How Fable Legends Destroyed Lionhead

How Fable Legends Destroyed Lionhead
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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 $US75 ($102) 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.

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 licence. 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.

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


  • The sad part is they could have made Fable the XBOX Zelda if they just stuck with the idea of making one or two major by-the-numbers-but-better Fable games per generation. Fable could have been one of those true exclusives that you simply can’t get anywhere else.

    • I totally agree with this idea I loved the main fable games and was really disappointed when Microsoft started turning it into something to use for gimmicks. Hell I even played through fable 3 4 times I liked it so much despite a lot of the hate it got.

      • I recently picked up the HD remaster of Fable. Totally freaking worth it. The textures are SO MUCH BETTER.

        • yep fable hd had a few bugs when it was first released but was tottaly worth getting especially for those who hadnt played the extra content that was added in the pc release

  • That bit about Evolution being given the early heads up is quite interesting. Really makes you wonder why there isn’t more of that going on in this industry, it might help smooth out some of those continual bumps in the road where teams get shut down or suffer mass layoffs.

    Although I suppose we didn’t hear about the Evolution thing until this article, so it’s possible that that’s actually the way a lot of them happen but they don’t usually manage to find somebody else to pick them up like Evolution did. They were probably fortunate that, being a specialist racing game developer, they were a very good fit for CodeMasters who are a specialist racing game publisher.

  • To me it seemed Microsoft used Fable as a test dummy for some of the fringe hardware/idea’s from the higher-ups

    The Wagon-on-rails game with the Kinect and Fable: L for Crossplay

    either way RIP Fable 🙁

  • There used to be some serious people at MS that got really great exclusives and supported the industry. They used to highlight the game designers and great games.

    They used to work for Xbox, now they work for Windows, Bing and Office, then treat Xbox as just a publicity stunt that has no intention of ever producing it’s own quality content.

    My first glance at Fable 3, I was totally reading the vibe, it was so obvious. Going forward I feel Xbox will loose it’s video game market share rapidly as they keep betting on the demise of dedicated console gaming.

    • Going forward I feel Xbox will loose it’s video game market share rapidly as they keep betting on the demise of dedicated console gaming.

      I feel like this has already happened for the most part and will continue to happen. From the moment this generation of consoles were announced it was apparent that Microsoft wanted Xbone to be jack of all trades (master of none) and Sony really drilled the message home to gamers that the PS4 was a gaming console. I

      • Sony said that a lot but I don’t think they really did much to cement it. For all the talk of being ‘4 The Players’ Sony made PS+ membership required for online play on the PS4*. They did some great things but their success this generation, like the 360’s last generation, seems to stem from their competitions mistakes.
        I think that leaves Microsoft able to get back in with their next console. I’m expecting the next XBOX to launch with some nice features. They seem to be moving towards the next XBOX being able to play XBOX One games without backwards compatibility. The PS5 will probably be a traditional Sony console. High price, conservative features, good specs and probably a little too confident coming off the back of a successful PS4.
        I think Sony will always beat Microsoft on reputation alone but they’re not the best leaders when it comes to technology and that blows up in their faces from time to time.

        It’s funny, I actually think if Microsoft and Sony would stop screwing themselves over they end up with a nice balance where Sony maintains a decent lead but Microsoft engages them enough to keep everyone growing.

        *I’m not against this, the PSN needs additional funding to stay up to par, it’s just that it’s not exactly striking a blow for the little people.

  • It amazes me how much Microsoft has managed to make me hate them in the last few years.

    Its like they go out of their way to make things worse for the consumer.

    • This is not really a new thing. This is the same company that:
      – Pushed the idea that a GUI was unnecessary for serious work (until they had a passable GUI themselves)
      – Drove Netscape into bankruptcy then let IE rot for several years until Firefox started showing how the job is done
      – Deliberately misled the people developing WordPerfect so that the launch of WP for Windows 95 was delayed
      – Pushed Silverlight as a web scripting solution only to abandon it shortly afterwards in favour of HTML5. (To be clear, the problem here was not in abandoning Silverlight, but in pushing it in the first place.)

      MS have a long history of selling people suboptimal solutions by convincing them that they are optimal solutions.

      That’s not to say that they get everything wrong, but they are definitely a company that occasionally gets them wrong and then bloodymindedly sticks to the screwed-up solution until somebody metaphorically hits them over the head with a metaphorical hammer. The rivers of cash from the Office monopoly let them do this relatively free of consequence.

      In this case, they are trying to boost support for the XB1 by pushing cross-platform support with Windows 10, in the belief that the dominance of Windows 10 will lead to better support for XB1. The tactic is basically working in reverse; XB1 devs are abandoning the platform due to the extra work involved, while Windows 10 devs are just ignoring XB1 because the predominant digital software marketplace on PC is not the Windows 10 app store, but Steam.

  • I absolutely loved Fable 1 and 2, 3 not so much.
    But it’s so depressing to think that a great studio like that can be ruined by one game. But in all honesty I wasn’t excited about Legends at all. I have no interest in that kind of game, I wanted a Fable 4. Microsoft probably realised the project was just bleeding money.
    Still… can’t believe the cunts wouldn’t let lionhead get sold. Bloody disgrace. Shame on you Microsoft.

    • 3 was great I thought but the ending was too fast and too abrupt. you go around amassing your riches, taking years and years then you save the game and … WAR TIME.

  • Not only nobody wanted to make it, going by the opinions in social media around the news of it, nobody wanted to play it either. It was doomed from the beginning.

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