Microsoft has announced today that they have acquired the rights to the Gears of War franchise from Epic. Included in this acquisition is all present and future control over all rights including games, entertainment and merchandise. Microsoft has designated Black Tusk Studios, their new Vancouver-based studio will begin work on an all new Gears of War game. Rod Fergusson, Former director of production at Epic Games, and former director of product development at Irrational Games, is joining Black Tusk as it’s Studio Manager.
In the announcement, Microsoft’s Phil Spencer spoke on the acquisition saying “It all comes back to our commitment to Xbox fans. The “Gears of War” franchise has a very strong, passionate and valued fan base on Xbox. Over twenty-two million units have been sold across all “Gears of War” titles worldwide, grossing over $1B dollars (US). This franchise, and these fans, are part of the soul of Xbox. By acquiring this franchise, Microsoft Studios will continue to offer them more of their favorite games and entertainment experiences from the “Gears of War” universe.”
Black Tusk Studios was assembled in 2012, bringing in top talent who have worked on games like Uncharted, God of War III, Crysis 2, and many more. They also recruited from other Vancouver-based studios like Black Box, Propaganda games, and Slant Six. Phil Spencer commented on the choice to give Gears to the unproven Black Tusk, saying “I am extremely confident that under the leadership of Hanno Lemke, Rod Fergusson and our other leaders in the studio, Black Tusk is well equipped to take on the future development of the “Gears of War” franchise.” Adding that Black Tusk is a world-class team, who have a passion for the shooter genre.
Previously, Black Tusk was said to be working on an all new AAA IP, that was touted as the next Halo by Phil Spencer. The new IP was teased at Microsoft’s E3 press conference, but no real news had been heard on the game since. Spencer called the teaser a “concept” piece; not another project being shelved in place of Gears.
Epic Game’s founder Tim Sweeny released a statement on the news saying “Epic Games has reached an agreement to sell the ‘Gears of War’ intellectual property rights to Microsoft. We’re very proud of the franchise we built in close partnership with Microsoft over the past decade and are happy that this agreement enables Microsoft to forge ahead with the ‘Gears’ universe on their industry-leading platforms as Epic concentrates its efforts on new projects. Epic remains totally dedicated to supporting Xbox One and is licensing the Unreal Engine 4 technology to Microsoft in support of their future projects.”
Epic Games went on to clarify that they are still making games, and not just technology like the Unreal Engine. Wes Phillips, PR manager from Epic Games, wrote on twitter that Epic currently has multiple games in development including Fortnite. Epic’s last release major console release was Gears of War Judgement, developed by their Polish studio formerly named People Can Fly. Epic’s primary studio in Maryland has not released a game since 2011’s Gears of War 3.
Former Gears of War lead developer Cliff Bleszinski wrote a blog today about the announcement. He confirmed that he will not be moving to Vancouver to work with Black Tusk on the game, but did express his joy with the franchise being in good hands. “343 knocked it out of the park with Halo and I think Black Tusk will do a fantastic job with Gears.”
This reporter’s opinion: This is a very smart move by Microsoft. Gears of War is a system selling franchise, and getting the franchise from Epic was the right move. Epic didn’t seem to be doing anything with the franchise, and probably made quite a bit of money on the purchase by Microsoft so it seems like this is a win-win. Bringing Rod Fergusson back to the franchise was also a very good move. He is a long-time industry veteran, and has a passion for the Gears franchise. The real question from today’s announcement is now what in the world is Epic working on? We know they are developing the Unreal 4 engine, but their Maryland studio has been quiet ever since Gears of War 3’s 2011 release. We know People Can Fly is working on Fortnite, and Chair is like working on more Infinity Blade, but is their Maryland studio then making a new AAA IP? Could they be working on something more free-to-play based? Tencent Holdings, owners of studios like Riot Games, now controls over 48% of the studio. Could they be influencing the studio to make a game that could have the mega-success of League of Legends? We’ll have to see.
by, Bobby Marquardt