Gears of War is one of the most successful gaming franchises of all time, so it was a surprise for everybody that Epic Games sold its rights to Microsoft in 2014. Now, Epic boss Tim Sweeney revealed that this decision was taken only they calculated that Gears of War 4 would probably flop.
"The very first Gears of War game cost $12 million to develop, and it made about $100 million in revenue," he told Polygon. "It was very profitable... By the end of the cycle, Gears of War 3 cost about four or five times more than the original to make. The profit was shrinking and shrinking. We calculated that, if we built Gears of War 4, the budget would have been well over $100 million, and if it was a huge success, we could break even. Anything less could put us out of business. That's what caused us to move and change business models."
While economics certainly played a big part in the decision, Sweeney admits that he was happy to break away from the developer-publisher relationship with Microsoft. While working on Gears of War: Judgement, Epic Games was not allowed to release new multiplayer content in response to fan feedback. "We weren't asking them for money, but you know as our publisher and proprietor of Xbox, it didn't fit into their business plans and so they said no," said Sweeney. "That made me realize very clearly the risk of having a publisher or anybody standing between game developers and gamers - and how toxic and destructive that process could be to the health of a game and its community."
Sweeney believes that the industry is irrevocably moving away from large AAA blockbusters to early access, free to play and games as a service. Going with the flow, Epic has already moved from being a hardcore Xbox development studio to being a "multi-platform game developer and self publisher, and indie on a larger scale."