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Microsoft vetoed a black woman on cover for Fable II

Ex-Lionhead art director recalls marketing department "just didn't get it," insisted on a white male for Xbox 360 RPG

One of the selling points for Fable II was greater character customization. As former Lionhead art director John McCormack described in a new Eurogamer feature chronicling the studio's history, it was such a significant addition he wanted to feature it by putting a black woman on the game's packaging, only to have Microsoft's marketing department nix the idea.

"They were going, you can't have a black person on the cover, and you can't have a woman," McCormack said. "And you want a black woman. And I was like, yes, I do, because it's about be whatever hero you want. No. It's a white guy. That's just the way it is. We know what sells and that's fucking it. Stop the arguing. I was like, fuck you! That was a huge fight.

"They said, what's the most unsuccessful Disney film? I was like, I don't know. They went, Princess and the Frog. Work it out. I was like fuck you, man. I hated it.

"I was screaming at them in conference calls. I lost it at that point, because they just weren't getting the game. Especially because we were the first ever game that had gay marriage, we were about breaking down walls. It was meant to be funny and mature. They just took none of it and just did the usual white guy with a sword on the front. Damn it! You missed the point!"

McCormack was also dismayed at the marketing department's insistence on selling the game as a standard fantasy RPG, rather than a story with a comedic bent.

"[T]hey were going, what are you making? An RPG? Right, dragons and shit. And that was their advert," McCormack said. "And we were like, no, ours is a Monty Python-esque comedy. And they went, look, we know how to market RPGs. And they opened the RPG marketing drawer and pulled out a picture of a dragon that wasn't even in the game and went there you go. That's your market. The market for that game is your average Dungeons & Dragons fare. And we were like, this game's totally different."

Check out the full feature for more anecdotes from the studio, including details about its acquisition by Microsoft, the cancellation of Kinect showpiece Milo and Kate, and the pitch for Fable 4 that Microsoft turned down.

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Latest comments (13)

Brook Davidson Artist / 3D design 2 years ago
[snip]

Personally speaking, I don't think it's necessary to put a black women on the cover simply for the reasons he specified anyway. If his idea was character customization, it would have been more interesting to have done a collage with a bunch of diverse characters. However, we are talking about Fable, and I don't think a cover such as that would have worked well.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by a moderator on 12th May 2016 8:57pm

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Chris Payne Managing Director & Founder, Quantum Soup Studios2 years ago
Yeah! That's exactly why casting a girl and a black guy in the new Star Wars made it utterly tank...oh no, wait... the other thing.

I remember thinking the Fable 2 cover was bland at the time, compared to the awestruck underlit boy's face of Fable 1.
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Brook Davidson Artist / 3D design 2 years ago
@Chris
I remember thinking the Fable 2 cover was bland at the time, compared to the awestruck underlit boy's face of Fable 1.
I don't know if I would call it bland. Literally the only difference is that light and it's a kid rather than an adult, but other wise it pretty much the same.
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Show all comments (13)
Greg Wilcox Creator, Destroy All Fanboys! 2 years ago
I think D'arci Stern wants a word with some folks: http://img.gamefaqs.net/box/5/4/4/8544_front.jpg
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Morville O'Driscoll Blogger & Critic 2 years ago
But if someone else is picking up the tab for development, you can't complain if they want to maximise sales. And if a white guy on the box is what makes the game sell, suck it up buddy.
But it's confusing cause-and-effect, surely? White-guys-on-covers sell games, so every game has a white guy on the cover, and they sell... But one does not necessarily cause the other.

Quick question: Can someone confirm Princess and Frog's release as well as Fable 2's? Wiki states that Princess and Frog came out a full-year after Fable 2, so... That's a bit confusing.
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Quick question: Can someone confirm Princess and Frog's release as well as Fable 2's? Wiki states that Princess and Frog came out a full-year after Fable 2, so... That's a bit confusing.
The anecdote in question is about Fable 3, not Fable 2. Fable 3 came out about a year after The Princess and the Frog - which, btw, is by no means Disney's worst-performing movie - they've put out some real stinkers in their time, many featuring white male leads. By contrast, The Princess and the Frog was considered quite successful at the box-office!

It seems this was a mistake in the original version of the article that has since been fixed, so GI may want to follow suit.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Jessica Hyland on 13th May 2016 11:55am

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Morville O'Driscoll Blogger & Critic 2 years ago
Ahhhh, right right right. That makes sense - I figured the anecdote wasn't wrong as such. :)
By contrast, The Princess and the Frog was considered quite successful at the box-office!
Yeah, looking at the Wiki for it, it's surprisingly successful for something that was a bit of a tired story (imo), and didn't have an all-star-cast. :)
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Adam Campbell Game Manager, Azoomee2 years ago
Wouldn't be the first time.
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Adam Campbell Game Manager, Azoomee2 years ago
if a white guy on the box is what makes the game sell, suck it up buddy.
Really? Something which has yet to be substantiated in the video games industry
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Paul Jace Merchandiser 2 years ago
"They were going, you can't have a black person on the cover, and you can't have a woman," McCormack said. "And you want a black woman. And I was like, yes, I do, because it's about be whatever hero you want. No. It's a white guy. That's just the way it is.
This is an interesting comparison to the position of the President of the United States. Around the same time this game was being developed there were probably many people saying the same thing, that you couldn't have a black or woman president. One of those myths has already been shattered by the current President and the second one is set to be shattered this November if Hilary wins. I don't think those execs would be so quick to turn down having minorities or women on a video game cover today.
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Catherine Arthur Concept Art Student 2 years ago
Could they not have put them both on the front cover?
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Greg Wilcox Creator, Destroy All Fanboys! 2 years ago
@Catherine: Kinda like this?

http://www.gamefaqs.com/pc/199170-urban-chaos/images/1119835

@Paul: Uh, so if Trump wins (gyah!), I guess it's back to this, right?:

http://www.gamefaqs.com/nes/563441-mega-man/images/129030

;D

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Greg Wilcox on 16th May 2016 7:26pm

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Bonnie Patterson Narrative Designer, Writer 2 years ago
Wasn't there a PA investigation some years ago into the "Gotta have a white male lead character to sell" claims? They found that white male lead characters did sell more, but primarily because white male lead characters get twice the marketing budget, and that there was no detectable difference in sales that didn't come down to the breadth and penetration of the marketing? (Should I say "girth" there?)

Seems like the main demographic inspired to invest in a product by the whiteness and male-ness of a protagonist is... marketing departments.
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