What will become of Epic Games without Gears?

Breakups are hard. Today's headlines depict quite the love triangle: Marcus, Baird, and the rest of the Gears are no longer with Epic Games, now that Microsoft has acquired the rights to the Gears of War franchise. And, like the rebound relationship that makes you wonder if you ever had something special, Microsoft already has its own Black Tusk Studios working on the next GoW project. Gears of War had been the light of Epic Games' life in recent years, after arena shooters like Unreal Tournament fell out of fashion and the passionate, mobile-app fling with the Infinity Blade trilogy came to a close. Without its most beloved franchise, what's to become of Epic Games?

Even before the recent split, Epic seemed a little shaky, particularly after 2012's exodus of top talent. First was Rod Fergusson, a Gears series veteran who played a huge part in the production of every GoW game to date. Fergusson left Epic in August of 2012 to work on BioShock Infinite at Irrational Games. Later that year, 20-year veteran Cliff Bleszinski departed, with then-president Mike Capps resigning shortly after. Even when Epic Games had the Gears franchise, it was woefully unclear what it would do with it on Xbox One.

But with Black Tusk Studios in charge of GoW's future, that gloomy overcast of uncertainty could clear up very soon. Microsoft has even brought in an expert, hiring none other than Rod Fergusson himself. He'll reportedly "play a key studio leadership role at Black Tusk on the development of the Gears franchise going forward," as Microsoft's official announcement long-windedly puts it. Getting Fergusson on board is an ingenious move by Microsoft; Fergusson's intimate familiarity with the franchise should instill hope in diehard Gears fans, despite the franchise changing hands.

So where does that leave Epic Games? Sure, there are plenty of other game franchise fish in the sea--but right now, things don't look too hot. Epic's most recently announced project is Fortnite, a zombie game that revolves around daytime scavenging and nighttime defense at the undead-laden ramparts. But ever since the reveal trailer way back in 2011, all Epic has to show for Fortnite's existence are some screenshots that date back to 2012. One has to wonder if the game is as dead as its antagonists.

Epic Games' PR manager Wes Phillips must've foreseen this worry, because he was quick to reassure fans on Twitter that "we currently have multiple games in development." But the proof is in the visible, Unreal 4-rendered pudding--and without much to show for these projects, Epic Games' path ahead seems hazy. Currently, it looks like the studio's biggest asset is its robust Unreal engine, which powered a multitude of last-gen games, triple-A and otherwise. This generation, Epic's Unreal 4 engine is certain to dazzle your optic nerves with countless particle effects in a host of promising games. Only time will tell if the engine's fourth iteration will be as prolific as the third.

Will Epic drop the Games from its moniker and become a studio focused solely on engine development? PR says no, but a complete lack of game reveals since 2012 suggests maybe. And when you factor in Chinese investor Tencent's massive stake in Epic, a company-wide shift in values seems plausible. If you're a hardcore Gears of War fan, Microsoft has made Rod Fergusson-shaped provisions to put your mind at ease. But for gamers who've been enjoying Epic Games titles since the '90s, the future of the storied studio is a lot less clear. All it would take is a new game announcement, or a swath of fresh Fortnite screens--anything to make me believe that Epic can bounce back from this breakup.

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  • SixSpeedSamurai - January 28, 2014 12:51 p.m.

    Help Chair finish Shadow Complex 2
  • murphsp1 - January 28, 2014 12:31 p.m.

    I would agree that GoW seems all tapped out and the Halo 4 model isn't going to work on this franchise. This article seems odd to me as I would guess that Epic makes a ton of its money from Unreal Engine. Every now and then they just happen to throw out a game built with the latest and greatest improvements to serve as advertising to other studios and even better if it sells well. The really smart move would be for MS or Sony to buy Epic and lock down Unreal Engine for its console.
  • Bloodstorm - January 28, 2014 5:02 a.m.

    I think after 4 games, Gears of War is all played out. It will be a shame to see Microsoft run it into the ground like they are with Halo, though. The franchises are just never the same in another studios hands.
  • g1rldraco7 - January 28, 2014 3:19 a.m.

    Let's hope Epic knows what they are doing and well what more could you do? Why do people learn lessons the hard way, oh well their funeral. Also nice profile picture Lucas, looks amazing :)
  • TheFrozenOne - January 28, 2014 2:10 a.m.

    Epic might team up with another company to create a new game, who knows? But I am glad that they stopped before the franchise could be milked.
  • talleyXIV - January 28, 2014 4:52 p.m.

    Judgement was a milking.
  • TheFrozenOne - January 29, 2014 7:22 a.m.

    I can't say anything about Judgement because I haven't played the game; however I wouldn't say that one game was milking the franchise, but I will say that it was unnecessary. I would have preferred Bulletstorm 2 over it.
  • john-kemery - January 28, 2014 1:19 a.m.

    They could go back to Unreal and release a new single player game or a HD release of Unreal. Or bring out a new UT that will make us forget about UT3
  • GOD - January 27, 2014 9:32 p.m.

    My guess is they'll be similar to Valve. Valve focuses mainly on steam, but also releases some of their own games. Epic will mainly focus on the Unreal 4 engine, and also use it to make some of their own games.
  • FoxdenRacing - January 29, 2014 11:30 a.m.

    Agreed. Even if they only make games once in a blue moon, as tech demos for the latest version of the engine, they still have a very healthy middleware business last I looked.
  • universaltofu - January 27, 2014 9 p.m.

    The first gears was my introduction to 'next gen' gaming of that time, everything about the experience clicked and almost made the reason I bought in (mass effect) an afterthought. I hope the series can maybe pull a Halo and find a team to re-invigorate things. Just the same I hope whatever Epic has planned can recapture that magic.
  • Vonter - January 27, 2014 6:30 p.m.

    Hmm make new games? *Gasp* "Outrageous do you think that works in this day and age!" Silly me. :p
  • Verenitz - January 27, 2014 6:17 p.m.

    What else can you do to keep milking this franchise.....
  • McEd - January 27, 2014 5:02 p.m.

    Epic Games knows what they are doing.
  • GoldenEagle1476 - January 27, 2014 5:01 p.m.

    I'd still love to see a Gears game take place during the Pendulum Wars. In fact, that's probably one of the only places the franchise can go, as the locusts are done and over with, and at this point just feel like a very bland enemy anyway.
  • ollyn - January 27, 2014 4:30 p.m.

    Gears personified the Next Gen experience when it launched. I feel it was the first type of game you really couldn't find on PS2 and it looked gorgeous. It is a big franchise for X box in that regard and I am unsurprised to see them buy it. That said, I am equally unsurprised to see it being sold. The series has seen a decline in sales since the 2nd one (although the third sold well) and the latest instalment sold very poorly for a franchise of this size. If you read those figures it all pointed towards a fan base that had perhaps moved on and whilst I hear the odd person long for a new Gears of War there is hardly a massive ground swell calling for it. What's weird for me is that I was a massive fan of gears I loved them all (even Judgment although it was clearly the poor younger brother), however I have no real desire to see another one anytime soon. I feel like I've played that series. Ill stash it away with games like Dead Space, Onimusha, Dino Crisis as a series that was very good and in a way timeless. I just hope we don't see an RE style milking of the cow. I guess Halo 4 is held up as the template, great game and all. But with the covenant story told I can't help but feel it was a cash in from a group that really didn't think they had enough good ideas of their own to found a new IP. I was actually looking forward to this Black Tusk new IP that was rumoured and hope that it wasn't just another gears.
  • LordZarlon - January 27, 2014 4:05 p.m.

    This is idiotic! I can't guess what Epic is thinking.

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