Epic's Gears of War 4 Would Have Cost $100 Million to Make, Dev Says

"If it was a huge success, we could break even. Anything less could put us out of business."


As part of a new Polygon feature on the history and future of Epic Games, CEO Tim Sweeney talked about why the company underwent something of a switch as it relates to development and business models.

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In the story, Sweeney spoke about how the Gears of War franchise's ballooning budget, along with disagreements with Microsoft, played a part in Epic's decision to focus more on free-to-play.

Sweeney revealed that the 2006 original Gears of War for Xbox 360 cost $12 million to develop and ended up taking in around $100 million in revenue. "It was very profitable," he said.

However, the budgets for the follow-ups grew substantially, with Gears of War 3 estimated to have cost around four or fives times as much as the first game, so about $48-$60 million. The plan Epic had for Gears of War 4 before selling the franchise to Microsoft, would have been for a $100 million game.

"The profit was shrinking and shrinking," he said about the Gears of War franchise over the years. "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."

Sweeney added: "That's what caused us to move and change business models."

Epic's next game is Paragon, a free-to-play MOBA. The studio is also working on a free version of Unreal Tournament, while a business model for Fortnite has not yet been announced.

The executive also told a story about some friction between Epic and Microsoft over Gears of War Judgment, which was developed externally by People Can Fly.

"When we released Gears of War: Judgment, a bunch of community players were complaining about all the multiplayer levels we created," he said. "We realized that, you know, there are some problems with this, we should rework it, create a bunch of new content and release multiplayer around a new game just like we did in the project that was the genesis of Unreal Tournament.

"We had all these plans to do this, and so we went to Microsoft and we said, 'Hey, we want to do this.' And they said, 'No, you don't want to do that.'"

Sweeney said Epic was not asking for money, but that the developer's ideas "didn't fit into [Microsoft's] business plans and so they said no." It was at this time that Sweeney grew worried about being in business with a company that stood between a game developer and gamers.

"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," he said.

The full Polygon story is a good read, covering lots more about Epic's history and future. Go read it here.

Gears of War 4 is in development at Microsoft studio The Coalition. The game's multiplayer beta wrapped up this past weekend, while the full launch is slated for October 11 on Xbox One.

The Coalition's Rod Fergusson, who worked at Epic on the original vision for Gears of War 4, recently explained the differences between the two versions. However, Microsoft has not said anything about the budget for Gears of War 4, making comparison's to Sweeney's $100 million estimation difficult to nail down.

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