In their London Games Summit talk earlier this month, Lionhead's Peter Molyneux and Mark Webley talked about the history of the noted UK independent developer (Black & White, Fable), from its founding in June 1997 though its acquisition by Microsoft earlier this year.
Gamasutra has previously covered some of the tips for indie developers that Molyneux and Webley espoused - and these are reprinted at the end of this article to complete the picture. But it was the amazing honesty in which the duo discussed Lionhead's actual history that impressed - specifying both the positive steps and mis-steps along the way, and providing a full, behind-the-scenes expose of the company's almost ten year run as one of the most high profile independent game developers in the world.
Webley explained that Lionhead was set up in 1997, significantly after Molyneux's last company, Bullfrog, had been bought by EA, with a credo: "If we kept it small, we could keep that tribe feeling." The passion articulated by Molyneux behind Lionhead's founding was, simply enough, "to do something different."
The first project launched by the firm was, of course, Black & White, and it was started in January 1998. Webley comments that finding the right people was key to Lionhead's genesis as an intentionally small and hand-picked company.
But as Black & White was starting to form, another Lionhead co-founder, Steve Jackson, had the idea of forming the Lionhead Satellites, small developers associated and nurtured by Lionhead but not owned by them, initially including Intrepid (B.C.) and Big Blue Box (Fable).
Molyneux explained: "I still think it's a very good idea - the problem was that we could help them grow and make a deal... but what the publishers really wanted was to be associated with the sexy stuff that was going on with Lionhead. They still weren't really incentivized with what the Satellites are doing."
While at least one of the Satellites, Big Blue Box, was eventually responsible for Fable, this was after the Satellites were signed to development contracts by Microsoft in June 2000, and folded back into Lionhead itself in 2002 - effectively making the completion of the game a Lionhead in-house project using much of the Big Blue Box staff.