The future of the Gears of War franchise is now in Microsoft's hands. The Xbox maker revealed today it acquired the rights to the franchise, including all existing and future games, from creator Epic Games.
That means new entries in the Gears of War franchise will come from Microsoft Studios and will remain exclusive to Xbox. Microsoft has tasked Black Tusk Studios, the company's Vancouver-based developer, with creating future Gears of War titles.
Aiding Black Tusk will be Rod Fergusson, the former Epic Games executive producer and director of production who oversaw the first three games in the Gears of War series. Fergusson is joining Black Tusk, working with the studio's general manager, Hanno Lemke, and overseeing the franchise.
Fergusson left Epic in August 2012 to join Irrational Games but, after the completion of BioShock Infinite, left the studio. He announced in September 2013 that he was joining 2K Games to lead a new studio on an unannounced project. His transition to Microsoft is a homecoming; Fergusson worked for the company from 1996 to 2006.
According to Microsoft, Fergusson will "play a key studio leadership role at Black Tusk on the development of the franchise going forward."
"I'm extremely excited to be joining Black Tusk Studios to oversee development on the Gears of War franchise," Fergusson said in a statement to Polygon. "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."
Phil Spencer, Microsoft Studios corporate vice president, told Polygon that the company isn't ready to discuss its plans for the Gears franchise yet, but will be making some related announcements later this year.
The discussion to acquire the Gears of War franchise — which includes the games as well as all "entertainment experiences and merchandise," Microsoft said — is one that's been going on for a while, according to Spencer, roughly since last fall.
"We finished the last Gears talking about the next iteration of the franchise, one that Epic and I were going to talk about just as a natural course of the publishing and studio relationship," Spencer said. "They didn't have a firm plan for what they wanted to do with Gears, which obviously opened the door to conversation. They wanted to make sure the franchise landed somewhere we could develop it well, so we started having discussions about how we could continue the franchise."
Spencer said Microsoft's interest in acquiring Gears came down to the fact that the series, as one of the platform's exclusives, has been critical to the success of the Xbox 360. Epic's motivation to transfer Gears of War to Microsoft, Spencer said, was that "they've just got great new things they want to go do."
Tim Sweeney, founder and CEO of Epic Games, echoed that sentiment in a statement to Polygon:
"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," Sweeney said. "Epic remains totally dedicated to supporting Xbox One and is licensing the Unreal Engine 4 technology to Microsoft in support of their future projects."
Gears of War's new home, Black Tusk Studios, may come as a surprise to Xbox fans who watched Microsoft's press conference from E3 2013. It was there where Spencer teased a new project from Black Tusk, a sleek, stealthy action game with no name.
"The thing we showed at E3 last year, it was something that was done in Unreal and more of a concept piece," Spencer said, calling it "an asset" created by the team to get their creative juices flowing, not necessarily an in-development game.
"The studio has really been incubating different ideas over the past six to nine months on what they might work on," he said, "but the discussion with Epic obviously didn't start yesterday. We've been in this discussion for a while. The leadership team there has known for a while."
Because Black Tusk was already working with the Unreal Engine on Xbox One, the opportunity to bring Gears of War to the studio "was actually a nice coincidence," Spencer said, and not something planned during the formation of the developer.
"I wanted to make sure I had a great internal team, similar to what we did when Bungie moved out and Halo moved to 343 [Industries]," Spencer said.
Make sure to read our interview with Fergusson about why he decided to return to the franchise here.
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