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According to some recent reports surfacing out of the closure of Lionhead Studios is that the studio may not have shut down had Microsoft been willing to do one thing: let go of the Fable IP. There were supposedly studios lined up willing to pay hundreds of millions for Fable and Lionhead.
Kotaku UK has allegedly heard from multiple sources that some big time publishers were willing to buyout Lionhead Studios for hundreds of millions, if they were able to get a hold of the Fable license. However, Microsoft was not keen on letting go of the IP and refused to budge unless the companies bought Lionhead without Fable, or unless they entered into a join partnership for making Fable games.
According to the article, the publishers who had the millions on the table wanting to purchase the license and Lionhead Studios walked away when they realized that they were only going to get the studio and not the IP.
It's easy to see the situation from both sides of the isle. In one case, Lionhead and a bunch of jobs could have been saved had Microsoft relinquished the studio and the Fable IP. Some company like Electronic Arts or Ubisoft would have managed to get their hands on the property and would have finished off Fable Legends and then probably instantly started working on some new entry in the series.
I could most definitely see Ubisoft making the buyout and turning Fable into the next Assassin's Creed. But alas, it was not meant to be.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, though, it's also easy to see why Microsoft would not want to relinquish the IP. Out of the big three console manufacturers, Microsoft is the one most starved for exclusive IP. A longtime Xbox and PC exclusive like Fable in the hands of another publisher would then become a multiplatform release, which would obviously hurt the long term value of the Xbox brand.
Microsoft already made the massive mistake of letting EA get their hands on Mass Effect, with each game after the first one going multiplatform. Had Microsoft maintained control over the property they could have used it as an exclusive brand to help bolster the appeal of the Xbox One.
I imagine at this point, Microsoft will be safe guarding their properties a lot more closely, even if it means losing entire studios in the process. They could be taking on Nintendo's approach to branding, where no matter how well the hardware sells (or doesn't sell) they still move plenty of units due to the software brands.
The only problem is that Fable's brand worth has dwindled greatly over the years due to some mixed receptions from the audience over some of the titles. Microsoft would likely have to outsource work on any new Fable titles or create a new internal studio to work on the property. For now they're likely going to sit on it and wait until they can make something worthwhile to help move hardware again.
Sadly, Lionhead Studios had to bite the dust in the process, closing up shop back in March and Fable Legends went along with it. Had Microsoft been willing to give up the IP, things would have looked very different for the game and the studio.