Back in April of this year one of the UK's most respected game development studios sadly met its demise. Lionhead Studios was known best for the Fable series, but we never did get to see the latest game in the franchise, Fable Legends, fully released. The studio closed just shy of its 20th anniversary, and it truly is sad to see them go.
At seems as though their final outing, Fable Legends, really put the studio through its paces, and it ended up being the catalyst that brought the giant down.
As we all know, in 2012, Lionhead was tasked with making a free-to-play game that would eventually end up being Fable Legends. Legends had been a bit of a jumbled idea from the start. "The pitch was along the lines of Dungeons and Dragons with four friends and a dungeon master," one source close to the project told Kotaku. "The elevator pitch was very much Fable meets Left 4 Dead meets Dungeon Keeper meets League of Legends."
Historically, Lionhead had never made a game of this type before, so it's a wonder why Microsoft wanted them to start now. On the one hand, the Kotaku source explained, it was because Lionhead have such a good track record of working on projects they've never done before; on the other, Lionhead might have been considered expendable.
At E3 in 2013, Fable Legends was shown off for the first time, which was seen as far too early, the devs told Kotaku. "We're showing the world everything we've got. All of that stuff should have been a year later. But our hand was forced."
Fable Legends suffered from an extremely long development process, with production presumably starting in mid-to-late 2012, and ending when Lionhead closed this year. They also ended up spending much more money than they'd initially planned (according to the source), meaning the game went from a medium-scale AA game, as it was pitched, to a large-scale AAA that cost $75m to make.
Apparently, by the later stages of the game's development, it was ready for release at any time, but Lionhead held off in order to launch the game at the best possible moment. After a while, it was simply taking too long to launch. It missed the holiday 2015 window, and by that point many higher-up members at Lionhead could feel they were losing Microsoft. Monetisation during the closed beta was less than initially hoped, prompting them to pull the plug.
The world found out about Microsoft's decision to shut down Lionhead and Fable Legends on March 7. Kotaku's source says that the developers found out about their own closure less than an hour before the official announcement, and it came as something of a shock. Fable Legends' servers were finally shut down on April 13, marking the end of nearly 20 years of history.
The full story is over on Kotaku, and it's well worth a read if you want more insight into how the ill-fated online game brought down one of the UK's most illustrious development studios.