From GTA III to Lionhead Studios, when Microsoft didn’t understand the world of video games

Today, many applaud the game strategy of Microsoft, operations such as the acquisition of the parent company of Bethesda Studios and services such as Xbox Game Pass or xCloud, without forgetting the excellent finish of the consoles. Once upon a time for Microsoft it wasn’t like this, from the Xbox 360’s Red Ring of Death to failed productions, there was a time when Redmond’s house was literally a landslide.

Some of the biggest mistakes are at the heart of “Switch on: the history of Xbox“, the series consisting of six episodes published on the Xbox YouTube channel to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the console. What causes the most sensation today, also because Grand Theft Auto The Trilogy: The Definitive Edition has just been released, the one which involved GTA III, fundamental game of the historical series.

GTA III is the one that introduced the three-dimensionality and “open” gameplay that also shaped the following episodes (and personally I remember it well, because I tried to make it work decently, with little luck, on a GeForce 2 MX 200). GOOD, the Xbox version came two years after the PS2 version, but things could have been different.

gta3 xbox 15 12 2021

As the series teaches us, Rockstar Games and Microsoft had met to talk about video games. Microsoft was about to launch Xbox at the time, so it had to come up with a compelling lineup of titles to back up the assault on Sony. The problem that when Rockstar Games asked for help developing Grand Theft Auto III, Microsoft refused. What’s wrong? xbox at home they didn’t see the potential of GTA IIIdeeming the success of the previous two chapters insufficient to forge an exclusive deal.

Kevin Bachus, then in charge of managing relations with third-party studios, explains in the video that the technical managers at the time they didn’t believe the title could have the basis to support the transition from 2D to 3D. “They didn’t understand the interface and thought it was based on a game that wasn’t very successful and, to my surprise it was rejected“.

GTA III sold 14.5 million copies and was the top-selling game of 2001. It would have been the top-selling game of 2002 had it not been overtaken by Vice City.

Another mistake of the past concerns Lion’s Head Studiossoftware publisher founded by Peter Molyneux and known for the Fable and Black & White series of games. Microsoft acquired it in 2006, only to shut it down ten years later in 2016. Five years later, at Xbox, they recognize this state one of the biggest missteps achievements of the brand’s twenty-year history, something not to be repeated.

“One of the biggest missteps we’ve learned in the past was Lionhead,” Shannon Loftis explained. “We had already released Fable 1, and it was a hit…People wanted more, so we bought Lionhead. But after Fable 2 came the Kinect and the Fable-Kinect marriage never quite worked out. I think Fable: The Journey was a project that a lot of people cared about, but it deviated quite significantly from the principles that made Fable 1 and 2 so popular.”

“We acquired Lionhead in 2006 and closed it in 2016,” added Sarah Bond. “A few years later, we looked back on that experience. What have we learned and how not to repeat the same mistakes?

The answer comes straight from Xbox division boss Phil Spencer: “Getting a studio for what they’re great at, and your job is to help them speed up the way they do what they do, not them to speed up what you do“. Amen, albeit too late. Black & White will probably never return, but thankfully the Fable series is set to return to Xbox Series X|S and PC thanks to Playground Games, the studio behind Forza Horizon.

Gift ideas, why waste time and risk making mistakes?