Lionhead is transforming into a games-as-service studio with Fable Legends

Fable Legends

Lionhead’s connected four player co-op Fable game, Legends, was announced at Gamescom last year, and marks the studio’s shift in focus. It’s an online-first developer now.

Peter Molyneux’s successor at Lionhead’s first task is to bring traditional Fable gameplay into the connected world with Fable Legends. John Needham is not only in charge of Lionhead, but also Microsoft’s head of European publishing. He took over in April last year, filling the void left by the studio’s famed co-founder Peter Molyneux, but he’s certainly not intimidated by the role.

“I don’t feel pressure,” he tells us in the new issue of Edge. “I’m honoured to be working with the guys who’ve been here ten-odd years, and been involved with every Fable product, because it’s an IP I love. My standards are high for the IP because of my love for it, and the perspective I bring to the studio is a focus on community and online.”

Needham has years of experience in that regard. He’s a former CEO of Gazillion Entertainment and Cryptic, and has also previously held a senior position at Sony Online Entertainment. He describes his role at the studio so far as “a lot of evangelising the power of connected games.”

“I think the real magic in the industry now is taking great traditional gameplay and IP, and this new connected world, and mashing them together. I am the person pivoting Lionhead into a games-as-service studio. Legends is quite different from previous Fable games.”

And yet Lionhead doesn’t intend to move too far away from what has made the series an important franchise for Microsoft and Xbox.

“The trick with Legends, and the question we’re constantly asking, is: ‘Is it Fable?’ Even with the connected aspects,” he tells us. “That’s why Fable Anniversary’s launch in February was perfect, because it grounds us – we want to make sure we’re maintaining what makes Fable great. Now we’re looking at all these great online features we’re building into Legends. We’re bringing both of them together, taking what’s great about Anniversary and [Fable] II and III and bolting on features that make it a great connected experience.”

Needham’s task is to bring the Fable franchise into the connected world without moving too far from its core values.

Like so many other contemporary developers, Needham cites games like Dark Souls and Journey as inspiration for Fable Legends’ connected aspects, games in which “people are flowing in and out of your world organically – very natural online modes,” he tells us.

Legends is step change for Lionhead in scope as well as approach. It’s a longterm project so large that it has made further spin-offs like Fable: The Journey redundant, says Needham. “We can do other styles of Fable games, and keep them within Fable Legends. My plan is that Legends is essentially a platform for almost everything Fable going forward. It’s a long-range plan, of five to ten years, where we’re going to build and keep building onto Fable Legends. That’s the nature of games as a service – you keep adding systems and features and content.

“There are lots of examples in the MMOG world of keeping players engaged for that length of time, with new content constantly flowing into the game, and bolting on new [modes] into your game to keep it fresh. It all comes down to listening to your community, building content into the game that they want, and then iterating upon that.”

So if we’re to think of Fable Legends as a service, will it be free-to-play? Or will there be a subscription package? “We haven’t talked about the business model yet,” adds Needham. “We’re just trying to build a great game.”

There’s a complete profile of Lionhead in the new issue of Edge, which is released on newsstands and in digital form (on iPadGoogle Play and Zinio) on Thursday February 13. To subscribe or buy an individual issue of Edge, just follow the links.