Microsoft Studios Europe today announced that it is potentially closing two studios and cancelling those studios' current projects. Nearly a decade after its acquisition by Microsoft, Lionhead Studios is in discussions for a "proposed closure" and Fable Legends is being cancelled. Max: The Curse of Brotherhood and Kalimba developer Press Play Studios follows Lionhead and development on Project Knoxville is being shut down.
In a public statement, Microsoft Studios Europe general manage Hanno Lemke essentially said that both studios weren't making games people wanted to play.
These have been tough decisions and we have not made them lightly, nor are they a reflection on these development teams – we are incredibly fortunate to have the talent, creativity and commitment of the people at these studios," wrote Lemke. "These changes are taking effect as Microsoft Studios continues to focus its investment and development on the games and franchises that fans find most exciting and want to play."
"We have nothing but heart-felt thanks for the members of Lionhead and Press Play for their contributions to Xbox and gaming. We are committed to working closely with those affected by today's news to find them new opportunities at Xbox, or partnering with the broader development community to help place them in jobs elsewhere in the games industry should they desire."
Microsoft acquired Lionhead Studios in April 2006, following a strong collaboration with studio founder Peter Molyneux that resulted in the first Fable. Lionhead, which had also created Black & White and The Movies prior to acquisition, was funneled into all Fable, all the time. The studio released Fable II in 2008 and Fable III in 2010, but subsequent Fable games just didn't catch on. Fable Heroes was a small beat-up-up for Xbox Live Arcade that many don't remember and Fable: The Journey was a Kinect-centric title that the same audience didn't care for. That left Fable remaster Fable: Anniversary as the biggest title Lionhead had worked on since Fable III's release.
Fable Legends was supposed to be the studio's next big thing, a free-to-play cooperative adventure in the Fable universe. Fable Legends has been in closed beta since October 2014, with a planned open beta period being delayed in December until Spring 2016. It's possible that the project wasn't coming together as Microsoft or Lionhead wanted and for a game that's been in development since Summer 2012, you're talking about a ton of money that's already been spent. With Legends as a money sink and no other projects on the way, it makes sense that Lionhead is on the chopping block.
The real shame is that Lionhead was only able to work on Fable. There was no real chance for the studio to stretch its wings and work on anything unique, as evidenced by the studio's singular output since Microsoft purchased it. Perhaps in another reality, a more creative Lionhead was able to come up with a new IP to keep the studio thriving until now. Instead, it was Fable-led slide into oblivion.
Press Play's story is even shorter than Lionhead's. The independent studio was founded in 2006 with its first major title, Max & the Magic Marker, coming in 2010. Microsoft acquired the studio in 2012, putting it to work on Max: The Curse of Brotherhood and Kalimba for Xbox One. Press Play allowed Microsoft Studios to have some smaller and more creative output for the new console. Unfortunately, Press Play's crowd-voted next title, Project Knoxville, didn't seem to really excite many players once it was announced. Two years after acquisition, the small 20-man studio is gone.
Whenever any studio closes, there's a loss of potential futures. There's a sense that there could've been that one game or idea that could've saved them. Sadly, it just wasn't meant to be in the case of Lionhead Studios and Press Play Studios. Hopefully those fine developers find new employment soon.