How does one measure the loss of Cliff Bleszinski, widely credited as a major creative and driving force at Epic Games?

After all, “CliffyB” as he was called for years, helped Epic create the legendary “Gears of War” franchise trilogy, which has sold well over 10 million copies at $50 or more per copy. A fourth game is in the works. Then there is the “Unreal Tournament” franchise and other titles under development.

Making matters worse for Epic was the recent departure of Rod Fergusson, who bolted for Irrational Games.

Epic declined requests to discuss the impact of the departures but a spokesperson said the privately held company has a deep bench of talent and will keep grinding out products. Two new studios – one on each coast – will help provide fresh talent.

Plus, Epic also recently accepted outside investment from Chinese entertainment giant Tencent – its first outside money.

Perhaps the influx of cash for long-time Epic employees such as Fergusson and Bleszinski made them too wealthy NOT to want to explore other opportunities.

The Outside View

Alexander Marcis, a longtime videogame industry executive who runs Themis Media and publishes the globally popular website The Escapist from Durham, says all the change at Epic is to be expected – and probably won’t be as disruptive now as it would have been when Epic was much smaller and thus more likely to be damaged by changes in talent.

“Obviously, losing senior people always hurts, especially when they are as talented as Cliff,” Marcis told The Skinny.

“But Epic is so large at this point that I can’t imagine that the impact of his departure will be anything like it would have been years ago.”

Bleszinski said he was leaving Epic to get away from the creative grind. Marcis understands the need for that.

“As to why he left, I think his and the other departures are simply because Epic’s recent from Tencent is giving the leadership the opportunity to do something different,” Marcis explained.

“Given how long most of Epic’s employees have been with the company, it’s not surprising that some of them are looking for something new.

“The game industry is notorious for people moving to new studios constantly; that’s what creative people do. It’s just that people leave Epic so rarely that each time it happens, it’s news.”

That’s certainly true. 

Bleszinski’s departure is the equivalent to what Carolina Hurricanes fans would have felt had Ron Francis bolted the franchise as a free agent.

Marcis sees Epic’s stability as a sign of its enduring strength.

“This says something about Epic’s ability to retain employees long term,” Marcis said. “The only game company I can think of with comparable tenure for its senior folks is Bioware, and even there the two founders recently left.”

Bleszinski and others are leaving the industry at a turbulent time. Game sales are falling, and millions are turning to more social, fre or cheaper online games than the console versions that made Epic and other companies so rich.

“I do wonder if one looks at the game industry globally whether various high-level maneuvers are happening as people position themselves for the next boom,” Marcis said, “but that’s just me musing.”

Perhaps another boom will occur – but without Bleszinski one still has to think Epic’s challenge to help create and ride that next wave will be more difficult without “CliffyB.”

[EPIC ARCHIVE: Check out 10 years stories as reported in WRAL Tech Wire.]