Lionhead Studios Closed Today

Lionhead Studios, The English developer behind Fable, The Movies, and Black & White, closed down today. Peter Molyneux and other former members of Bullfrog Productions founded Lionhead in 1996, and Microsoft bought it in 2006. Molyneux himself left in 2012 to start new studio 22cans. Microsoft still haven’t really explained why they’re closing Lionhead. But they publicly announced in March that they were “in discussions with employees about the proposed closure of Lionhead Studios”, and there aren’t many ways back to safe ground from that point. Alas, today was the final day for Lionhead. Godspeed, you cow-tickling, guff-blasting chicken-chasers.

Microsoft said today in a public statement, as provided to Eurogamer:

“We can confirm that after much consideration over the six week consultation period with Lionhead employees, we have reached the decision to close Lionhead Studios. We have nothing but heart-felt thanks for the team at Lionhead for their significant contributions to Xbox and the games industry.”

Lionhead’s last known game was Fable Legends, a co-op spin-off from the RPG series. It had been in beta testing for over a year, but Lionhead announced its cancellation after Microsoft’s own announcement. Beta servers closed on April 13th, and even the game’s website seems to already be gone. Rumour said some Lionheaders hoped they might manage to continue in some way, but we’ve not heard any more on that.

Best of luck to everyone affected. With any luck, in a year or two we’ll be posting about some cracking games made by new studios formed in the wake of Lionhead’s closure.

From this site

36 Comments

  1. BenAttenborough says:

    A great shame. I feel for the employees, who will hopefully be absorbed into other departments or find worthwhile work elsewhere.

    Lionhead’s ambition always exceeded its reach, but that was no bad thing. Nowadays we look for creativity and invention from independent devs. But Lionhead represented an AAA developer with the same creative ambitions as an indie. Sadly that is a rare and beautiful think. RIP

    • FurryLippedSquid says:

      I was about to say Lionhead’s library is mostly a study in mediocrity, and while I stand by that, you make an excellent point.

      • Sic says:

        Both Black & White and The Movies were excellent.

        Not too fond of the rest, though.

      • Evil Timmy says:

        Lionhead had some of the best “first hours” in gaming. When you were still figuring out the world, the games seemed plum ripe with possibility, and sold you on that. Then the reality set in, and the neat trick that dragged you in falls apart because that’s all the game had going, and it’s not enough to keep up 10-20 hours of gameplay. In my (and Molyneux’s) imagination, Lionhead was a truly top-shelf developer, and there it will remain.

        • Durgendorf says:

          I agree with the “first hours” assessment and would also extend it to many of Bullfrogs lauded titles. To me they always felt like overstuffed tutorials for games that never existed.

          Sorry to the folks affected though.

  2. Heliocentric says:

    I’m going to suppress my frustration at Microsoft killing another beloved development house and focus on all the talented people who will be free (without choice sadly) of their yolk. May they create many a wonderful thing and find happiness.

  3. MrFinnishDude says:

    You can always disband a group, but the people live on.
    Maybe new stars will rise, maybe there will be spiritual successors to Black and White and Fable, who knows.

  4. Freud says:

    Bullfrog had the staff that could turn good ideas into great games.

    Lionhead turned good ideas into average at best games.

    • BTAxis says:

      22cans, meanwhile…

      • SomeDuder says:

        Dear ol’ Pete’s leaving a trail of destruction behind him. Woe onto whoever may be in his path

      • Hobbes says:

        Pete and 22Cants is just the out of control clown car spewing lucky charm laden vomit everywhere whilst singing “IT’S ALRIGHT WE PROMISE”.

        No, no it’s not Pete. Nothing will be alright. You’re not the messiah, you’re just a very naughty boy.

  5. spleendamage says:

    I think the concept behind The Movies was amazing. I’d love to see a reboot of that title.

  6. trjp says:

    Whilst the Black and White games weren’t the greatest thing ever, the first one gave me a genuine ‘WOW’ moment.

    I’d gone to talk to a villager – the camera would zoom down to their level so you could see them and as it did this, my creature walked through the background of the shot, double-taked, turned, bent down and started waving at the camera like it had spotted an old friend.

    It was the first – and possibly the only – time I’ve been amazed by in-game AI. That they’d consider that possibility and code it in there was fabulous…

    • SomeDuder says:

      Yes, but was it “AI” (Spoiler: the answer is no) or just tons and tons of scripted mini-events?

      Yea, I’m gonna err on the side of “Peter Molyneux did not create an actual Shodan”

      • Fobok says:

        That’s all AI is. A script that looks for certain conditions (and often trying to predict future conditions, like a chess AI runs through possible moves both sides can make) and does certain things based on those conditions.

        • Enkidum says:

          Uh… well, no, not really, unless you think that just plain old “I” works the same way. Certainly no recent AI is scripted, at least not by humans. And their actions need not be a response to immediate input, any more than ours are.

