Old video game franchises never die. They just get rehashed and rehashed and then sold off to another developer and then rebooted until you forget why you ever loved the franchise in the first place.
Enter Microsoft, who announced Monday it now owns the rights to Epic Games's Gears of War franchise--the third-person shooter whose first entry in 2006 helped propel the Xbox 360 console to an early sales lead. After that initial title, Epic put out two acclaimed sequels before handing development off to People Can Fly for 2013's prequel, Gears of War: Judgment.
Now development will be handled by Microsoft's in-house Vancouver developer Black Tusk Studios. Black Tusk will be aided by new Microsoft hire Rod Fergusson, formerly an executive producer of the Gears franchise at Epic.
What becomes of this Black Tusk game teaser from last year's E3 conference? Nobody knows--or, at least, nobody's saying.
The move makes sense for Epic. The studio had already handed off the reigns to another developer for Gears of War: Judgment, signaling it was largely disinterested in directly handling the franchise. Cliff Bleszinski, whose name was synonymous with the franchise, left Epic in 2012 to pursue other interests (and won't be coming back to help on the new title). Epic seems intent these days on pushing its successful Unreal Engine, the tech at the heart of many of the industry's largest games, instead of putting out its own titles (though the company was quick to affirm its commitment to game development after the news broke Monday).
But Microsoft? Gears of War helped the Xbox 360, but does the franchise hold enough sway to help the Xbox One?
Last year's Gears of War: Judgment was a failure if compared to previous entries in the franchise. Gears of War 3 sold over three million copies during its first week. Gears of War: Judgment sold less than half a million in the first month.
It could be a fluke. Maybe the game's prequel status doomed Judgment, or people were nervous about a non-Epic Gears of War.
On the other hand, it could signify franchise fatigue. Developers typically hold their new game ideas until the release of new consoles, capitalizing on the excitement to push an untested property. Judgment was largely seen as a cash-in--a symptom of an overlong eight-year console generation.
How will fans receive Microsoft's new game? Is it even necessary? Gears of War 3 largely tied up the story established in the first game, and it's hard to know what Microsoft plans to do going forward.
Weird news all around. I expect with an announcement this public we'll hear more at E3 in June. Until then, keep polishing your chainsaw gun.