Lionhead Studios is a video games development company based in Guildford in the UK. It was founded in 1997 by successful games designer and egomaniac extraordinaire Peter Molyneux, co-founder of Bullfrog Productions, and most of its original core staff also came across from Bullfrog*. Some other high profile staff members at Lionhead are Jonty Barnes, Steve Jackson (of Fighting Fantasy fame), and in the early days Molyneux's protegé Demis Hassabis, who soon left to form his own development studio (Elixir). One of the driving forces that led Molyneux to set up Lionhead was the increasing size of Bullfrog's workforce and the number of concurrent projects they had to deal with since being bought by Electronic Arts. He was finding that most of his time was being spent in a management and administration role, and less and less time was left over for design and development.

Lionhead's first project was the ambitious God-game Black & White on PC CD-ROM, which underwent a longer than average (although not as excessive as some people believe) development cycle of three years. Although the game was released in 2000 in an unfinished state with some serious shortcomings in features and basic design, it was a massive hit, selling something in the region of two million copies worldwide. During the game's development Lionhead managed to generate a large amount of hype for this project by publishing monthly developer diaries in a number of specialist press magazines virtually from day one. After the game's release, they drew some flak from gamers because many saw (rightly) that the game did not live up to this hype, although the game was critically well received (by the same magazines, you'll remember, that were trumpeting it as the second coming for the previous three years- so no great surprise there).

Despite Molyneux's statements to the contrary, Lionhead are still very heavily influenced by their publisher, Electronic Arts. However the company has devised an effective way of preventing their size ballooning to unmanageable levels- the strategy that Lionhead have adopted is the splitting off of development teams to work on individual projects. These subsidiary companies are collectively known as the Lionhead satellites. They include Big Blue Box (Fable), Black & White Studios (managing the expanding Black & White franchise) and Intrepid Games (B.C.).

With the Lionhead operation continuing to fragment and snowball in size, and Molyneux (as the public face of the company) from past experience incapable of presenting a realistic view of what to expect from their new products, Lionhead's long term future is unclear. It is certain however that the organisation is home to a team of talented and innovative game creators, and their future products have much potential. Even if, as with Black & White, they fail to fully deliver, they will no doubt be of interest in some way. At least there is one developer left in the UK that is not limiting itself to sequels, clones and licensed properties.

http://www.lionhead.co.uk/


*Two other development companies split away from Bullfrog at around the same time: Mucky Foot and Lost Toys.

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