There was a time when Lionhead Studios was one of the most lauded game development studios under the sun, creating the smash-hit fantasy RPG Fable and furthering its reputation with Fable 2. However, the studio was shuttered back in 2016, a move that – following a string of troubled releases – didn’t come as a surprise, but was still disappointing. Microsoft has its own share of regrets about the situation too.
As reported by IGN, the sixth episode of a new six-part documentary series called Power On: The Story of Xbox briefly details Microsoft’s relationship with Lionhead from the time it was acquired to the time that it closed. In the segment, Xbox’s Shannon Loftis, who served as Lionhead Studios’ general manager of global games publishing when it closed, stated that Lionhead’s closure was one of Microsoft’s greatest “missteps.”
Loftis went on to explain that the time after the first Fable was released – and Microsoft had purchased the studio –through Fable 2 were “good years” for Microsoft and Lionhead. However, Microsoft closely married Lionhead with the Kinect, the failed motion control device that Microsoft put a heavy emphasis on towards the end of the Xbox 360’s lifespan and the early years of the Xbox One. Lionhead released Fable: The Journey for the Kinect, which Loftis states “deviated pretty significantly from the pillars of what made Fable 1 and 2 so popular.”
In the end, Microsoft shut down Lionhead in 2016, ten years after first acquiring it. However, Microsoft learned a difficult lesson after closing the studio, according to Xbox’s Phil Spencer, who said “You acquire a studio for what they’re great at now, and your job is to help them accelerate how they do what they do, not them accelerate what you do.” Spencer has been a key figure in Xbox’s recent success, helping to reinvigorate the company’s image after the Xbox One’s troubled debut.
There seems to be a decidedly regretful air about the handling of Lionhead Studios, with Loftis stating “I wish Lionhead were still a viable studio.” For years, the Fable franchise was one of Xbox’s most notable exclusives. In fact, another Fable game was in development during Lionhead’s final days. Called Fable Legends, it was an asymmetric multiplayer game where four heroes would face off against one villain. The project was canceled on March 7, 2016, roughly a month before Lionhead Studios was closed.
Fable isn’t dead quite yet, though. Playground Games, the studio most famous for its work on the Forza Horizon series, is working on a reboot of the franchise. Fans have seen little of the new Fable game, though it will reportedly release before The Elder Scrolls 6 does, meaning that it will likely release in the next 2-3 years, if not sooner. It doesn’t save Lionhead, but it does continue a beloved series.