Microsoft (former owner of the Lionhead Studios) finally announced the reboot of the Fable series. It will be named Fable (don’t get confused with ‘Fable – 1’ as it will be different). You will be wondering why Microsoft is coming with the remake of the official Fable series, which they can do so when the Lionhead Studios was functional. And why Lionhead Studios was shut down 4 years ago?
Fable, as we know was a famous game series that has produced 5 games in the franchise. Lionhead Studios made all 5 parts. First under the direction of co-founder Peter Molyneux and the latter parts under Peter and Microsoft which acquired the Lionhead Studios later on.
At the end days of Lionhead Studios, there were many cancellations of the gaming projects by Microsoft before completely shut down. There is an interview of Peter Molyneux with The Guardian that summarized the working of 20 years of Lionhead Studios. We have summarized the whole story of the foundation to the time Lionhead Studios was shut down with time stamps.
Peter Molyneux & Lionhead Studios
Before establishing the Lionhead Studios, Peter Molyneux founded Bullfrog Productions in 1987. The company made many games but the name was noticed after the release of Populous ( Based on the God Game Genre).
The studio was later acquired by the EA (Electronic Arts) in 1995. Within a year the number of Employees of the Bullfrog Molyneux increased rapidly. The big organization EA games hired many people for the work of developing video games within Bullfrog. This caused Peter a feeling of limitation in thinking while working in the company. Now he was thinking of the restrictions of expressing in comparison to the way he always works before the acquisition.
The conflict of thinking between Peter and Electronic Arts led to the departure of Peter in July 1997. Along with him, Mark Webley, Paul McLaughlin, and Steve Jackson also resigned to start Lionhead Studios at the same time. The name of the company is named after Mark’s pet which was a hamster. They were planning to do since after a year of the acquisition due to conflicting working conditions in Bullfrog Productions. He wanted to create an environment like the Bullfrog used to have before the acquisition. A small team that will develop innovative quality games without any pressure from big organizations. He wanted to work with an idea that is ahead of other game developing companies in God’s game genre.
Lionhead Studios Going Big!
After the founding of the Lionhead studio, many companies like Sega, Nintendo. etc were interested in partnership with the company due to Peter’s reputation and working in Bullfrog. They made their debut in September 1998 at the “European Computer Trade Show“. The debut of Lionhead Studios got so much publicity. At the same time, They hired some people for the company.
The vision to create a unique game led to the development of “Black & White” (Based on the God genre game).
The long-awaited project of Black & White finally released on 27th March 2001 under the banner of EA ( one game contract made in July 1997). The game brought wonders for the Lionhead as it won many awards such as BAFTA and AIAS awards. B&G also won the “Computer Game of the Year” award. Later that year, “Black & White: Creature Isle” is also released which was the extended part of the Black & White game.
Aftermath of Black & White Game Release
A lot of things changed after the release of the B&W game. Publicity, Marketing, and setting up of three satellite companies – Big Blue Box Studios, Intrepid Developments, and Black & White Studios was done by the end of June 2002. They also listed for the IPO (Initial Public Offering) on which Peter said it was a disaster. The company now was working on 5 different projects that include Fable, Black & White 2, The Movies, BC, and Creation or Dimitri. Out of which BC and Creation game was canceled due to the aftermath of the market crash of 2002.
This was against the ideology that Peter started with “one game at a time”. Peter blamed that he and his team have listened to some financial advisors over the stock market and the company’s financials. This led to working on these many projects.
After the crash of the stock market, the founder signed many deals with private lenders and institutions for the funds. They wanted to complete the games which they started after the release of Black & White. There was an increase in the number of employees with the merging of the satellite companies to Lionhead Studios.
Fable was Released by Lionhead Studios
More deals were signed for the funds. Multiple game development brought the chaos of funds for the company. On 14th September 2004, Fable was released with a bang. The game was developed by Lionhead Studio with the Big Blue Box Studio. Fable was started in Big Blue Box Studio but after the merger of the studio with the Lionhead. They completed the project after 4 years of working. Fable became famous in no time. They sold millions of copies after the release of the game.
