Somewhere, Peter Molyneux just poured one out for his old studio. After nearly twenty years serving as an outlet for Molyneux’s craziest dreams (though he’s moved on to 22Cans), it’s looking like the end for Lionhead Studios. On Monday, Microsoft announced that it’s “in discussions with employees about the proposed closure of Lionhead Studios in the UK.” Note that in PR terms, “proposed closure” normally means “It’s definitely closing.”
Yes, this also means that Microsoft has canceled co-op hack ‘n’ slash Fable Legends. Via Microsoft:
“These have been tough decisions and we have not made them lightly, nor are they a reflection on these development teams—we are incredibly fortunate to have the talent, creativity and commitment of the people at these studios. These changes are taking effect as Microsoft Studios continues to focus its investment and development on the games and franchises that fans find most exciting and want to play.”
Ouch. That last sentence. I can’t say I disagree with Microsoft’s reasoning—I never found Fable Legends particularly exciting. The game always seemed secondary to Microsoft’s real aims, a.k.a. a vehicle for Microsoft to push Windows 10/Xbox Live crossplay, which...well, I also didn’t care about. The only reason crossplay doesn’t already work is because of Microsoft’s own (stupid) restrictions, which is why I can play Rocket League against PlayStation 4 owners and not Xbox owners.
C’est la vie.
Why this matters: The loss of Lionhead as collateral damage stings. Whether you know it for Black & White or Fable (or for Molyneux’s weird “ I’ve created a fake child named Milo” Kinect demo), Lionhead was an important studio. Lionhead was an often-ambitious studio. And yes, Lionhead was often on the receiving end of anti-Molyneux backlash, because that ambition didn’t always translate into reality.
The death of a dream
We need dreamers, though. This industry and its fans are quick to lament stagnation, but also quick to condemn a studio for failed experiments. Quick to dissolve a studio for one mediocre idea.
It’s hard to tell how much effect one person can have on a development studio, whether Lionhead could’ve made something brilliant sans-Molyneux. But I would’ve at least liked to see it be given the chance. Which is to say, Lionhead didn’t deserve to die on the hill that is Fable Legends. (And Neversoft didn’t deserve to die making Call of Duty DLC, Pandemic didn’t deserve to die because of The Saboteur, et cetera.)
Good luck to all those affected at Lionhead (and at Press Play, also). I hope you all manage to land work at a studio that still dreams.