JAN. 28, 2014 • Epic Games’ Gears of War franchise has been acquired by Microsoft Studios. Financial terms were not disclosed but the deal secures the IP for Microsoft including rights to all existing and future games, entertainment experiences and merchandise. Vancouver, BC-based Black Tusk Studios will now be responsible for development of Gears of War product moving forward. In addition, Epic’s former Gears of War director of production Rod Fergusson has been hired in a studio leadership role at Black Tusk. The team was set up during 2010 as an internal studio named Microsoft Vancouver, and rebranded as Black Tusk in 2012. Future Gears of War titles will retain use of Epic’s Unreal engine tech. The Gears of War series has sold more than 22 million units worldwide, and grossed over $1billion.
Impact: Gears of War is probably the second most important Xbox franchise after Halo. The original game arrived as an exclusive a year after the Xbox 360 launched and its success with core gamers went on to define the console to consumers until the arrival of the Kinect in 2010. For the Xbox One, Microsoft is keen on securing big name exclusives wherever possible. A deal was struck last fall with Electronic Arts to make Respawn’s Titanfall an Xbox One exclusive. How much was paid is not known, but Microsoft did pay Take-Two $50 million in 2007 to secure exclusive DLC for Grand Theft Auto IV. With both the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 selling well, the breadth and quality of exclusives available on each system are a major selling point to mass-market consumers who have yet to purchase a new system. With Epic’s staff roster seeing some notable departures in recent years, we can understand where Microsoft would entertain bringing Gears of War in-house. Not only does the move assure that the franchise will not leak out to other platforms, Microsoft also gains full control over how the IP is developed. Another factor is that Black Tusk can use the work. The studio was downsized somewhat in 2012 after several projects in production were cancelled. An additional plus is that bringing Gears of War in-house cements the idea with core gamers that the Xbox One retains its enthusiast edge. Building up that credibility has been necessary since the console was unveiled right before E3 last year and drew criticism from an over-emphasis on home entertainment features. It’s still a thorny issue with gamers who question why so many system resources are dedicated toward the Kinect’s voice and camera functions at the expense of game frame rates. Now we have to wait and see what kind of Gears title that Microsoft can turn out on its own.