On Monday, March 7th, Microsoft announced the decision to cancel Fable Legends, a decision that does not bode well for the title’s UK development team, Lionhead Studios.
In a post on Xbox Wire, Hanno Lemke, General Manager of Microsoft Studios Europe, stated, “After much consideration we have decided to cease development on Fable Legends, and are in discussions with employees about the proposed closure of Lionhead Studios in the UK.” Lemke also mentions that, “Microsoft Studios continues to focus its investment and development on the games and franchises that fans find most exciting and engaging to play.” This last statement is proving to be a point of contention in the community.
Below are a few quotes from the Lionhead forum:
“‘games and franchises that fans find most exciting and engaging to play’ So when a game tries to be a little different from all the others and microsoft think they won’t make enough money they delete it …’”
“I think this may mark the end of me with Xbox. So mad!”
“I’m just sitting here stunned, can’t imagine how everyone at Lionhead are feeling. This is absolute bull. ‘Games people want to play’ you mean more *** **** Halos or Gears?”
That stunned feeling may be one shared among many Fable enthusiasts who had been keeping up with the game. In a developer update at the end of 2015, David Eckelberry, Creative Director of Fable Legends, did express that the studio was going to have to push back the release window for the game, but the decision to keep the game in closed beta did not seem indicative of any plans to cancel the title. On the contrary, Eckelberry communicated that the game was coming along well, and that it was a lot of fun; Lionhead simply planned to take its time with the title due to the increased size and scope of the project.
So what happened!? We may never know, but here is a guess!
It would be easy to vilify Microsoft in this situation, but there are some things that mustn’t be overlooked. Lemke alluded to Microsoft’s overarching goal when he explains the company’s renewed focus on “the games and franchises that fans find most exciting and engaging to play.” This is something for gamers to pay attention to; it is a silver lining. Microsoft must have been aware of the potential negative backlash of the decision to cancel a game and close a studio. This cancelation may be a necessary evil.
As Microsoft suffered a tremendous loss the first couple of years of the current console generation, the company continued to work hard in 2015 not just to catch up to Sony in sales, but also to reassert itself as a gaming company who listens to its gamers and is in touch with the community. If we can trust that Microsoft understands the market, its competitors, and its community, then we can trust that the corporation will take calculated steps to compete with Sony. We, as gamers, can infer that Microsoft must be willing to do whatever it takes to efficiently provide the majority of Xbox fans with increasingly positive gaming experiences, even if it means pulling support for smaller IP’s.
Something that may be quickly forgotten in the click-bait and headlines surrounding news stories like this is that many people lost their jobs on Monday. To fans, Fable Legends was a game in beta. To many developers, it was their daily grind for the last few years. People poured their hearts and souls into a title that was cancelled this week. Hanno Lemke speaks to this in that post on Xbox Wire, “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.”
There is a silver lining amidst this closure. Sony demonstrated a profound understanding of this situation on March 10th. Sony Jobs tweeted out that they will be hosting a Recruitment event specifically for Lionhead Studios on Monday the 14th. Console wars aside, it is good to see the gaming industry as a whole come together to support each other when its necessary.
As much fun as it is to jump on the “I hate big business” bandwagon, in order to be informed, educated gamers, we must recognize that businesses will make strategic decisions that benefit the business and foster competition. Competition is the best thing for the industry; it spurs companies onto greater developmental feats, and we the consumers benefit from product improvements.
All of that to say, “Here’s to hoping that the folks Microsoft know what they are doing!” Good luck to any affected by the closure of Lionhead Studios. Your fans can’t wait to see what you work on next!