Epic Games’ Vice-President Mark Rein is never one to hold his opinions inside of him and at Midway’s recent Gamers Day event, (where Epic’s next game Unreal Tournament 3 was demoed) he got a chance to prove that once again. FiringSquad chatted briefly with Rein about a number of topics, including the success of Gear of War, his opinions on the PS3 and his thought on Windows Vista (which we got some additional input from Rein via a phone chat after Midway's Gamers Day).
First on our list was the huge success of their November 2006 released Xbox 360 action game Gears of War. The game’s publisher Microsoft stated that the title has already sold through over 3 million copies worldwide in just 10 weeks. Did Rein expect that kind of success? “I think we knew it would be popular but selling so many so soon was a bit of a shock. We’re thrilled to be able to have that kind of success with a new franchise. It’s hard to come up with words that don’t make me sound like a fanboy for this game.“
While a lot of games have critical acclaim, some well reviewed games don’t translate into high sales. Gears of War is a title that combined extremely high review scores with massive sales. Part of the reason was Microsoft’s extensive marketing for the title as it neared release. Rein told us, “Microsoft did a fantastic job marketing Gears and the results proved that you can make titles that exploit the power of the Xbox 360 and make a decent profit by doing so. The industry now knows it is possible to sell more than 3 million units on Xbox 360 and that’s great news for the whole next generation.“
Epic estimates that Gears of War cost them around $10 million to make and according to Rein, “It was certainly more than we have spent on any other game we have done previously.” However that number is actually on the low end of next-gen game creation the because of Epic’s development of their Unreal Engine 3 which debuted with Gears of War. Unreal Engine 3 has already claimed a ton of licenses from close to every major publisher, including the recent announcement of Final Fantasy publisher Square Enix. Rein told us there would be more engine licensee announcements coming up in the near future and that he was excited about the upcoming Unreal Engine based games. Two other games built on Unreal Engine 3, Rainbow Six Vegas and Xbox Live Arcade title Roboblitz, also shipped on Xbox 360 and PC with Rainbow Six Vegas shipping in March on the PS3 as well.
In the past Rein has stated that he is a big fan of making free add-on content available for his games because Epic feels that it ultimately helps them sell more copies of the game, helps players get more value for their money and keeps them enjoying the game longer. In the case of Gears of War, Epic recently released a sponsored map pack via Xbox Live Marketplace. The sponsor was the Discovery Channel’s Future Weapons series and the pack was a huge success with Microsoft reporting over 750,000 downloads in the first 24 hours. Rein thinks sponsorship is a viable alternative to charging end-users for new content but feels they can do a better job in the future of providing value for their marketing partners.
Rein told us that an opportunity was missed this time around with the Gears of War multiplayer map pack. “We should have streamed 30-60 seconds of video footage from the Future Weapons series while the pack was downloading but unfortunately that capability doesn’t exist yet on Xbox Live Marketplace. I don’t think anyone would have the right to complain about watching a commercial for that series because Future Weapons and Gears of War are a great fit for each other. People who are into games like Gears are also likely to enjoy the TV series. Imagine how much more it could be worth to advertisers to have a captive audience of 1,000,000+ next-gen gamers watching their commercial while they download new sponsored content for hot games like Gears. That’s not to say a Coca-Cola commercial would have been out of place either – it is important for users to realize that somebody is paying for the cost of that content because, even with Unreal Engine 3, next-gen content is still expensive to produce. If watching a short commercial saves you $6 and gets you some great new content or features then it is totally worth it. There is a lot of external pressure on us to bring in revenue for add-on content and if we can find creative ways to do it that don’t cost the end-user that would ideal.”