A tragedy occurred recently. Lionhead Studios was shut down by Microsoft. Instead of celebrating its 20th year of operation, the developer had to say its goodbyes without even releasing its final, in-progress game. It is unfortunate, as it was a good developer, known and respected for its Black & White and Fable games. Unfortunately, the good thing has ended and its employees have to move on.
But, as sad as this news is, let’s consider things for a moment. How much will you really miss Lionhead Studios? Think back on your favorite games from the last 10 years. How big an impact did the last run of games from the developer really have on your life? How meaningful was this particular developer to you at the end?
Since Fable III’ s release in 2010, Lionhead Games has been coasting on nostalgia. Its four most recent games were all Fable off-shoots and rehashes. In 2012, we received Fable Heroes . It wasn’t exactly terrible, but it was very different from what we expected from a Fable game. Then, Fable: The Journey followed that same year and let us all down. These experimental games didn’t do a good job of honoring the Fable name. Fable: The Journey was also the last game that fabled developer Peter Molyneux worked on before leaving to found 22 Cans.
Fable: Anniversary is now Lionhead Games’ last release. But, this game didn’t make it to the platform that deserved it most, the Xbox One. Fable was revolutionary on the Xbox. You’d think the developer and Microsoft would have done everything possible to put it on the Xbox One 10 years later. But no, it didn’t. A great remake only appeared on the Xbox 360, a dying console at the time, and the Windows PC.
There’s also Lionhead Studios’ track record to consider. The developer released 13 games over the past almost 20 years. Which is admirable. Black & White, Fable, Black & White 2, Fable II, and Fable III were excellent, beloved games. Even The Movies had its fans and worked well. However, the developer also had 10 cancelled games. Games like Fable Legends, Milo & Kate, Black & White 3, Inkquest, Black & White: Titan, BC, and Unity never made it out of development.
Lionhead Studios had some great people working there. The developer made some fantastic games. But, it also didn’t have the best track record when it came to games actually getting released. Unless it was a Fable title, there was always the chance it’d never happen. Between the overreliance on Fable spin-offs in the later years and an astounding number of games that never happened, this is a case where it’s incredibly unfortunate that so many people lost their jobs and a studio that could make amazing games was closed, but also not terribly surprising.