Microsoft buys maker of 'Fable' Xbox game

Microsoft Corp. has acquired U.K. gaming company Lionhead Studios Ltd. for an undisclosed amount, ensuring some exclusive content for its Xbox console from the company that designed the popular “Fable” games.

The move may also bring respected game developer Peter Molyneux, Lionhead’s managing director, into Microsoft’s fold. He’s credited with pioneering the so-called “god games” genre with games such as “Populous” and “Black & White,” wide-scale fantasy games in which the gamer is lord of all around him.

The acquisition was made by Microsoft Game Studios, its game production group. Financial terms were not disclosed.

Lionhead will now make content exclusively for the Xbox and for Microsoft Windows, Microsoft said. Lionhead’s best efforts for the Xbox so far have been “Fable” and “Fable: The Lost Chapters,” which together have sold more than 2 million copies, making “Fable” the best-selling role-playing franchise on the Xbox platform, according to Microsoft.

Lionhead has licensed Macintosh conversions of its games Fable: The Lost Chapters, Black & White 2 and The Movies to Feral Interactive. Microsoft’s acquisition of Lionhead will not affect those licensing or publishing arrangements, Feral confirmed on Thursday.

Microsoft didn’t say what role Molyneux might play in its games group or what projects the Lionhead team would work on next.

Lionhead is one of several game producers Microsoft has acquired to strengthen its Xbox business against rivals Sony Computer Entertainment Inc. and Nintendo Co. Ltd. Others included the U.K.’s Rare Ltd., producer of “Donkey Kong 64” and “Golden Eye,” which it bought in 2002 for US$375 million. Microsoft famously acquired Bungie Software prior to its launch of the first Xbox game console in order to make Bungie’s then-in-development first person shooter Halo an Xbox exclusive; up until then, the product had been intended for Mac and Windows.

Peter Cohen contributed information used in this article.

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