GDC 06: Molyneux rumors fly

Famed developer skips his session at San Jose event, fueling rumors his studio has been bought by Microsoft.

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SAN JOSE, Calif.--One of the main events at last month's D.I.C.E. summit was the "Battle of Bunker Hill," a Revolutionary War-themed mock gameshow in which some of the industry's leading luminaries engaged in a combination trivia/Pong tournament. Scheduled to lead the two teams were legendary game designers Will Wright (The Sims, SimCity) and Peter Molyneux (Black & White, Populous).

When the event kicked off, though, Molyneux was nowhere to be seen. His absence fueled rumors that his shop, Lionhead Studios, was the subject of a bidding war. Among the potential suitors mentioned were Electronic Arts, Microsoft, and Ubisoft.

During the subsequent month, the rumors festered. On March 3, Lionhead laid off between 50 and 100 people and reduced its number of projects-in-development from three to two--a Black & White 2 expansion and a Fable sequel. Today, the floodgates of speculation reopened when Molyneux's session at the 2006 Game Developers Conference in San Jose was summarily canceled.

No official reason was given for the termination of the session, which was titled "Inspirations for Next Generation Designs." However, word on the GDC show floor was that Molyneux hadn't shown up because he had pressing matters back at Lionhead headquarters in the UK.

According to Gamesindustry.biz, those matters are the "final stages of negotiation" between Microsoft and Lionhead. Citing sources inside Lionhead, the British site says that the deal could be closed within days and that no job losses would result. The site also claims that Ubisoft was outbid by the software giant and is none too happy as a result.

But, as is often the case with all matters Microsoft, nothing is official until it's announced. A weary-sounding spokesperson for Microsoft told GameSpot, "As always, Microsoft does not comment on rumors or speculation." Lionhead reps had not returned requests for comment.

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