      • trjp says:

        Of course it was AI – “Artificial” intelligence is just that, simulating actual conscious behaviours using other means

        If that monster had autonomously decided to wave at me without the event being scripted, it would just have been “I” :)

    • shrieki says:

      like trjp says – for me black and white is still the only game that gave me that wow effect regarding ai – even if it was just series of clever scripts it was very very clever and so much fun to watch. the game itself wasnt so much fun but the creature…

  7. DwarfJuggler says:

    They should just reform under a new name, start a kickstarter for a game called white&black and get back to their roots. Loved those games and was always hoping for a Black and White 3.

    • ZippyLemon says:

      The people who made up the B&W team have long ago moved on. Microsoft has been pillaging the Lionhead brand for a decade. The people who had the CVs to get out, did.

  8. OmNomNom says:

    I’d like to say I’m sad or surprised but to be honest I didn’t like any of their games since the original Black and White.

    I loved Bullfrog in the Syndicate days :|

  9. sventoby says:

    I know it was built on a foundation of lies but Fable 1 was a fantastic game.

    • trjp says:

      It’s a game I actually finished and enjoyed – I don’t often make it through games so that suggests it did something right.

      A lot of what it did was nonsense or ‘smoke and mirrors’ but it was fun enough to stick at for sure.

  10. Ben says:

    Sad news, but an excellent image choice.

  11. mrfreezepop says:

    I must be the only one that’s not bothered by this news. I can’t see what we are going to miss out on with this news. There are other studios that if they were to shut it would be really sad to hear but this isn’t one of them. When did anyone say “oh man this new Lionhead game looks awesome I can’t wait to get my hands on that!!.

    If they did generate that kinda interest then they wouldn’t be closing down, would they?

    • Kaeoschassis says:

      The prevailing point seems to be “We are sad for the people now without jobs”. But that doesn’t affect you so I guess it’s fine.

    • noodlecake says:

      Black and White and Fable mostly.

      • MaHi says:

        Fable was a linear suck-fest that over-promised and under delivered on every title released.

  12. Caiman says:

    Playing Fable 2 at Christmas surrounded by the family, a burning log fire, and plenty of food, Microsoft can’t take that memory away from me. Thanks Lionhead.

    • MaHi says:

      And that would have been the last week/day I played Fable. It was promised to be this amazing open-ended thing but ended up like every other uninspired RPG ever made (with decent graphics for it’s time). Seriously fuck this studio.

  13. sum tempestas fusca says:

    Horrible news. Very sorry to hear. I think it’d be interesting to chat with an ex-Lionhead to hear the exact reason(s) Microsoft gave. Can anyone shed any light? Of course, the internal memo might not have told the full story; we may never know. Are you under NDA (Non Disclosure Agreement)?

    Or maybe it’s just the obvious? You didn’t make enough games we wanted to play? A simple equation. I loved playing Black and White as a child. It was DIFFERENT. And you know what? I bought it after saving up my pocket money. And the sequel. I even bought the official B&W Strategy Guide and it’s the only time I ever bought a strategy guide.

    So my question, my dear ex-employee is, what actually stopped you from making something like say, I don’t know, a Syndicate Wars sequel? Or another Dungeon Keeper? I mean, if you stopped making top-selling, highly regarded (dare I say, unique?) games like this (that many of us actually wanted to buy) then what did you expect was going to happen?

    Can I just stop this terribly boring speech for one second to say THANK YOU, Alice! Huge hugs in your general direction. Why? Because your article made me casually glance over the Wikipedia page of Syndicate Wars and WOW! I didn’t even know there was a spiritual successor out; Satellite Reign! By none other than ex Bullfrog legend Mike Diskett himself! YESS!!!! Alright, just bought the Deluxe Edition for £29.99 on Steam. I’m going to enjoy this! Yay, Cyberpunk! Thanks, Mr Floppy Diskette! Thanks for making something we actually want to play! Crazy concept, isn’t it?

    Sorry, boring speech mode resumed. So what could’ve kept Lionhead afloat? Let’s see. Something obvious. Something simple. Let’s start by looking at a genre of videogames sorely lacking in the number of AAA releases. Anyone think of anything? Any ideas? Ummm… how about Westerns? No? Specifically then, Spaghetti Westerns, a la Sergio Leone. You know, just something simple where we can play as “The Man With No Name”, Clint Eastwood. Or what about Charles Bronson or Lee van Cleef? And I know this might sound like a crazy concept to you, but how about actually employing the vocal talents of Mr Eastwood himself while he’s actually still alive and can (barely!) talk? Eli Wallach et al aren’t with us anymore, obviously. You missed your chance. Are you going to miss your last chance with Clint?

