Microsoft’s renewed focus for PC gaming which had been long neglected and was a good move done under the direction of Phil Spencer to give new life to their PC division.
They then announced the following month that the game would be free to play with microtransactions taking away the barrier of entry as it originally was to be a retail title. Given the low reception to the game, this seemed like a smart move to help get people to play the game. But then later that year in December, it was announced that the game would be delayed until 2016, but would have an open beta the start of that next year as there had been only closed betas.
I received invites to try it out, but never got the time to try it and did not interest me enough make the time. This delay along with the little news about the game between these periods of times seemed to be a kiss of death for the game and it turned out it was as it was announced the game was to be cancelled after 3-4 years of it being in development. In addition, it was announced that Lionhead Studios was to be closed.
While this is very unfortunate, it is not a surprise that the studio would be closing. I feel that this is due to the poor decisions that Microsoft made for the studio in having them make Fable: The Journey and having them continue to work on Fable Legends. Fable: The Journey and Fable Legends were both not received well and turned away fans of the series as it strayed away from the series core features of RPG mechanics. For most studios, having two titles in succession not do well is a bad sign for the future of the studio and can leave a bad feeling with fans from feeling the series will be able to be redeemed.
The reason for Microsoft deciding to close the studio can only be attributed to the poor reception for Fable Legends and the low revenue the studio was generating. It is upsetting to see the poor past decisions of Microsoft affect a studio is such a way that the only reasonable route is to close the studio. I hope the best for those working there and can find work elsewhere in the game development field and hopefully even start their own projects. Many question what this means for the future of Fable and what will happen with it.
The only real hope is that Microsoft will give it to a capable studio and with Phil Spencer in charge of the game division who has made many good decisions for the Xbox platform in bringing it back from the troubled launch it had. Lionhead Studios will be remembered as bringing Fable into the gaming world and the legacy that Peter Molyneux put in that studio will be remembered in the future projects that the veterans of that studio do next.