Microsoft acquires Peter Molyneux’s Lionhead game studio

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Microsoft acquires Peter Molyneux's Lionhead game studio

Redmond (WA) – When Microsoft was first making a name for itself in the early 1980s, some of its best ideas in the field of applications were those it acquired from competitors. Now, with the company standing a serious chance to acquire a chunk of gaming market share from Sony, as PlayStation 3 remains absent from that market until November, Microsoft today announced its acquisition of Lionhead Studios, the British game developer’s studio founded by legendary game developer Peter Molyneux.

Lionhead Studios’ Peter Molyneux

In 1989, the studio which brought fame to Molyneux, Bullfrog, developed Populous, the game credited with the resurrection of Electronic Arts. Taking an idea originated by Psychnosis (now part of Sony) in a silly arcade game called Lemmings, and applying it to a more serious venue, Populous placed the gamer in the role of “god,” inspiring members of a primitive tribe to become smarter, forge alliances, and make conquests. Part of the game’s beauty was unique its system of on-screen controls, which featured an open history book where a perspective view of your particular corner of the world appears connected by electric cables to the book itself, as if projected by a hologram machine. Your controls were laid out like diamonds in front of the book, giving you the feeling that you were “making” history.

Molyneux indeed made history, doing some inspiration of its own (Sid Meier’s Civilization was released two years later by MicroProse). Since that time, Molyneux’s Bullfrog assumed the mantle of the Dungeon Keeper, unofficially perfecting the genre whose popularity had been boosted years earlier by FTL’s Dungeon Master. After leaving Bullfrog in 1997, Molyneux founded Lionhead, whose innovative, literary, and classic gothic ideas have withstood the trend toward realistic blood and exploding body parts. Recently, Lionhead’s The Movies gave players a realistic world in which to finance, develop, produce, and distribute motion pictures, in a simulated Hollywood that can resemble any period in the industry’s history. The movies themselves are real videos with 3D rendered characters, that players can freely distribute.

Microsoft already had the allegiance of Lionhead, which produced products for Xbox and the PC. But this morning’s acquisition could place Lionhead in a more compelling strategic position, perhaps to license one of its franchises – such as Black and White or Fable – for movie or television production. Another successful Microsoft acquisition – Bungie Software’s Halo – is already scheduled to hit the big screen, with no less than Peter Jackson (Lord of the Rings) signed on as director, and both 20th Century-Fox and Universal funding the production.

In a statement released this morning, Molyneux said, “We could not be more excited about being part of [Microsoft Game Studios]. They have long supported our creative vision, and this teamwork resulted in the hugely successful Fable franchise…This acquisition gives Lionhead the stability and opportunity to focus on creating world-class next-generation titles. We are joining some of the most incredible game creators in the industry, the combined talent of which will truly take next-generation gaming to a new level.”

Demonstrating its usual lack of humility, Microsoft makes no secret of the fact that its game studios also include Bungie, Ensemble (Age of Empires), FASA Studio (MechWarrior), and Rare Ltd. (Kameo: Elements of Power). Yet with the acquisition of a company that has a roaring lion as its logo – albeit representing its homeland of Great Britain – one wonders whether Microsoft has plans to weld “MGS” and the lion into one unit, and perhaps in so doing, make beautiful movies together.