The Golden run of Fable continued in 2005 as the game won AIAS awards for Story and Music category. But on the contrary, Lionhead also released two games in the same year – The Movies (8th November) and Black & White 2 (3rd October). Both came as a liability for the company. After years of work on these two games was dumped into the waste in 2 months of release. Around 300 employees now were working in Lionhead Studios.
Microsoft Bought the Lionhead Studios
Low Funds became a threat to the company. Microsoft and Ubisoft were interested in the acquisition of the company. The good relations of Microsoft with the founders of the Lionhead Studios led to the signing of a deal with them. On 6th April, Microsoft acquired the Lionhead Studios. Fable series was made Xbox exclusive. Though ‘The Movies’ was a disaster still the game won an award for the Best Simulation category in the 2006 BAFTA awards.
After the acquisition by Microsoft, Lionhead Studios delivered their first project which was “Fable II” on 21st October. The game was considered one of the finest games delivered by the company. The game won a BAFTA award for the best action-adventure award.
Microsoft introduced Kinect technology to the world. Based on the Kinect technology, the company started developing a game named ‘Project Milo’ or ‘Milo & Kate’. Project Milo development was shown at E3 2009. Around the same time, Peter became the creative director of Microsoft Studios of the European Division. Working on ‘Fable III’ started instantly.
The integration of Kinect to Fable 3 was failed. Within 18 months of the release of Fable 2, Fable 3 was released. The expectation from the game didn’t fulfill as the previous ones did it. Peter blamed Microsoft for the failure of Fable 3 in the market.
Project Milo was canceled though Peter wanted to release the game through Kinect. Microsoft backed out from the project. Things were going pretty the same as in the Bullfrog Studios when EA acquired it.
The Departure of Peter Molyneux from Lionhead Studio
The year 2012 was not so good for Lionhead Studio. Many senior staff members didn’t like the working of the company so most of the members resigned from the company. In March, Peter also resigned from the company due to a conflict of working ethics and thinking. Peter went on to start 22Cans (A game developing company). Mark Webley took the charge of the head of the Lionhead temporarily.
On Microsoft’s command, 2 games were released in the same year – Fable Hereos (2nd May) and Fable: The Journey (9th October) even though many heads were resigned. The things after Peter’s resignation became more professional. The main focus was on the money-making model rather than the new innovative game development. Both the game got mixed reviews mostly bad to average ratings. On the other hand, Fable Legend’s development also started by the company.
The idea to generate revenue from the Fable series dropped the making of ‘Fable IV’. Fable Legends was announced on 20th August with a cinematic trailer.
Another project was canceled under the name of ‘InkQuest’ on 24th September. Fable Anniversary which was the remake in the HD version of Fable: The Lost Chapters was made by the Studios The game was nicely done and got good reviews from the critics. It was the last game ever made by Lionhead Studios.
Microsoft Shutdown Lionhead Studios
On 21st January Microsoft announced that the Fable Legends will be also released on Windows 10. More staff members started to leave the company due to the way of working in the company. Later that year a closed beta of Fable Legends was released.
Finally, on 7th March, Microsoft canceled the Fable Legends to everyone’s surprise. Some believed that ‘Xbox One’ failure led to the cancellation of the project which was so close.
The consultation period began for the closure of the Lionhead Studios. Many got shocked by the news. Some companies were interested in buying Lionhead Studios but Microsoft thought of retaining the Fable Series as it was something much more than the company. On 29th April, Lionhead Studios was shut down.
The British Company which started with a vision didn’t think that they would end up like this. Peter, as well as the founding members, worked very hard for the development of the company. They never wanted to expand the company in terms of the number of employees. The company also delivered one of the finest games ever made in the gaming community. Still, the fortune of the company was handed over to the Big company, and the rest of Lionhead Studios was shut down.