Xbox laments closing Fable dev Lionhead Studios, describing it as a 'mistake'

Fable 2020 Fairy
Fable 2020 Fairy (Image credit: Microsoft)

What you need to know

  • Lionhead Studios built the classic Fable franchise across the original Xbox and Xbox 360.
  • Microsoft pivoted Lionhead to work on Kinect games, and later a service-type multiplayer Fable game.
  • In the end Microsoft shuttered Lionhead, but has vowed to learn from their mistakes when it comes to future acquisitions.

Microsoft has a 6-part documentary series describing the trials and successes of Xbox, from its very inception all the way up to the present. In one of the episodes, World's Edge studio head Shannon Loftis, VP Sarah Bond, and Xbox lead Phil Spencer all discuss Lionhead Studios, the British outfit known for the Fable franchise.

In the show (via IGN), the Xbox team reflect on the closure of Lionhead, which they describe as a mistake to learn from.

Shannon Loftis, who led Global Publishing at the time, lamented: "One of the biggest missteps that we learned from in the past was Lionhead. We had already published Fable 1, and it was a hit... People wanted more, and so we bought Lionhead. Those were good years. But after Fable 2, Kinect came along and the Fable-Kinect marriage just never really took. And then Fable: The Journey was a passion project for a lot of people, but I think it deviated pretty significantly from the pillars of what made Fable 1 and 2 so popular."

Sarah Bond who leads Microsoft's gaming business development team called the running, and closure of Lionhead a mistake. Microsoft closed the studio in 2016, after internal feedback for the Fable Legends project made it apparent that multiplayer free-to-play wasn't going to work for the franchise. "We acquired Lionhead in 2006, and shut it down in 2016. A couple of years later we reflected back on that experience. What did we learn, and how do we not repeat our same mistakes?"

Phil Spencer, who leads Xbox offered a glimpse into how Microsoft is running its current gaming acquisitions, reflecting on the Lionhead situation: "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." Judging by games like Hellblade II and others being made by Microsoft's studio acquisitions, I'd say Xbox may have indeed learned its lesson.

Lionhead's legacy lives on in a big-budget Fable reboot, led by Playground Games — another British studio — known primarily for the multi-award-winning Forza Horizon franchise. Fable's legacy will live on in its reboot, and many of the developers who worked on the franchise found their way into other studios, such as Two Point, known for the similarly good-natured Two Point Hospital and University games, Rare of Sea of Thieves fame, and even Playground itself.

Microsoft's Fable reboot remains by and large shrouded in mystery, but it shouldn't be long before we catch a glimpse of the direction the game is taking.

Jez Corden
Co-Managing Editor

Jez Corden is a Managing Editor at Windows Central, focusing primarily on all things Xbox and gaming. Jez is known for breaking exclusive news and analysis as relates to the Microsoft ecosystem while being powered by tea. Follow on Twitter @JezCorden and listen to his XB2 Podcast, all about, you guessed it, Xbox!