- "All stories have to end eventually, but the memories of Heroic triumphs and Villainous plots will last forever. Thank you for your support - you are all Legends!"
- — Lionhead, on the termination of Fable Legends
Lionhead Studios was a video game development company that was established in the United Kingdom in 1997 by Peter Molyneux. On March 7th 2016, Microsoft announced that they were in talks with employees about the proposed closure of Lionhead Studios. The studio was shuttered a few weeks later, on April 29th.
Named after producer Mark Webley's former hamster, Lionhead was founded as a breakaway from Bullfrog Productions, also founded by Peter Molyneux. The first game they created was the god game Black & White. Following its release, the company got to work on a number of other projects, and signed on a couple of "satellite studios", one of which was Big Blue Box, developers of the original Fable, which fully merged with Lionhead shortly before Fable was released. The company went on to develop The Movies, and Black & White 2, but poor sales figures and delays in their production left Lionhead in a vulnerable financial state and primed for a takeover bid. In April of 2006, this bid was won by Microsoft Game Studios, over their primary opposition of Ubisoft.
Since the acquisition and the shift in priority to a focus on Microsoft gaming platforms, Lionhead Studios achieved significant success with the creation of many successful video games, including the Fable series, which has since risen to be one of the highest selling RPG franchises in the market today. In addition to the Fable series, the company began work on the Kinect game Milo & Kate, although this game was eventually canned by Microsoft. Some of its features made their way into Fable: The Journey.
On 7 March 2012, Peter Molyneux announced he was leaving Lionhead to work at an independent developer called 22Cans. Lionhead co-founder Mark Webley took over as interim head of the studio until the appointment of John Needham to that position in April 2013. Gary Carr filled the role of Creative Director.
Also in 2012, Lionhead pitched a proposal to Microsoft for an "expansive single-player game that built on the series’ heritage, set in a sprawling London-like city", but were informed that "you will not be given permission to make Fable 4, or something that is a shadow Fable 4" due to the shifting focus of Microsoft Studios Europe to "games as a service" under new director Phil Harrison. As a result, Lionhead instead ended up working on what would become Fable Legends. This was a drastic shift in direction for Lionhead, as they had no previous experience with the ongoing support, monetisation, and player retention required for "games as a service".
According to gaming news site Kotaku, Fable Legends began to fall apart due to conflicting interests from the Microsoft corporate divisions. On one side, Microsoft Studios Europe under Phil Harrison had approved the pitch for a medium-scale, free-to-play game, while on the other, Phil Spencer and the Xbox division were pushing for a high-quality, AAA Fable experience they could use to sell Xbox consoles. As Kotaku put it, "So here was Lionhead, making an experimental free-to-play game that was quickly becoming as expensive as any major first-party game you could work on. It would have to be very successful to succeed."
At the end of 2015, Phil Harrison left Microsoft, and Lionhead studio lead John Needham departed to focus on other Xbox properties in the wake of Harrison's departure. Hanno Lemke took over as general manager of Microsoft Studios Europe, as well as directly overseeing development at Lionhead. In early 2016, Microsoft expressed concern over the monetisation and player retention projections emerging from the Fable Legends beta, and in March, Lemke announced plans to close Lionhead, following a consultation period mandated by UK law. Kotaku reports that the studio employees only found out about the closure half an hour before Lemke's press release. A number of potential buyers reportedly filed letters of intent to purchase Lionhead during the consultation period, but none of those came to fruition as Microsoft apparently refused to sell the Fable license alongside the studio.
List of Games Created
- Black & White
- Black & White 2
- Black & White 2: Battle of the Gods
- The Movies
- The Movies: Stunts & Effects
- Fable: The Lost Chapters
- Fable II Pub Games (supervised, not developed by)
- Fable II
- Fable III
- Fable Heroes
- Fable: The Journey
- Fable Anniversary
- Fable Legends (cancelled)
In Fable II, Lionhead made a few references to themselves in the game:
- Leo Head is a reference to Lionhead since Leo means lion.
- Lion Head Isle is an island near Bloodstone and its name is a reference to Lionhead.
- A Lionhead tattoo featuring the Lionhead logo can be achieved by completing "A Hero's Tale" - once completed it can be found in the Guild Hall chest. To achieve it the Player must choose the Hero Crown (left).
Lionhead also referenced themselves in Fable III:
- While in Driftwood, if you try to swim towards the Spire, you will be stopped by an invisible wall and will be able to see the Lionhead Studios logo under water.
- When Lionhead Studios closed down, their twitter page was changed to "Liondead Studios" instead as a joke.
- 2016-03-07 Changes at Microsoft Studios, UK and Denmark, Xbox Wire, accessed 2016-03-07.
- 2016-04-29 Fable developer Lionhead closes down today, Eurogamer, accessed 2016-04-29.
- 2016-04-29 Lionhead closes today - one of gaming's greatest dreamers is gone, GamesRadar (OXM), accessed 2016-04-29.
- 2016-05-12 Lionhead, the inside story, Eurogamer, accessed 2016-05-12.
- Peter Molyneux Is Leaving Lionhead Studios and Microsoft, Will Finish Kinect Fable (Kotaku)
- Lionhead's new boss is a free-to-play MMO expert, will "take advantage of Microsoft's incredible hardware" (OXM UK)
- Lionhead boss: "I'm all for technology being as dumbed down as possible" (OXM UK)
- 2016-06-09 How Fable Legends Took Down Lionhead, Kotaku UK, accessed 2016-06-10.
- Sources: "Multiple Buyers" Were Lined Up for Lionhead, Kotaku UK, accessed 2016-05-31.