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Epic: 'Gears Of War should have failed', was rescued by 'amazing talent'

Studio looks back at obstacles and issues surrounding 2004 release

Talent, passion and dedication made Epic's Gears Of War a modern day gaming classic - but, according to Rod Fergusson, the team structure during creation of the game could have been a recipe for disaster.

Speaking at GDC 2011 in San Francisco today, Fergusson warned developers against having an inexperienced group of employees make a game with untested technology - which he said unnecessarily increased risk.


That didn't stop Epic itself from making those exact mistakes itself, however - and pulling off what Fergusson looks back on as something of a miracle.

"Lack of maturity [in your studio] will cost you time," he said. "I don't mean an immature team as in making fart jokes, I mean that your team is not experienced or using technology that's not finished. Gears 1 was the ultimate example of that.

"We had a team who hadn't shipped a story-based game as a group ever before - and individuals who hadn't really shipped a story-based game since Unreal. We had technology that wasn't finished yet on a platform that wasn't finished yet. And we had a process where they basically didn't really have a producer, or were under-served by a producer, because they had many different things going on in the company. That's the reason I went there.

"When you look at Gears 1 from a risk mitigation standpoint or a team perspective, you know, it should have failed - in terms of all the things that could have gone wrong. It's only because of the amazing talent and passion of the team that we were actually able to ship when we did."

Fergusson used his talk to discuss the importance of working towards a firm release date ("timeliness") when making a game, picking an uncontested release window and the importance of studios getting involved in marketing. He referred to a working model of the 'Iron Triangle', where scope, schedule and resource have to be in balance (i.e. if a project's schedule is cut back, the same should then go for the number of features in the game).

Fergusson urged developers not to unnecessarily extend a development period for the first game in a series - but rather create a title and then iterate on that base with sequels. He pointed to the arrival of GTA III as an example of a series that didn't revolutionise a genre from the get-go.

Fergusson also suggested that Gears Of War 3 is a better game than the original GoW would have been if Epic had worked on it from 2004 until 2011, because the studio has learned lessons from its predecessors.

"We at Epic believe it's better to ship a very small thing that's highly polished, than to ship a very large thing that's mediocre," he said. "We will cut scope purely to give us time at the end to polish what we have."

He candidly added that had Gears Of War released as a new IP in Q4 2010, rather than in the same period of 2004, it may have struggled to find prominence in such a crowded market.