(Source: Microsoft)
Black Tusk Studios in Vancouver will develop an Xbox One Gears of War title

It's well known that Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) is looking to pump up the number of high profile exclusive titles for its Xbox One, creating iconic franchises of television and game series.  In many ways Microsoft's model is following in the line of Sega Corp. (a subsidiary of Sega Sammy Holdings Inc. (TYO:6460) and Nintendo Comp., Ltd. (TYO:7974) which became iconic names with household franchises like Sonic the Hedgehog (Sega), the Mario Brothers  (Nintendo), and Zelda (Nintendo).
On Monday Microsoft Studios, the game development arm of Microsoft, announced a major score, acquiring the rights to the popular Gears of War franchise from Epic Games, Inc.
Selling over 22 million units worldwide and pulling in over $1B USD in revenue, the Gears of War franchise was an incredible success under Epic -- which also developed the Unreal engine and Unreal Tournament franchise.  But there were also reoccurring rumors that Epic was unhappy with its exclusivity relationship with Microsoft for the franchise. 
Epic founder and CEO Tim Sweeney was nothing but warm to Microsoft, though, saying he was "proud of the franchise we built in close partnership with Microsoft."  In its press release, though, Microsoft showed nothing but love for Epic, calling it a "great partner". 

Gears of War

In addition to games, the franchise had bred a board game, several comic books, novels, and even an upcoming movie.  Phil Spencer, Microsoft Studios chief called the Gears of War franchise "part of the soul of Xbox."

At Microsoft the development of an Xbox One title for the franchise will be tasked to Black Tusk Studios.  The studio is located in Vancouver, British Columbia and employs over 100 developers, artists, and managers.  The leadership of the studio largely came from former Electronic Arts, Inc. (EA) employees, including some laid off in recent company cuts.

According to the Vancouver Sun:

Studio staff have an average of 12 years experience in triple-A games, the industry’s equivalent of Hollywood summer blockbuster movies — "big games, big teams, big budgets, long timelines," said studio manager Mike Crump.

Gears of War

Some employees are expected to migrate from Epic to Microsoft, although much of the development team will be composed of newcomers to the franchise.  Part of Epic's sale agreement includes provisions for production director Rod Fergusson to stay on and manage the franchise development at Black Tusk.  Mr. Fergusson comments in the press release:

I’m extremely excited to be joining Black Tusk Studios to oversee development on the “Gears of War” franchise. I’ve been privileged to work on a lot of great games with a lot of great teams, but “Gears” has had the most impact on me professionally and personally, so this really feels like a homecoming. I can’t wait to share more with you all soon.

The studio operated in stealth mode until Nov. 2012 when it went public.  It is Microsoft's third studio in the Vancouver area, one of the closest urban centers to Microsoft's U.S. home in Seattle, Washington.

Mike Crump
Mike Crump, a former EA veteran, is pictured here at Black Tusk Studios where he's a manager. [Image Source: Jason Payne/PNG]

The studio gets its name from a seashore hiking landmark found between Vancouver and Whistle.

In the near term, the deal gives Microsoft licensed access to Epic's Unreal Engine 4 engine.  Epic says it will focus on "new projects".  The purchase price was not disclosed.

Source: Microsoft Studios

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