Former lead designer Cliff Bleszinski is still sad that only Phil Spencer called him about it.
Cliff Bleszinski, formerly of Epic and lead designer of the first three Gears of War games, has given his thoughts on why the series was sold to Microsoft. In summary, Epic thought it had done everything it could with the games. After the spin-off Gears of War: Judgment (co-developed with People Can Fly), the series was sold to Microsoft in 2014, which then formed The Coalition to develop future entries.
“[Epic] hadn’t shipped a game in a while“, Bleszinski told IGN. “Engine [Unreal] was doing pretty well, but they were growing and they probably needed that revenue, even if they didn’t really know what to do with the future of the franchise.”
Gears of War has always been an Xbox-exclusive series, with the first entry not only being a great game, but one of the pioneering HD console titles that truly felt like next-gen stuff. Epic chained them pretty quickly, with just five years between Gears of War and the third game. Bleszinski himself left Epic in 2012, a year after Gears of War 3.
“I honestly think that once [le concepteur principal] Lee Perry, myself and [le producteur] Rod Ferguson left I guess Epic didn’t really know what to do with the franchise“, said Bleszinski. He also believes the sale helped Epic fund future ventures and growth.
“As much as I loved Tim [Sweeney] and mark [Rein] and we’re still in touch, but when the IP was sold to Microsoft, the only phone call I got was from Phil Spencer. And this is Phil. Phil is, as they say, a gentleman and a scholar”.
The Coalition, by the way, was led for several years by Rod Fergusson (he moved to Blizzard in 2020 and now oversees Diablo), and it has since the acquisition developed Gears of War 4 and 5. I found both of these games are pretty decent, though Bleszinski thinks they don’t have the “heart” of the older games.
“I will say about the last ones that at the end of one of them they asked the player to choose between life and death of a character. And I was like, ‘Man, really? We made a commitment that Dom would die. We made a commitment that Maria would be killed.”
I mean, that’s fair, but I’m not sure this is a series where I’m particularly invested in narrative twists. Maria’s death scene in Gears of War 2 is comedic gold, in particular, not drama, and the amount of setting that game’s cast chews up is remarkable. Every once in a while my brain does Marcus Fenix’s voice and says “They sink cities with a giant worm“, because frankly, what a line!
The last mainline entry in the Gears of War series was the fifth in 2019, with the (extremely good) spinoff Gears Tactics in 2020. Microsoft hasn’t said anything about a sixth game, but it’s very likely to happen. happen at some point, and the series remains a constant concern in other media. There’s apparently a rather bizarre appetite for terrible Gears novels, which continue to be written (I’ve read one, thanks). Epic, meanwhile, has long since moved on and is now just counting Fortnite money.