Cliff Bleszinski, formerly of Epic and the lead designer on the first three Gears of War games, has shared his opinion on why the series was subsequently sold to Microsoft. In short, Epic thought it had done everything it could with the games. After the spinoff Gears of War: Judgement (co-developed with People Can Fly), the series was sold to Microsoft in 2014, which subsequently formed The Coalition to develop future entries.
"[Epic] hadn't shipped a game in a while," Bleszinski told IGN (opens in new tab). "The [Unreal] engine was doing rather well, but they were growing and they probably needed the income even though they really didn't know what to do with the future of the franchise."
Gears of War was always an Xbox-exclusive series, with the first entry being not just a great game but one of the pioneering HD console titles that really looked like next generation stuff. Epic had banged through them fairly quickly too, with only five years between Gears of War and the third game. Bleszinski himself had left Epic in 2012, one year after Gears of War 3.
"I honestly think once [lead designer] Lee Perry, myself, and [producer] Rod Ferguson left, I believe that Epic didn't really know what to do with the franchise," said Bleszinski. He further believes the sale helped Epic fund its 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 that's Phil. Phil is, as they say, a gentleman and a scholar."
The Coalition, incidentally, 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. Both of which I thought were pretty decent, though Bleszinski thinks they don't have the "heart" of the older games.
"I will say about the latest ones that at the end of one of the recent ones, they made the player choose between which character lives and dies. And I'm like, 'Dude, really? We committed to Dom dying. We committed to Maria being killed.'"
I mean, fair enough, but I'm not sure this is a series where I'm especially invested in the narrative twists. Maria's death scene in Gears of War 2 is comedy gold, in particular, not high drama, and the amount of scenery the cast in that game chew through is remarkable. Every so often my brain does the Marcus Fenix voice and says "They're sinking cities with a giant worm!" because honestly, 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 is very likely to happen at some point, and the series remains a going 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 now just sits there counting its Fortnite money.