After decades of development and multiple beloved games, Lionhead Studios, the makers of Fable, closed down earlier this year. With new information coming out however, it now appears the studio’s failure spawned from being forced to work on a project the team never actually wanted to make.
Thanks to a deep look at the rise and fall of Lionhead from Eurogamer, we have a better idea about the tragic series of events that led to the developer’s closure. According to “sources familiar with Lionhead’s relationship with Microsoft in 2012,” with the success of League of Legends and other free-to-play games, coupled with Microsoft’s original move towards a more casual audience with the Xbox One, the publisher had little to no interest in a traditional RPG.
“There’s no way anybody’s going to be making single-player boxed products any more… I want something that’s games as a service,” one source remembers being told by Microsoft.
“You make a service game or you get closed down,” another source recalls hearing. “It was the new big push from Microsoft and I heard that all first party studios got a similar message, however some had more of a push back against it.”
But Lionhead had no experience with free-to-play competitive games, and wanted to make Fable 4. Franchise Art Director John McCormack even had a full pitch for the forth game. “We wanted to hit the late Victorian proper far out Jules Verne shit,” he explains. The game would have moved to the industrial age, with tramcars and flying machines, Bowerstone being a massive, London-like city.
McCormack even had ideas about working in British mythology, with versions of Jack the Ripper and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. “And that was going to be Fable 4, it would be darker and grittier,” he says. “And because it was R-rated it would have the prostitutes and the humour. I was like, man, this is going to be fucking brilliant, and everybody was really into it.”
The pitch was quickly rejected however. “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 recalls.
“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.”
With the studio required to make a service game, eventually that title became Fable Legends. Without the experience to make a successful free-to-play title however, things quickly fell apart. One source says even just trying to balance the 4v1 competitive game was “nightmarish.”
As Microsoft pushed new features, like PC and console cross-play, and continued to tout the graphical showcase of Fable Legends, the game eventually became far too large to succeed. By the end, one source suggests a whopping $75 million went into Fable Legends’ development before it was finally canceled.
Peter Molyneux, original creator of the Fable series, said he would be up to do a Fable 4 if someone comes to him and asks. Would you have liked to have seen and industrial age Fable 4? Let us know in the comments.