Hanno Lemke, the general manager for Microsoft Studios Europe, posted a notice about the cancellation of two games and the closing of one European studio on the Xbox Wire blog this morning.
“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,” the statement said. “Additionally, we will close Press Play Studios in Denmark, and sunset development on Project Knoxville.”
Gameplay footage for Fable Legends, a four-player cooperative action game, was first shown at Microsoft’s E3 press conference in 2014, and was originally slated as an Xbox One exclusive.
Microsoft later announced that the game would also be released for PC. At E3 2015 Microsoft announced that Fable Legends would be free-to-play, support PC and Xbox One cross-platform multiplayer, and be released for the 2015 holiday season. The release had been delayed until 2016 to allow Lionhead time for further polish.
If Microsoft chooses to shutter Lionhead, it would be closing the book on an important chapter in the history of game development.
Lionhead Studios was founded in 1996 as a satellite studio to Bullfrog Productions, the studio co-founded by legendary game developer Peter Molyneux in 1987. Lionhead was known primarily for the Black & White series of “god games,” and the Fable role-playing game franchise set in the fantasy world of Albion that became famous for the unique choices it offered players over the course of the franchise.
The first installment of the Fable series, released in 2004 as an exclusive for the original Xbox game console, was a role-playing game that stressed the importance of moral alignment. Fable II added the ability to marry other characters and have children in and out of wedlock. Fable III featured a voice cast of Hollywood heavyweights and upped the ante of Fable’s morality system by giving the player control over Albion as its new monarch.
Press Play Studios was acquired by Microsoft in 2012. The Dutch studio developed 20 games for a variety of platforms after it was founded in 2006. Project Knoxville, now effectively canceled by Microsoft as a result of the closure of Press Play, was an action survival game reminiscent of The Hunger Games, set in a world where most of humanity lived entirely in virtual reality.
“We have nothing but heart-felt thanks for the members of Lionhead and Press Play for their contributions to Xbox and gaming,” reads Lemke’s statement on Xbox Wire. “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.