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Lionhead "was on its knees" before Microsoft buyout, says former environmental artist

James Duncan, a former Lionhead artist who worked on Fable 2 and 3, has said the firm was literally "on its knees" before Microsoft purchased the studio in 2006.

Speaking with Eurogamer, Duncan, who now runs his own firm RedBreast Studios, said after Black & White and The Movies, Lionhead was already rumored to be looking for a buyer when his first day on the job Microsoft came in and bought the studio out.

"Literally the day I started Microsoft said we're buying you," he said. "It was a big time, a lot of upheaval in the company. When you're bought by Microsoft it's quite a big deal. Lionhead was on its knees. They desperately needed help, let's put it that way. So really, when Microsoft came along it was jubilation. A lot of people were taking sighs of relief that Microsoft had come in as the savior.

"Things were difficult at the time, let's put it that way. Certainly when Microsoft came in with the offer it was good for Lionhead because they needed maybe a stronger hand to come in and help them out at the time."

Despite the dire circumstances the firm was facing before the buyout, Duncan said the main gem throughout the process was studio head Peter Molyneux, and he feels the industry needs more people like him.

"The thing you can never take away from the guy is he is a fantastic speaker and a great motivator, somebody who can gee the troops up, come in with an idea or something and really sell that idea and project it outwardly to guys like you," he said. "That's an enormous advantage for any company. You need that. Companies live and die on advertising or just getting the presence out to other people so they know they exist. In that respect Peter Molyneux is absolutely grade A one solid gold.

"He's the sort of person you'd rather want than not. The industry needs people like that. It's great to have these kind of people because it just generates interest, and that's so important. You can have the best game in the world but if you don't have the promotion you're dead in the water. Equally, you can have the worst game in the world and have fantastic promotion and have a million seller.

"With Mr Molyneux, it's gold dust to have that kind of thing. It's sound-bite galore. He's absolutely fantastic for you. Anything the guy says, whether it's rubbish or not, you'll print it and in a way it's just generating further hits for Lionhead and for the game and just publicity.

"No publicity is bad publicity is how the saying goes, and it's true. He's an asset."

Duncan's studio is currently working on an iPhone and iPad game which nods to classics such as Elite, Tie Fighter, Red Baron and Secret Weapons of the Luftwaffe.

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