Read This Article About The Life And Death Of Lionhead

We had a little glimpse of what happened during Lionhead’s death earlier this morning, but our cousins at Eurogamer have just published a mammoth article about the company’s life. I’ll pick out some choice excerpts below, but you should go have a read.

Normally I’d feel bad quoting large chunks of another site’s article, but these all come from the feature’s first half. The full thing is 20,000-odd words and worth at least a bit of your time.

For example, on the seat-of-your-pants boys’ club culture of the studio:

But because it was the next game from Peter Molyneux, the founder of Bullfrog and the creator of Populous, people came in their droves. Cathy Campos, who worked as Peter’s publicist for many years, remembers Molyneux spinning these screenshots, the wireframe test bed and his notebook out into a 20 minute presentation. At the end Peter would say, “and there’s so much more I’ve got to tell you”. “And I would say,” Campos recalls, ” ‘but you’re not going to do it today. Thank you very much and goodbye.’ And I’d see the journalists out. But of course, basically, we had nothing more to say. That was the script, but we came away with a whole load of press coverage, and that set us up with Black & White.”

On working with Microsoft on the original Fable:

“When they walked into the Godalming office they were going, this game looks amazing. Where’s Peter? Peter didn’t work there. They thought it was Peter’s game, but it wasn’t. They got a bit nervous at that point because they were going, this game doesn’t come with the calibre of Peter. I thought this was Peter’s game. We were like, no. Peter’s working on another game in Guildford.”

On the eventual merger with Microsoft and the changes introduced by the new owner:

Then there were the “commitments”. Lionhead staff were asked to write down five measurable goals for the upcoming six months, to be approved by a line manager. One person says he was asked to write down that Fable 2 must get a Metacritic review score average of 85 per cent, in order to achieve a bonus. “And you’re like, I have no control over that,” the person said. “Who has control over Metacritic?”

On the development of Fable 2:

“We had a meeting,” McCormack recalls. “We’d not seen him in weeks because he had other things on. He opened the door, walked in and goes, the hero has a dog, and it dies. And then he left and we didn’t see him again for another month. We were like, what the fuck? That was it. That was the direction.”

On the failure of Mile & Kate:

The game’s demo at E3 2009 suggested Milo behaved like some complex AI who would respond to the user’s voice and actions, and so the inevitable questions followed: what if the user drew a picture of a penis on a piece of paper and showed it to Milo? What if the user exposed himself in front of the camera?

Nothing, it turns out. But this is the disconnect: the game Lionhead was building was a series of mini-games that involved the player moving their hand around to direct Milo’s attention to stones and snails in his back garden while his parents argued in the background. He was not some complex artificial intelligence who might blush at the sight of the player’s private parts. It was all a clever illusion.

And much, much more – including plenty on where Fable Legends and perhaps the studio lost its way. Take a look.


  1. Eight Rooks says:

    Seriously, do read it. I do not mourn Lionhead, I actively dislike Fable and am pleased it’s dead, and some of this stuff makes me grind my teeth in frustration. The article is still a really, really good piece of writing, startlingly coherent (lots of people haven’t a clue how to get 20,000 words to flow) and definitely worth your time.

    • Durgendorf says:

      Will do. Molyneaux was only capable of creating extended tutorials after a point but I imagine there was always plenty of intrigue adn talented people surrounding those sad broken games.

    • horsemedic says:

      Whatever else that article is—well reported, certainly; informative, sure—it’s not good writing. The fact that it’s 20,000 (!!!) words long is, by itself, a sign that it needed better editing.

      It’s coherent like an encyclopedia is coherent, but it’s stuffed with cliches, overly long quotes and redundant paraphrasing of those same quotes. I mean, the author actually has to assert that the story is “worth telling.” That’s not a sign of confident writing.

    • Tetrode says:

      I don’t particularly understand how you could ‘actively dislike’ a fairly innocuous, popular and well received Xbox RPG. What did it do to you to deserve such a poisonous attitude?

      • Press X to Gary Busey says:

        Preorder culture and believing Mr Mollyxux.
        Some people felt a bit played after they followed that hype-train from start to finish and actually believed the words pushed out from Lionheads’ orifices.

