Lionhead Studios (also known as Microsoft Game Studios Europe) is a British computer game development company led by industry veteran Peter Molyneux, and acquired by Microsoft Game Studios in April 2006. Lionhead started as a breakaway from the developer Bullfrog, which was also founded by Molyneux. Lionhead's first game was Black & White, a god game with elements of artificial life, strategy, and beat 'em up games. Black & White was published by Electronic Arts in 2001. Lionhead Studios is named after Mark Webley's hamster, who died not long after the naming of the studio.
Black and White was followed up with the release of an expansion pack named Black & White: Creature Isle. Lionhead then released the popular Fable, from satellite developer Big Blue Box. In 2005, Lionhead released The Movies and Black & White 2. On 6 April 2006, it was announced that Lionhead Studios was to be purchased by Microsoft.
For a period of three years, Lionhead set up a network of "satellite" developers, including Big Blue Box Studios (developers of Fable), Intrepid Games (developers of B.C., since suspended due to a massive overrun) and Black & White Studios (who have taken responsibility for the continuation of the Black & White series). Lionhead proper was working on three games, Fable, B&W2 and The Movies, potentially including Dimitri.
The "satellite" system has ceased to exist in any meaningful form since mid-2004, however, with Big Blue Box having been more or less integrated into the main company, and Intrepid essentially having been disbanded.
Lionhead was a privately held company until October 2004 (shortly before the suspension of BC) when a consortium of investors, including Ingenious Ventures, IDG Ventures Europe and technology firm Add Partners, made a significant investment into the developer. This at a time when the company was in severe financial straits, as they had over-run development on two projects, Black & White 2 and Fable, and also canceled B.C. and a project with Jeff Minter named Unity.
Between September 2005 and April 2006, Lionhead successfully released two titles, Black & White 2 and The Movies, as well as an updated version of Fable (entitled Fable: The Lost Chapters). To date, these titles have not achieved a massive impact in sales, and this left the company vulnerable to a takeover bid. They have since finished the highly anticipated Fable 2 and an unknown game, for which only subtle hints have been dropped, which may have been a continuation of Dimitri.
In April 2006 Lionhead Studios was acquired by Microsoft, signalling the end of independent development, and a focus on Microsoft's proprietary gaming platforms. Lionhead will be a fairly independent part of Microsoft Game Studios, which has also acquired Rare Ltd. and Bungie Studios (Bungie Studios became an independent studio in late 2007, shortly after the release of Halo 3)
Lionhead has received a lot of media attention for delays to their games, in part due to the large amount of publicity and hype generated for their games. Various reports on this indicate a company tendency to re-design games mid-development and a tendency toward over-ambition, though few reports are official. The company is always on the cutting edge of developing new technology, especially in the area of NPC AI, which adds considerably to their development schedules. Peter Molyneux, who often refers to himself as either the lead designer or creative director of Lionhead, often promises specific release dates early on in the development of his titles. This causes particular problems and disappointment among fans as many release dates are pushed back, sometimes more than once. Black & White missed several deadlines until it was finally released in 2001. A similar problem occurred with the release of The Movies which was intended for a 2004 release date but was eventually delayed to 2005.
Criticism of Peter Molyneux
Leading up to several Lionhead Studio game releases Peter Molyneux's enthusiasm for talking openly about the development and design process of his games, caused outcry online when certain features didn't make it or were changed during development. He made a rule that he would not talk about game mechanics unless he could show them in game or present certain ideas as prototypes and / or experiments.
Peter Molyneux said the following on the issue:
After Fable, there was a pretty dark time where people looked at the game and compared it with what I said in the press, and they felt cheated. I realised that we just couldn't keep on doing that. But that was very much a reflection of how we worked, because what I was talking about in the press was what we were experimenting with at that moment, and a lot of those experiments would sort of come out as you were making the game. So I'd be talking about trees growing, and then we'd cut trees growing, and people would, of course, feel cheated. So I made a rule: I will not talk about any concrete mechanics unless I can actually show you them in game. I'll talk about our ambitions to make the best role-playing game of all time, but if you see Fable 2 press you'll see that I talked about stuff as I demoed it. People understandably get enormously upset about it – it's like seeing a trailer for a film and seeing Batman die, but then he doesn't die in the film; it would just be wrong. So I think a lot of what we do is realise what we’ve done wrong and work to try and make that right. It's far better than thinking that we get things right all the time.
On August 13, Lionhead launched a new teaser countdown for their next game on their main website. The countdown ended on August 19, and coincided with the announcement of Fable III at Gamescom.
- Unity (GameCube)
- B.C. (Xbox)
- Black & White: Titan (Xbox, PlayStation 2)
- Black & White (PlayStation, Dreamcast)
- The Movies (GameCube, Xbox, PlayStation 2)
Peter Molyneux also discussed Justice and Survivor during an IGN interview. These projects never made it out of the concept stage.