An Inside Look At How Lionhead Collapsed

Illustration for article titled An Inside Look At How Lionhead Collapsed

Two months ago, in a stunning and surprising move, Microsoft shut down the renowned British studio Lionhead. Now, details have emerged about how it happened: in short, Fable Legends cost too much money, and nobody really wanted to make it.

Eurogamer’s Wesley Yin-Poole today published an extensive, remarkably well-sourced story about the demise of Lionhead. It’s very long, but worth your time. Go read it! It’s full of great anecdotes about studio founder Peter Molyneux and how Lionhead’s culture shifted once Microsoft had purchased the company.

In the story, Yin-Poole reports that Microsoft had forced Lionhead to put their efforts into a “game as service” rather than developing a proper single-player Fable 4 (which art director John McCormack had envisioned as an RPG set in steampunk Victorian London). As they developed Fable Legends, they grew too ambitious, Yin-Poole reports, spending upwards of $75 million to ensure the game had incredible production values. The developers spent a great deal of time working out core concepts and trying to figure out how to make the game fun.

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Meanwhile, Microsoft was being Microsoft.

Then there was Microsoft. Throughout its development, Fable Legends was used as a poster child for various Microsoft initiatives. In January 2015, Fable Legends became a Windows 10 game as well as an Xbox One game after Microsoft decided to switch focus to cross-platform play (“We didn’t know about Windows 10 when we started developing Fable Legends,” reveals a source. “In fact we were going to be on Steam.”) This caused Lionhead a massive headache. Cross-platform play with a PC version opened the game up to cheating.

As Kotaku UK reported yesterday, other companies were interested in buying Lionhead once news had gotten out of the closure. One of the reasons this didn’t happen was that Microsoft refused to sell the Fable license. Another? Yin-Poole reports that they ran out of time. Said one person connected to Lionhead, speaking anonymously to Yin-Poole:

During that period, Evolution got closed by Sony, and then within two weeks Codemasters picked them up. We were like, what the fuck? How did that happen so quickly? And it turned out the management team at Evolution had been given a heads-up months before as to Sony’s intentions. Maybe if Microsoft had done similar it would have been a different story. Shit happens, unfortunately.

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Go read the full story for a fascinating, tragic look at what could’ve been.

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DISCUSSION

I will absolutely read this!
But first, I gotta say...With so many stories breaking (often by you, Jason) about publishers meat-grinding games and developers into failure, how is it still so common?
I mean, I know it all comes down to the money they make but isn’t the money they lose and bad PR they receive more costly than the next success?
Granted, a number of publishers do seem to be learning and making an effort to change.

Microsoft is starting to remind me of Sony just before the PS3 game out. They’re kinda going on with this swagger that just...isn’t really justified and so their hubris is beginning to cost them.