Microsoft acquires Gears of War IP from Epic

Rod Fergusson leaves 2K to lead up franchise development at Vancouver-based Black Tusk

Gears of War will continue to turn, as Microsoft has acquired the sci-fi shooter franchise from Epic Games. Microsoft Studios head Phil Spencer confirmed the news to GamesIndustry International, saying the deal covers the intellectual property, all existing games and assets, and the rights to continue the franchise in the future.

As for who will make the Gears of War games with Epic out of the picture, that task has been entrusted to Microsoft's Vancouver-based Black Tusk Studios, under the leadership of the studio's general manager Hanno Lemke. Spencer called it "a big vote of confidence" for not just the studio but the Vancouver development scene. (Microsoft closed its nearby Victoria development studio last month.)

Future development on the franchise will be led by Rod Fergusson, who was a producer on the first three Gears of War titles. While Fergusson has a long history with Gears of War, his appointment at Black Tusk has to be considered surprising. Just four months ago, Take-Two announced that Fergusson was launching a new Bay Area studio to work on a new project for the publisher.

"It's kind of nice he can tie the franchise, the culture, bring it all together, and really help with the talent we already have up at Black Tusk to get the franchise going with a new organization," Spencer said.

Fergusson released a statement on his new appointment, saying, "I'm extremely excited to be joining Black Tusk Studios to oversee development on the Gears of War franchise. I've been privileged to work on a lot of great games with a lot of great teams, but Gears has had the most impact on me professionally and personally, so this really feels like a homecoming. I can't wait to share more with you all soon."

"[I]f you look at what we did with 343 and getting them up to speed for Halo 4, you can maybe anticipate some things that are similar to that."

Phil Spencer

This isn't the first time Microsoft has had to find a new studio to take over a blockbuster sci-fi shooter IP. In 2007, Bungie struck a deal to split off from the Xbox maker, leaving the Halo franchise in need of a new developer. Spencer said there were lessons to be learned from the successful transition of the Halo series to 343 Industries, and mentioned Lemke would be speaking with 343's Bonnie Ross about her experiences.

"We're not announcing anything right now, but I think if you look at what we did with 343 and getting them up to speed for Halo 4, you can maybe anticipate some things that are similar to that," Spencer said. "But it does give me confidence knowing that we've done this once with 343."

343 cut its teeth on the Halo franchise with Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary, an Xbox 360 remake of the original Xbox launch title Halo: Combat Evolved.

Whatever else changes with Gears of War, one thing that will likely stay the same is the technology powering the franchise. Spencer declined to say whether the deal requires Microsoft to use the Unreal Engine for future Gears games, but he did say the company was a big fan of the technology.

"We've used the Unreal Engine in our development of the Gears franchise and other franchises," Spencer said. "Unreal is important for us. So I don't see us moving away from Unreal. I have confidence in the Unreal Engine going forward, and it's important to the franchise."

Spencer also noted that a Black Tusk teaser trailer shown at E3 was built using Unreal. And even though that clip--a man rappelling down the side of a present-day skyscraper before swinging in an open window to clobber a gun-toting guard--looked decidedly unlike Gears of War, Spencer called it a concept piece, and not a project that is being shelved as a result of the IP acquisition.

"This obviously isn't something that started yesterday in terms of our discussions with Epic," Spencer said. "Hanno's been involved for quite a while, so he's known that this is something we could land. And the leadership team there obviously knew as they started to build their road map for what they would be focused on. I wouldn't say things have been shelved. Obviously, this will become a big focus of the studio and something that will be critical to them driving forward. There's not really something that was on the road map that all of a sudden goes away."

When Microsoft opened Black Tusk in 2012, studio representatives said it was not working on an existing franchise, but instead was "looking to build the next Halo" from the ground up.

Financial details of the acquisition were not disclosed.

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Latest comments (13)

Craig Burkey Software Engineer 8 years ago
Maybe Epic can devote more people to making the Shadow Complex and Bulletstorm sequels :)
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Ralph Tricoche Studying MA, CUNY8 years ago
When I read this bit of news this morning, my java literally flew out of my nose. This is a poor sign of things to come. That M$ needs to go back to old hits to stir passion in their fans.
At first I thought it was joke, but I realized we are nowhere near April.
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Rick Lopez Illustrator, Graphic Designer 8 years ago
I hope this franchise finds the same success HALO did when 343 industries aquired it. Sometimes a franchise may run its course. And like a goodbook I feel Gears of war did what it set out to do very well, and ended on a good note. I also feel the developers have ran its course with it. So a move like this can probably breath new life to the franchise.