  2. Infinitron says:

    According to three separate sources familiar with Lionhead’s relationship with Microsoft in 2012, Xbox executives insisted the studio make a new Fable in the games as a service mould. A single-player focused role-playing game would not be allowed, Lionhead was told. “There’s no way anybody’s going to be making single-player boxed products any more,” sources say Microsoft executives told Lionhead. “I want something that’s games as a service.”

    “That category is not the biggest category on the planet,” Robbie Bach, who was the Imam of Entertainment & Devices Division at Microsoft before Don Mattrick came in, says. “It’s not soccer. It’s not American Football. It’s not a first-person shooter sized category. So at a commercial level, I would say it was successful, but not wildly so.”

    “As a first-party title one of our big responsibilities was strategic, to make a unique, innovative experience that a third party couldn’t risk making, which would make people want to buy an Xbox, and thus drive hardware sales,” Simon Carter explains.

    McCormack was incensed by the decision, and says it was one of the reasons he left the company in 2012. “It was like, you’ve reached your cap of players for RPG on Xbox and you need to find a way to double that, and you’re not going to do it with RPG,” he says. “I thought, yes we can.

    “I said, look, just give us four years, proper finance, give us the chance Mass Effect has, Skyrim has, the games at the time. They’re getting four years and a lot of budget. Give us that, and we’ll give you something that’ll get you your players. Nah, you’ve had three shots and you’ve only tripled the money. It’s not good enough. Fuck off. That’s what I was annoyed about.”

    Wow. It may not be a coincidence that this happened around the same time Microsoft cancelled Obsidian Entertainment’s RPG, Stormlands (the quasi-predecessor of Tyranny).

  3. dungeoncrawl says:

    “How can you make my bonus based on what score it gets on Metacritic? I don’t control that.” Lesson to all the kids out there. The best jobs/careers, that are the most rewarding, that ultimately pay the most if you’re successful are those jobs where you “don’t control that”. If you want a job that bonuses you on exactly what you control (e.g. how many widgets you make in an hour, how many yards you can mow in a week, etc.) you’re not dreaming very big. Only seek out jobs that you can “control” if you want mediocrity. Actively seek out jobs where you don’t “control” the outcome, but rather, ‘influence’ the outcome. Think about it: teachers, artists, entreprenuers, game creators, etc. don’t ‘control’ the outcome. They influence it, they make decisions to try to direct the un-directable. They “make it rain” and are rewarded when they do. Don’t get me wrong, we need both types of jobs and both types of people to make our society run. But if you put yourself into a position where your goals are “less controllable” and you can manage to “make it rain”, society/economics typically handsomely rewards you.

    • Xocrates says:

      “typically handsomely rewards you”.


      I could sort of agree with you on the basis that a risky gamble can provide the better payout, but it most certainly is not a “typical” outcome. It is in fact an extremely rare one.

      There’s a reason why the big “successful” companies like EA, Activision, or Ubisoft release the same game year after year, and that’s exactly because they “control that” – they know what people want and give them that with as few risk and variables possible.

      • dungeoncrawl says:

        I’m not talking about “risky gambles”. I’m taking about reward systems in your jobs and careers that aren’t based solely on goals that you “are in control of” but rather “goals that you influence”. I’m talking about goals EXACTLY like “getting an 85 score on Metascore” vs. “you get your section of the code complete with zero bugs by Jan 1, 2017”. More complex goals that require more uncertainty, more coordination, more creativity, more passion, more team effort, more X factor (charisma? intuition?), etc. are more rewarding and/or lucrative, more sought after, and harder to find in individuals is what people should strive for.

    • ramirezfm says:

      Of course, like a job of lottery winner. Dream big kids!

      • dungeoncrawl says:

        You’ll note I said look for jobs that you get bonused by what you can “influence” not directly control. I didn’t say goals that are based on random luck.

        • Marr says:

          Metacritic scores, for example. Thing is, most people in the world are looking for safe, mediocre employment. Their goals are not to chase some grand artistic dream, but rather to live under a roof and not watch their children starve.

    • mrmistermeakin says:

      OK Mr Reagan, Mrs Rand needs to get her sleep now, go back to sleep.

    • Sin Vega says:

      . If you want a job that bonuses you on exactly what you control (e.g. how many widgets you make in an hour, how many yards you can mow in a week, etc.) you’re not dreaming very big. Only seek out jobs that you can “control” if you want mediocrity

      Oh, do fuck off. Our society has no rational basis for how work is recompensed, let alone anything to do with whether it’s worthwhile or useful or ~*~dreaming big~*~, and suggesting that it does isn’t a “lesson”, it’s deluded horseshit at best, and mendacious propaganda on a bad day.

