Games industry icon Peter Molyneux has announced his intention to leave Lionhead and Microsoft.
In a statement to Kotaku, he said it was with “mixed emotions” that he had come to the decision, but he wanted to purse a new independent venture.
Molyneux will stay on at Lionhead as creative consultant for the upcoming Kinect title Fable: The Journey until the game is finished.
"It is with mixed emotions that I made the decision to leave Microsoft and Lionhead Studios, the company that I co-founded in 1997, at the conclusion of development of Fable: The Journey,” he said.
"I remain extremely passionate and proud of the people, products and experiences that we created from Black & White to Fable to our pioneering work with Milo and Kate for the Kinect platform.
“However, I felt the time was right to pursue a new independent venture. I’d like to thank the team at Lionhead, as well as our partners at Microsoft Studios for their support, dedication and incredible work over the years."
Molyneux founded UK studio Lionhead in 1997, developing franchises such as Black & White and Fable. Microsoft later acquired the company in 2006.
Molyneux is considered one of the top creatives on the Xbox team – he was promoted from managing Lionhead to having creative remit overall Microsoft Game Studios Europe two and a half years ago.
Lionhead co-founder Mark Webley will take his role of day to day leadership for that studio once he has departed, and Microsoft will not be looking to replace Molyneux’s European studio lead role.
Microsoft said in a statement: “As co-founder of Lionhead and an integral part of Microsoft Studios, Peter was the creative visionary behind the blockbuster Fable franchise, and one of our most passionate and influential developers for the Xbox 360 platform.
“He has made an indelible mark on the games industry and we wish him all the best of luck in his future endeavours."
THE GOD OF GAMES
Molyneux has been developing games for almost 30 years, starting with Populous – developed from a small studio above a shop in Guildford – before growing his original team Bullfrog to other games like Theme Park.
Bullfrog was bought by EA, and for a while he work for the firm before leaving to start new independent venture Lionhead, where he lead games like Black & White.
The designer is best known for his infectious enthusiasm and high-level scope for games that relied heavily on ‘God game’ simulation mechanics. He applied the same eye for controlling and playing the role of life-giver whether that was in games that made you a movie director overseeing a filmset (The Movies), putting realistic, emotive animals in a game (Fable) or interacting with realistic humans (Milo).
That game Milo was never finished, and was a personal project of Molyneux’s – an attempt at creating an emotional, deeply resonant experience that had players interacting with a young boy through the Kinect camera’s voice control. The game, while long in development, was first seen as a centrepiece title for the Kinect project in 2009 (then called Natal), and was even showcased at the exclusive TED conference – but Microsoft spiked the game in late 2010 before the device was officially released.
Perhaps that was the start of the end for Molyneux and Microsoft.
His visions for games are incredibly ambitious – perhaps overly so; in the early-2000s he had to apologise to fans for overstating the features of some games or not being able to pack the featured he had planned into his games. But Milo was very close to his dream vision for digital characters, and yet Microsoft saw no potential in it.
His close friend Ian Livingstone even hinted that we should expect this kind of move just four months ago.
Speaking at the London Games Confernece, he predicted that Molyneux would leave the firm as big talent chooses to defect from big corporate companies and pursue independent games development. In a special interactive session he invited the audience to vote on whether they agreed – 83% said yes.