Now EPIC can devote time to creating more iriginal stuff or take lesser known franchises out of obscurity.
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Show all comments (13)
Rickard Olsson Editor, Spelbloggen.se8 years ago
Why would continuing a successful series be a joke? I'm very happy, because now we know that things are happening.
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Steve Wetz Reviewer/Assistant Editor, Gamer's Glance8 years ago
The life had been wrung out of this Unreal tech demo - er, franchise, before it's last game was released.

This is why franchise fatigue happens - past success does not ensure continuing success. This also seems to confirm that outside of Titanfall (whose exclusivity ends after the first game in the series) and Halo, Microsoft doesn't have much up it's sleeves regarding exclusive franchises.
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Pete Thompson Editor 8 years ago
As a gamer whose played all Gears titles to date and thoroughly enjoyed them all I can only see this as a win win situation..
I certainly don't think there's any Franchise Fatigue, but then I mainly buy games for the campaign, and play online as and when I feel like it.. I'm a big fan of Gears and I'm looking forward to a new installment, It's also good news for Epic as their Fortnite title does look pretty cool, It would also be nice to have another installment of Bulletstorm..

All I can suggest for anyone saying that Gears suffers from Fatigue should maybe experience the campaign over constantly playing online..

As for the remark about MS going back to old titles. isn't that something that Nintendo have been guilty of as well for the past few years??

Haters gonna hate, while gamer's gonna game.. ;)

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Pete Thompson on 27th January 2014 6:12pm

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Tim Carter Designer - Writer - Producer 8 years ago
Sequels... sequels... sequels....

Big companies are colour-blind when it comes to new creative.
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Adam Campbell Product Manager, Azoomee8 years ago
Not surprised and it probably makes sense for Microsoft. Still, its not a series that I find myself interested in.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Adam Campbell on 27th January 2014 9:25pm

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Paul Jace Merchandiser 8 years ago
This is good news for both Microsoft and the Gears IP, although it's probably a bit over due at this point. The Gears franchise was so strongly associated with the Xbox brand that it's only nature for the series to stay put. I always wondered why the original deal didn't have EPIC handing over the IP as soon as it was created, although that would have probably left them less invested in it as they have been for the four games released so far.

I'm also not worried about franchise fatigue since it will be atleast a couple years before we see a new release. What I always thought Microsoft would do last gen was alternate releases of Halo and Gears of War every other year the way EA was alternating Battlefield and MOH before they realized that people weren't buying MOH. That would have been fine for the 360 but hopefully they space those releases alittle further apart on the XBO, especially since there will be plenty of third party shooters released each year too.

And I too would like to see sequels to both Bulletstorm and Shadow Complex. Those were two really fun games. But I have a feeling Bulletstorm may be done since I've heard the first one either didn't break even or barely broke even.
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Private VIdeo Games 8 years ago
I am happy can't wait for another Gears game to play!!
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Shane Sweeney Academic 8 years ago
Can I have a new Zone 66, Xargon and Traffic Department 2192 Yet?

Let alone the more popular Jill of the Jungles, Jazz Jackrabbits and One Must Falls.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Shane Sweeney on 28th January 2014 3:58am

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Alfonso Sexto Lead Tester, Ubisoft Germany8 years ago

Fans tent to ask for more of the same; you have Sony fans all happy with Killzone and waiting for Second Son and all those PC enthusiast begging for a third Half Life. Blaming MS for aiming to what they fans want is unfair. For different and new stuff you have Quantum Break there, for example.


Big companies do not risk a lot, we all know that. Still there are a few new IPs incoming if you stop a bit and check this year's new releases on both consoles and PC.
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Victor Vieira editor, Zombiegamer8 years ago

I get that new IP's are needed or wanted, especially in a transitional phase, but you can't really blame publishers for turning out sequel after sequel.

That's what we buy.

Publishers invest in new IP's, take Enslaved or Bayonetta for example (albeit they might not be to everyone's taste), brilliant games that perform moderately, battling to maybe justify a sequel. Then they put out a new Battlefield or Call of Duty, and they sell a bazillion units.

From a business sense, what do you put out next? You go for the safe bet that will see a return on your investment. You can't justify putting out massive budgets to advertise or market a new IP, whereas you know a new Call of Duty marketing campaign will just explode in its reach.

A new Gears of War game would certainly make the Xbox One a more attractive prospect.

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Victor Vieira on 30th January 2014 7:34am

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