EuroGamer has put together the in-depth history of Lionhead, revealing how Microsoft embraced the studio and gave the original Fable the kiss of life before it abruptly cancelled Fable: Legends and shutdown the studio for good.
There is a consensus among interviewees that Microsoft was keen on keeping Lionhead's independence and cluture. "Microsoft went to great pains to integrate Lionhead without destroying the things that made the studio unique," said Simon Carter. "I suspect they'd learnt some hard lessons from the acquisition of Rare. I really couldn't find fault with the way they handled things. Indeed, having subsequently worked in other areas of Microsoft, I've only recently realised quite how much we were insulated from."
Lionhead was on the verge of bankruptcy in 2006 when Microsoft swept in and acquired it, chiefly to save Fable. And save Fable, they did. It took Lionhead staff some effort to cope with Microsoft's processes and its HR restrictions on racial slurs and toilet humor pranks, but in the end they all agreed that the work organization and the extra resources were vital for Fable 2's success.
Fable art director remembers that he was only frustrated with Microsoft's marketing department. "The marketing was shit," he said frankly. "It was terrible. They just didn't get it. But it wasn't Microsoft's marketing. Marketing was like its own department. And they were going, what are you making? An RPG? Right, dragons and shit. And that was their advert. And we were like, no, ours is a Monty Python-esque comedy. And they went, look, we know how to market RPGs. And they opened the RPG marketing drawer and pulled out a picture of a dragon that wasn't even in the game and went there you go. That's your market. The market for that game is your average Dungeons & Dragons fare. And we were like, this game's totally different."
McCormack was in for another brush with Microsoft's marketing department when they refused his Fable 3 box art a few years later.
"They were going, you can't have a black person on the cover, and you can't have a woman. And you want a black woman. And I was like, yes, I do, because it's about be whatever hero you want. No. It's a white guy. That's just the way it is. We know what sells and that's fucking it. Stop the arguing. I was like, fuck you! That was a huge fight.
"They said, what's the most unsuccessful Disney film? I was like, I don't know. They went, Princess and the Frog. Work it out. I was like fuck you, man. I hated it.
"I was screaming at them in conference calls. I lost it at that point, because they just weren't getting the game. Especially because we were the first ever game that had gay marriage, we were about breaking down walls. It was meant to be funny and mature. They just took none of it and just did the usual white guy with a sword on the front. Damn it! You missed the point!"