    So, what AAA Spaghetti Western videogames exist? Obviously, Red Dead Redemption. Oh, which by the way is still regarded as one of the greatest videogames ever made, that’s all. But that’s nothing of importance, so we forget about that. I mean c’mon, there wasn’t even a PC Windows release. It doesn’t even exist! So what else do we have? Oh wait… nothing. Or at least, nothing memorable. If Lionhead Studios (or anyone!?) had the clarity of vision and bravery to do it, they could’ve easily had a classic Western series keeping their grandchildren afloat for years. But no, they didn’t take the risk. They didn’t just go for it and set a “new” genre amongst a samey sea of “Fantasy” banality dumbing-down the industry as dev studios all around the world happily shoot themselves in the foot. And if that isn’t enough, Microsoft and EA will be along soon to buy you out. And don’t worry, the copyright lawsuit is in the post!

    It isn’t just Westerns strangely missing on our hard drives though, is it? Another games-drought relentlessly champions a moisture-free reservoir of games that “could’ve been”. But oh dear, “political incorrectness” guns us down before the cloudburst. Let’s say, for example, we make a game called “Cross of Iron” where you play as James Coburn in movie of same name. A grizzled German infantry sergeant in WWII. Watch the Sam Peckinpah movie, you get the idea. But then you expand on it like a “War Diary”, telling a gritty tale of survival. Basically the German version of Call of Duty with a sprinkling of Sven Hassel. Now obviously, a games publisher is going to be a “bit reluctant” to champion our game, because then you might accidentally “humanise” the German people, and that of course is “strictly verboten” since 1945. I believe it might even be illegal in Germany for even thinking it and you will go to prison for a very long time. I mean, everybody knows that all Germans were demonic entities in WWII, not actual human beings at all. I should know, Winston Churchill said so. But wait. Are classic movies like Cross of Iron and something like say “Das Boot” regarded by film critics as the greatest ANTI-war movies ever made in the history of film? Look it up for yourself if you don’t know. But wait! It’s all ok! I’ve fixed it! You won’t believe this, just hear me out. Shall we… make a videogame where you actually play as an All-American Nazi killing hero? Yes, you’re in the U.S. Army! No wait! The U.S. Marines! I know, it’s never been done! It’s so original I just wet myself with anticipation. YES! FINALLY!! The game we’ve been waiting for has finally come! YESS!!!! What do you think, Mr Accountant? Any Good? What do you think, Mr Banker? Banker: No problemo! Have all da funding yer want, my little games designer bambino! Badabing! Badaboom! Kerrrchiiiinnnnng!!

    My dear reader, I wonder… Will the artistic qualities of our latest “AAA” game merit BAFTA award-winning brilliance? Will it be “good”? Interesting? Regarded by gamers as a “cult classic”? DIFFERENT? Ummm… err… of course, Mr President!! Everybody knows that Call of Duty is the greatest videogame series ever made! Just as McDougals is the bestest restaurant on the planet! Sir, yessir! *salutes* Sir, yessir! *salutes* Sir, yessir! *salutes* Sir, yessir! *sal…

    Dosvidanya, you bunch of Lionheads. Take care.

    Lionheaders, do you want to be responsible for the next “Golden Age of Videogames”? If so, here’s what you do. You get together and start a new company. Then, give Clint Eastwood’s agent a call. I know, it probably won’t be cheap, but you need to pay this man to narrate your next videogame called “The Man With No Name”. And you do it fast before the man dies (and Skull and Bones finally get his skull in a trophy case at Yale). It’s not as if his script is going to be very big, is it? He isn’t exactly known for having a “huge amount of lines”. And maybe, it’d just be nice if we could finally hear him in another videogame besides “Firefox”?

    One last thing. Make sure we can buy it for PC Windows so we don’t have to buy a PS4 or Xbone, K? Tip: Sony/Microsoft execs, are you taking notes? I just guaranteed you console sales for the next ten years. You’re welcome.

    • MaHi says:

      Way to write an entire page. There’s no need to talk to an Ex-employee. Peter M is a broken man who over hypes all his shit and hasn’t delivered since before 3D games. They failed because they over promised and under delivered. Fable was a linear suck fest that promised to be the most off-the-rails/immersive thing ever. Good riddance and fuck Peter M.

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      keefybabe says:

      I’d love to see an AAA Spaghetti Western game. There are a number of indie titles or old ones like Outlaws, Westerado, Desperados, Hard West (sort of – goes a bit Jonah Hex really)

      I suppose the closest we’ve had has been the Call of Juarez series which is a lot closer to the Call of …. series than anything with some meat on it.

      If you imagine the car is a horse, Mad Max is *nearly* a spaghetti western.

  14. larkintosh says:

    Not new, this was known for a long time. They had a chance to create a new black and white and instead decided to focus on fable who at best always been mediocre.