Last month, Fable Legends was completely shut down as Microsoft decided to not only cancel the free-to-play game, but also close the studio that had created and developed the game series into one of Xbox’s most recognized IPs.
The closure of Lionhead Studios was a significant end of an era event that was felt throughout the industry. Sony even decided to host recruitment drives in an effort to scoop up some of the talented individuals who had lost their jobs as a result. It has now been revealed that the developer didn’t want to make Legends at all; instead, they pitched an ambitious idea for Fable 4.
Eurogamer has put together an in-depth postmortem on what exactly happened behind closed doors, by speaking to those involved and piecing together the puzzle to why Microsoft would ultimately want to kill off Fable. Especially when you consider that in 2008, upon the release of Fable 2, the studio’s founder Peter Molyneux praised the development team who had worked tirelessly for four years to create what would go on to be the best-selling RPG for Xbox 360 and win a BAFTA. Seven and a half years later, the studio responsible for those accomplishments would cease to exist.
Lionhead’s final project was Fable Legends, but no one at the company even wanted to work on the title that eventually cost $75 million. One of Eurogamer’s sources even claims that Microsoft was told the ultimately doomed title wasn’t fun and didn’t have features that a free-to-play game should have. Development continued nevertheless, although the team had a doomsday scenario; in the case of the game’s cancellation, the assets would be used to make Fable 4, a game Microsoft had already rejected. No one expected that the real doomsday would actually be closure and job losses. According to the source, “People were happy that Legends was coming to a close. We never really expected Legends to last a long time, but we never expected them to cancel it.”
Former art director John McCormack has now explained the pitch for Fable 4 that would be set in the industrial age and cover “late Victorian proper far out Jules Verne s—.” It would still follow some series traditions, like having an updated version of the main Bowerstone, but it would be akin to a London-like metropolis. Overall, it would have been a much grittier and darker Fable and even be R-rated. This aided McCormack’s decision to leave Lionhead in 2012.
It has been speculated that Microsoft actually received a number of offers to purchase Lionhead Studios from other companies. Kotaku UK reported that sources tell them some of the biggest names in the industry wrote letters of intent. However, the publisher apparently rejected each one simply because they did not want the Fable property to be included in any deal. The determination of Microsoft to keep the rights could mean that fans could yet see a new installment. Lionhead founder Peter Molyneux has even said that he’d be interested in doing it.
“When I finish what I’m working on now, if someone comes to me and asks, hey, do you want to do Fable 4, I’d totally be up for it. I would get Dene back. I would get Simon back. And I would remake this world. It’s such a rich world and there are so many avenues we didn’t explore. That would be really good fun to do. And I’d still want the equivalent of another dog.”
When Microsoft cancelled Fable Legends the decision was explained by saying the company wanted to shift focus onto franchises that their fans cared about, suggesting that it had lost faith in Fable as a series. Microsoft might merely be hanging on to Fable so it never finds it way onto other platforms, meaning the series and its studio has suffered a very sad demise.