      • dungeoncrawl says:

        Just advice based on what I’ve experienced. Feel free not to take it. I think that outlook on life limits you.

    • X_kot says:

      Yep, teachers have a grand ol time “not controlling the outcome” while being measured by metrics determined by administrators and politicians.

      • dungeoncrawl says:

        Yup, my spouse has been a teacher for many years. You can’t CONTROL how a student does on a test…you can only influence it. That’s what I’m talking about. The hardest jobs (and often times the most rewarding and/or the most lucrative) are usually the ones where success can’t be measured by something you can DIRECTLY CONTROL. You can only influence it.

        It’s not for everybody. Some people like to be measured by very controllable things…it feels safe…as if you’re “in control” (controllable). I’m saying look around at the most successful people, the most rewarding jobs, what most leaders face and almost NONE of it is ‘controllable’. The skillset required to excel at it is harder to find. Had those people said “but wait…I can’t control the factors that equal success”, they’d have never achieved it.

        It’s advice. Feel free not to take it.

    • khamul says:

      Alternatively, get a job in HR, and make the world a better place by shooting any idiot* that suggests bonuses should be based on things the employee doesn’t control. Or frankly, that suggests objectives-based bonuses.

      Because you know what? Employee contributions do actually make a difference. That’s kind of why companies bother employing people. And you know what else? Human beings who are treated with this kind of thoughtless contempt are going to feel rather less motivated to do what they do.

      If you are a manager, it is your job to manage, which means it is *your* job to know whether Employee X is working their little heart out or not, without relying on some piece of paper to tell you. If you think that you are doing your job by following the process mindlessly, without any effort at judgement, I can tell you that I can replace you with a very small shell script: and quite soon, I am going to.

      I assume HR has the power to shoot people they don’t like, right?

      • Sin Vega says:

        They had it once, and we even gave them a rifle, but they all accidentally shot themselves while trying to get it to watch a video.

        • khamul says:

          Hmmm. What we have here is some sort of people problem: we should get HR to sort it out.

    • GernauMorat says:

      “I am Andrew Ryan, and I’m here to ask you a question. Is a man not entitled to the sweat of his brow?”

      oh wait, were am I?

    • lasikbear says:

      So only make games for the truly fulfilling goal of getting a good metacritic score?

    • Radiant says:

      That’s the complete opposite take on what that paragraph said.
      Well done.

    • Shuck says:

      No, this is nonsense. Publishers like to tie bonuses to metacritic scores because it becomes yet another another excuse not to give out bonuses.
      All this tosh about handsome rewards is doubly nonsense when it comes to studio game development – even if the game is a smash success, the developers likely don’t benefit at all in a situation like this, much less “handsomely.” Individual developers don’t even have an “influence” on the metacritic score – except perhaps a potential negative influence. If a developer is spectacularly bad at their job, they might be in a position to create flaws that can create a negative influence on reviews, but the most competent technical artist or tools programmer isn’t going to have any sort of influence on the review scores otherwise. Plus, review scores are also going to be disproportionately influenced by things like roll-out problems and bugs that could be entirely the responsibility of the publisher, not the developer. And all of this leaves aside the issue of the tenuousness of the link between game quality or sales and metacritic scores.

  4. Jay Load says:

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: FUCK Microsoft to absolute fucking hell in a fucking handbasket. I didn’t like Lionhead much but goddam if Microsoft weren’t 120% of the reason why! Toxic fucking talent-eating parasites the lot of them!

    I mean, honestly, how much longer do decent people have to put up with their bilious poison???

  5. Freud says:

    Good read. Idiotic by Microsoft to not let people design games they are good at making, instead trying to force them to design something based on a current trend (games as a service).

  6. GernauMorat says:

    Excellent read. Some of it is quite bizzare

  7. itchyeyes says:

    Jesus Christ. Whatever infintisimally small shred of respect I had left for Peter Molyneux has been completely obliterated. I cannot begin to imagine working under the kinds of conditions described in this article.

  8. Velleic says:

    Really a fantastic read! No experience with or particular care for Lionhead myself, yet it was a compelling story, and I felt a bit emotional by the end. I’m shocked that Microsoft could screw up so badly with this – it seems like massive incompetence to command a studio you own to work in areas they have zero expertise in. What a waste of talent!

