This morning, Epic Games announced a way to promote two of its games: a pack-in for early buyers of the Xbox 360 edition of Bulletstorm. The Epic Edition of the game--available in limited quantities at no extra cost--will come with access to the public beta of Gears of War 3. The deal between Bulletstorm publisher Electronic Arts and Gears publisher Microsoft represents a first-ever agreement between one major game maker to have its game's beta promoted via another's title.
To help explain the unique deal, GameSpot caught up with Epic Games president and cofounder Mike Capps this morning. The executive also discussed the timing of the beta, why other Gears games never had betas, and the small matter of the long-in-development Gears of War film.
GameSpot: Now this is something that has never been done before--a beta between publishers. I mean there was the Halo 3 beta in Crackdown and the Halo: Reach beta with Halo: ODST, but those were all released by Microsoft Game Studios. How did this come about?
Mike Capps: Well that was part of the genesis of the idea. Crackdown worked really well to expose Halo folks to a new IP that was a lot of fun. We don't ship two games like this very often, and they're so close to each other it was kind of an obvious opportunity to do something cool for Epic fans. We started talking with EA and Microsoft, and obviously those guys have been working together forever doing lots of great game promotions. So it was kind of cool how everyone put aside the "my game, your game" stuff and let us get Epic fans excited about both titles.
Lots of brainstorming later, we were in a good spot. We're gonna test that the game works internationally, with dedicated servers all over the world. A game launch is a really good way to do that, since Bulletstorm will be selling everywhere, so the timing's perfect.
GS: Have you set a start date for the beta yet?
MC: We've been saying spring. My guess is it will be sometime around April or so. It's going to be early enough so it really impacts Gears [of War 3's] development, but we want to make sure everyone has the chance to play Bulletstorm before they jump right into the beta.
GS: You mentioned April--that was the original launch window for Gears of War 3 itself. Why did it get pushed back so far?
MC: Well the thing I liked about April is that's when Gears fans expected to play Gears 3. This way, they can still do that. Microsoft approached us about moving the game back to September. Now normally you hear stories about evil publishers trying to convince the developer to ship it early. Whenever we'd have date conversations, we'd say, "Oh the game has got to be good; it's got to be done when we ship it!" That part of the industry, for us, is now completely gone. Now we say, "If we can do this in September, October, November, we can do something amazing like Halo: Reach." That had huge promotion that got a lot of people behind it and got huge attention at retail. So a couple extra months was fine by us--it'll just make the game better. They thought it would be better for them, so we played along.
GS: This is the first public beta for a Gears of War game. What prompted it?
MC: We've kind of actually always done betas. Unreal Tournament had betas to test it out before the main launch, and we actually did one for Unreal Championship 2 for the Xbox. But it's actually a lot of work to do a beta on consoles, because you still have to go through all of the certification process, so it adds a lot of time to the schedule. To take what you have, chop off a bunch of it, and cert it--it adds a month or more to your schedule. Generally, we've not seen that as a good trade-off. But at this point, with those extra couple months it gave us the ability to do it.
Also, I think everybody knows we had some multiplayer stability issues with Gears 2 multiplayer out of the box. While we fixed those later, the opportunity to be really, really sure that our new dedicated server infrastructure is going to be operational on day one with Gears 3 was totally worth the time to make the beta.
GS: Now the Epic Edition of Bulletstorm is limited to the Xbox 360 edition of the game. Are you planning extra bonuses or special editions for the PlayStation 3 and PC versions of the game?
MC: We'll be announcing something early next year.
GS: How limited will the Epic edition be, quantity-wise?
MC: This really is a limited edition. Like Gears of War 2's limited edition, it will be gone in the first week or so. The surest way to get time in the beta is to preorder it. We won't have pallets of these sitting around months later. We want it to be limited as a sort of present to our hardcore fans.
GS: If you preordered the game, do you automatically get the Epic Edition?
MC: Since it's the same price, it's our intention to fulfill all preorders which have already gone in with Epic Editions. We should double-check and make sure. We just put this plan together a week ago, so we have to check with the retail guys and make sure.
GS: Getting a little off topic--what's the status of the Gears of War movie right now?
MC: (Pauses) Oh, golly. It's been Hollywood-ed, fully. It comes and it goes. We think we've got a really good plan, and then we change personnel, and then we go again. I wish I had more to talk about because I think it would make a really good movie, but we don't have much to say right now.
GS: Is [Live Free or Die Hard director] Len Wiseman still attached to direct?
MC: I don't believe he is currently attached to the project, no. It's too bad, because he was a great guy and it would have been a lot of fun. But he had another project he had to move to.
GS: So is it safe to say the Gears film is in development limbo?
MC: Um, no, because we've actually had some progress. But anything other than "It's in full production" to me at this point means "It's in development limbo" in Hollywood. (Laughs)
GS: How about this? It's in permanent preproduction.
MC: (Laughs) There you go!