In the wake of the recent closure of Lionhead Studios and cancellation of Fable Legends, one Game Rant writer examines the troubling development pattern which may have signaled its fate.
Microsoft shocked a lot of people earlier this week when it announced that Danish studio Press Play and the long running UK developer Lionhead Studios were being shut down. Not only that, but that Fable Legends (a game Lionhead Studios had been working on for a number of years and was currently beta testing) was also being cancelled.
Acquired by Microsoft in 2006, Lionhead Studios was well known for creating franchises like the god game Black and White and The Movies. The studio’s crowning achievement however was the popular Fable series, which actually may have been better known thanks to the over-enthusiastic ideas and features that former creator Peter Molyneux would detail leading up to release, only for the games to not quite live up to those promises. While the franchise has enjoyed a lot of success early on with the first three Fable titles, the series has fallen off a bitas the studio has since deviated from the traditional formula to produce unsuccessful spin offs like Fable: The Journey and Fable Heroes. While fans may never know what kind of game Fable Legends may have become, it’s not hard to speculate based on its current track record.
Fable Legends began development back in 2012 and was first announced all the way back in 2013 as a full retail game. Oddly enough, it would be almost a full year later until actual gameplay was shown pitting four random heroes against a villain character that could manipulate the map in order to try and stop the heroes from making it to the end. A closed beta program was also announced and kicked off later that year. It is at this point you could argue that the wheels were starting to come off, as multiple delays would follow and even stranger yet, Microsoft made the decision in early 2015 to completely overhaul mechanics and turn it into a free-to-play style game.
Characters could be purchased individually if players wanted, but ultimately, thanks to a free character roster that would change weekly, players could play at no charge. The game was also announced for Windows 10, which also seemed to foreshadow Microsoft’s future plans to unite the PC and Xbox One markets by bringing former exclusive games like Quantum Break to Windows 10 using a cross buy/cross-save system. The fact that three years into development, the entire game was overhauled into a free-to-play model should have raised some eyebrows.
This year would have marked the fourth full year of development for a game that still didn’t have a solid release window. While many games can and have survived a long development cycle such as The Division, which just launched, Fable Legends remained a game that was all too secretive, going on media blackouts for years on end and keeping the closed beta under a strict NDA. Even its E3 presence felt a little off this past year, almost like the game included out of some sense of obligation. Without decent gameplay videos to show off the mechanics and how things worked, however, selling the public on the title was becoming increasingly difficult.
In my opinion, these examples are all signs that either the developer was having a tough time nailing the gameplay mechanics or the publisher was beginning to have a lack of faith in the title. I believe it’s a mix of both and after reading through the closure announcement again, the following quote seems pretty telling of how Microsoft may have felt:
“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.”
What sticks out to me here is the phrase “fans find most exciting and want to play.” Fable Legends is a game that has struggled over the years to sell itself to the populace to the point where it’s entirely possible that the community never even really got on board with the project. Even though the franchise had been somewhat in decline following the release of two underwhelming entries, many fans had been hoping to see the series return to form with an announcement of Fable 4. When Fable Legends was announced and it was discovered that the game ditched the familiar third-person adventure RPG systems for an asynchronous 4 v 1 experience, fans may have already made up their minds about the game.
With so much time and money having been sunk into this project, Microsoft no doubt got to a point where it really had to evaluate where things were and decide if pulling the plug made more sense than dropping any additional resources into the title. Games in this genre are also becoming more common place these days, with such titles as Evolve experiencing a rapid drop off in its player base after the first month, it’s entirely possible that Microsoft took these facts into consideration and ultimately could not justify the risk.
As beta updates continued to roll out as late as Friday, March 4, there’s no doubt that this was a last minute decision that no one really saw coming. It has been a while since a proper Fable game released and sadly, it appears that gamers may never see another entry. With Lionhead Studios no longer in the fold, it will be interesting to see if the Fable IP is assigned to a different studio or left behind entirely.
How do you feel about Fable Legends being cancelled and Lionhead Studios shutting down? Let us know in the comments.