Microsoft has acquired the rights to the popular “Gears of War” franchise from Epic Games, according to a post on its Xbox site earlier Monday morning.

“Today we're excited to announce that Microsoft Studios has acquired the rights to the ‘Gears of War’ franchise from Epic Games, including rights to all existing and future games, entertainment experiences and merchandise,” Microsoft stated in its post. “In addition, we are excited to announce that Black Tusk Studios in Vancouver, BC will take over development of the ‘Gears of War’ franchise and that Rod Fergusson, former Director of Production at Epic Games on the franchise, will join Microsoft and play a key studio leadership role at Black Tusk on the development of the franchise going forward.”

Phil Spencer, head of Microsoft Game Studios, stressed the company’s strong commitment to its fans when making such an important decision. "It all comes back to our commitment to Xbox fans. The ‘Gears of War’ franchise has a very strong, passionate and valued fan base on Xbox. Over twenty-two million units have been sold across all titles worldwide, grossing over $1 billion. This franchise, and these fans, are part of the soul of Xbox. By acquiring this franchise, Microsoft Studios will continue to offer them more of their favorite games and entertainment experiences from the ‘Gears of War’ universe,” he said.

Spencer was confident that Black Tusk would do an amazing job in developing the next “Gears of War” title. “Black Tusk has assembled a world-class team with deep experience and passion for the shooter space, and specifically the ‘Gears of War’ franchise,” he said.

Hanno Lemke, general manager of Vancouver-based Black Tusk Studios, spoke highly of the relationship between Microsoft and its developers.” Epic has been a tremendous partner to work with, and it has been a privilege for Microsoft to be Epic’s publishing partner and work together to achieve the phenomenal success of the ‘Gears of War’ games,” he said. Lemke also reassured “Gears of War” fans that the next game would be even better. “Epic remains great partners and good friends of Microsoft Studios.  In fact we will collaborate closely with Epic to ensure the inclusion of the Unreal Engine technology into the ‘Gears of War’ franchise going forward remains consistent with the high quality fans have come to expect from the franchise.”

Cary, North Carolina-based Epic Games also released a statement regarding the merger. “We’re very proud of the franchise we built in close partnership with Microsoft over the past decade and are happy that this agreement enables Microsoft to forge ahead with the ‘Gears’ universe on their industry-leading platforms as Epic concentrates its efforts on new projects,” stated Epic Games Founder and CEO Tim Sweeney. “Epic remains totally dedicated to supporting Xbox One and is licensing the Unreal Engine 4 technology to Microsoft in support of their future projects.”

“Gears of War” is a third-person gaming franchise that is exclusive to the Microsoft’s Xbox lineup. There are currently four titles that make up the series, the first was released for the Xbox 360 in 2006. “Gears of War 3” hit shelves in September 2011, earning favorable reviews from critics. Web site Giant Bomb gave the title a 5/5, saying "’Gears of War 3’ is a fantastic follow-up that answers important questions about the nature of the Gears universe while backing it all up with an even bigger, better multiplayer suite." Game Informer ranked the game a 9.5/10, saying "'Gears 3' is a fantastic idea polished to near perfection by an enormous crew of talented developers and a bottomless budget," with "a constantly shuffling deck of threats that encourage players to experiment with new weapons and tactics," "hilariously over-the-top set piece moments," and a "smart approach to network play.”

Microsoft hasn't confirmed a release date for an upcoming "Gears of War" title, although Lemke stated that "we hope to be able to share more news about 'Gears of War' later this year." Does this mean a major "Gears" announcement at E3 2014? We'll keep our fingers crossed.

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