Lionhead Studios co-founder, and iconic frontman, Peter Molyneux is leaving the studio he started back in 1997 in order to start a new venture, 22 Cans.
While development on the inevitable Fable 4 will surely be affected, the developer has agreed to stay on as a creative consultant for the studio's Kinect/Fable mash-up Fable: The Journey - which, like many Lionhead games, has already enjoyed a lengthy development cycle.
Over the years, especially after the success of the studio's first console title, Fable, back in 2004, Molyneux has become a fan-favorite figurehead for the gaming industry - similar to the "celebrity" of similar designers like Cliff Bleszinski, Hideo Kojima, or Gabe Newell. As a result, there's little doubt that fans of the Lionhead brand will see the departure as a potential death-blow to the studio - despite Molyneux's co-founder, Mark Webley, sticking around to run the studio.
Molyneux's choice to exit Lionhead also means he'll be leaving his position as creative head of Microsoft Studios Europe. Microsoft issued a brief statement praising Molyneux but has yet to name a new creative head for their European studios (Rare and Lionhead, most notably):
"As co-founder of Lionhead and an integral part of Microsoft Studios, Peter was the creative visionary behind the blockbuster Fable franchise, and one of our most passionate and influential developers for the Xbox 360 platform. He has made an indelible mark on the games industry and we wish him all the best of luck in his future endeavors."
As mentioned, Molyneux makes it clear that, while he is leaving the studio, he'll continue to oversee the upcoming casual but hardcore-friendly Kinect title, Fable: The Journey (slated for release in 2012) as a creative consultant - even though he's moving on to start another studio, entitled 22 Cans.
"It is with mixed emotions that I made the decision to leave Microsoft and Lionhead Studios, the company that I co-founded in 1997, at the conclusion of development of Fable: The Journey [...] I remain extremely passionate and proud of the people, products and experiences that we created, from Black & White to Fable to our pioneering work with Milo and Kate for the Kinect platform. However, I felt the time was right to pursue a new independent venture."
Following the initial Kotaku report, Molyneux took to Twitter (for the first time since November 16th) to chat it up with fans and other industry icons (Minecraft creator, Notch plus the aforementioned Cliffy B) - as well as reveal his plans for the future:
"I have left the lovely amazing Microsoft and lionhead. Now for something really amazing, scary and brave a new company called 22 Cans."
Given the new 22 Cans venture, it's unclear how involved Molyneux will actually be as a "creative consultant" and it's hard not to speculate that title is more of a PR move than an actual indication that the designer will be very involved in the completion of the project. The "creative consultant" position is becoming a go-to move for developers lately, as major figure-heads leave fan-favoite studios in the midst of oft-delayed projects, since the situation is especially reminiscent of the recent Fumito Ueda/Team Ico change-up.
Fable: The Journey is expected to be released this year, so it's certainly possible that Molyneux's work on the game is mostly complete - as the title, presumably, is in the hands of department designers and no longer requires larger visioning or shaping. That said, it's much more likely that development on the inevitable (yet unannounced) Fable 4 will take the biggest hit (not to mention the recently announced Fable: Heroes) - given how involved Molyneux has been with the previous full-scale Fable adventures.
Fable: The Journey is set for release in 2012.
Follow me on Twitter @benkendrick for further updates.