    Anyway, a wonderful article, very thorough, very even-handed about all the various exciting goings on throughout the history of the studio.

  9. thrasius says:

    Look, I’m a management consultant. I’ve designed these very compensation packages. You don’t use “influence” as the condition for a bonus. You use “control.” There is a psychological basis behind designing a comp package that way. And they are right to say that they have no control over the score, especially with an arbitrary threshold like 85. Spend 10 minutes in excel to create a sliding scale at the very least. Better yet, create a structure that is a combo of score and profit. Yes, sometimes you have to use proxies like review scores for performance metrics but try not to be arbitrary about it.

    TLDR: you are wrong.

    • clom says:

      Thank you for setting that nonsense straight :)

    • khamul says:

      I apologise for being a little forthright about this, but I strongly believe this kind of thinking is poison that is slowly killing our society.

      If you’re looking at the compensation package for a guy whose job it is to put boxes on a truck, then yeah, maybe, you can have bonuses for working extra hard to shift extra boxes: except, how does that make the company money, except to let them fire someone else – and if that guy then throws his back out, you’re in trouble ‘cos then you’re two guys down – and probably don’t even know it.

      What the business actually *needs* is someone who’ll work late into the night, shifting boxes this once, because *this* delivery has to go on time. And you know what gets that? Loyalty. Not a bonus if you shift 10% extra boxes this year – just treating the guys that work for you as human beings. With *respect*. Then they’ll go the extra mile whenever *you* need it, because they know you’ll do the same for them. Because they care.

      These kind of bonus schemes are even worse for highly skilled workers, like programmers. If a software engineer isn’t already writing the best code they can, they’re not an engineer: doing the job properly is an absolutely central part of the mindset. Even worse – the other half of a programmer’s mindset is figuring out how to game systems: that’s pretty much what programming is all about.

      So when you give a programmer a structured bonus scheme, what you’re actually doing is two things: insulting their professional integrity, by suggesting they’re not already doing their job as well as they can; and encouraging them to do something other than their main job, in order to secure their bonus. It’s dumb, it’s rude, and it’s counter-productive. And engineers are bright enough to see all of that. At the very best, if the objectives are actually tied to the core job function, and updated frequently enough to stay in sync – all you’re actually achieving is wasting time setting and reviewing them that could instead be spent on making stuff that would actually earn the company money.

      Objective-backed bonuses are toxic nonsense. I know: they’re what management expects, so you have to pitch them, even if you don’t believe in them. But *please* – if you ever get the chance, ask yourself if you are really sure that they’re the right answer.

      I am really not sure that Alice’s news articles would be improved by an objectives-based bonus scheme.

  10. Radiant says:

    How was this microsoft’s fault?
    They bought a studio led by a complete charlatan with teams of people trying to make lies reality.

    • Freud says:

      I think people are referring to Fable: Legends and Microsoft pushing that project on the studio when they wanted to create Fable 4. Ultimately it didn’t turn out well and it cost a lot of people their jobs and Microsoft a lot of money.

      At that point Peter Molyneux was gone from Lionhead.

    • Sin Vega says:

      My final impression is that MS handled things well up until Fable Bellends or whatever the free to play money pit was called. That was a cynical and disastrous decision, one they compounded by throwing all their eggs into its basket and canning the studio when it almost inevitably failed.

      It sounds like it was very much their fault, in the end.

      Molyneux may have talked some bollocks but that was always the case, and it doesn’t appear to have been a major factor towards the end at all (and when he was appropriately managed, as a couple of people named in the article clearly did early on, he was obviously a very useful asset to the studio).

  11. racccoon says:

    I would of thought shutting down such a famous name was pointless exercise, I was to believe they took in more students from uni’s in early days, who were the “I’m going to graduate in gaming of sorts” This should of been “THE” core of the business.
    It seems such a waste of a place for people who if allowed to have a voice in any direction they sort, would of made of it work with many visions.
    Students is what LionHead studios should of been about Earning progress in learning & imagination.

  12. SomeDuder says:

    I’ve finally read through it all. Molyneux is still an unlikeable fraud – I’m sure he’s got charisma and has a way with words, but the way he treats each of his games/ideas and customers is so insanely insulting it’s amazing that he gets all the attention that he does.