Interview: Gearbox Software's Randy Pitchford

The first time I met and interviewed Gearbox Software’s Randy Pitchford, he struck me as an awfully honest (and fun) CEO to chat with. You don’t get many of such candid executives these days. So at a special  Borderlands 2 event that took place recently at the magnificent Gardens by the Bay, when Randy came back again to walk us through the sequel to 2009’s surprise shooter hit, I couldn’t pass up the chance to speak to him again, could I?

Borderlands was a surprise hit. Was the 2nd game always on the cards or were you surprised to be able to do it?

There’s a lot of different ways I could think about that. On one hand, we were obviously always very confident in Borderlands. That’s why we bet on it. But I will have to agree that the success it achieved even surprised us.

There’s what we needed it to do. And that’s what we hoped it would do. And that’s what it did, which was far beyond any of those guesses. That was really great. In terms of a sequel, when we were building Borderlands, we never thought about a sequel; we committed ourselves fully to the game we made. But you always hope, when you create a brand, when you create an IP – you kind of hope that you’ll be able to spend more time with it.

We didn’t know where we were going to go with it, but we hoped we would be able to have that opportunity. So it’s really exciting. Right out of the gate we kind of knew: oh, we’re on to something. And we did some DLC quickly for Borderlands 1. But within a couple of months we put a preproduction team together and started to imagine: hey, what would a Borderlands 2 be? And we were just starting fresh, because we had not spent a single minute before that moment thinking of what a sequel might look like.

You mentioned DLC. What are your thoughts on the paid on-disc DLC versus making new DLC content?

I think it’s an interesting thing. On one hand, if a customer believes that there was some content that was built as part of the game, and that content was cut out of the game so they could charge more money for it later, I think it’s fair to feel a little…

…shortchanged?

I don’t know. It depends on the value of the game. I think there are some people out there that are trying to milk us too much and not give us value for what they’re charging us. On the other hand, there are some games that I think are giving us great value and I’m happy to pay for DLC. I do see though, the problem: if something’s done and it’s planned to be part of the game, then it’s pulled out just to be able to sell it as a DLC – that feels a little disingenuous.

But you know, it’s a tricky problem. I also know it’s very reasonable, and even responsible in some cases for a developer or a publisher to budget for a game and to build the game within the budget. But before the game is done, imagine if they create another budget that’s designed for DLC. And it’s scheduled.

Now, does it matter when that schedule’s to be? What if that schedule they budgeted for fell within the scope of the original game schedule? What if it’s afterward? It’s like, the timing seems to matter to the way we perceive it as customers. Even though from a budget and schedule point of view, it’s almost irrelevant.

Let’s say I was going to budget a video game that I was going to spend $10 on, and I’m going to spend one week (making it). Meanwhile I’m going to spend another $2 making a DLC and I’m going to spend one day creating it. Now if I spend that one day and the $2 six months after that first $10, nobody cares. But if I happen to spend that one day before I shipped the game, and the $2 before I spent the first ($10), somehow people believe it should be included with the first game.

And then, it’s more of a perception issue. And I think it’s on the publishers and the developers to be able to communicate about that.

Fortunately we haven’t been in a world where we’ve had to deal with that. We haven’t been able to do a zero day DLC yet. And even though Borderlands 2 is in certification now, we’re finished with Borderlands 2 and that allowed us to get to work on other stuff. And I just showed you a sneak peek of the Mechromancer character, which will be a DLC post game launch. We’re going really fast, it’s going a lot better than I expected, but there’s no universe where it’s going to be done in time for the main game. That’s finished and that’ll ship.

I’m hoping we’ll get the Mechromancer DLC within 60 to 90 days after the game launches, but it might come even faster because we’ve got a lot of momentum. I wish it could be day zero but it won’t be. We’re just not going to be able to finish it in time.

Which may not be a bad thing…

Well, it means we won’t need to worry about the controversy, but I also know that the controversy is kind of limited to people who are really tuned in (e.g., the hardcore gamers) and they read all the websites and most customers – if they buy a game and they realise: oh there’s more stuff! Even on day zero that’s kind of exciting and neat. It’s kind of like when I bought my Xbox, and it was like, oh there’s Xbox Live. And there’s Xbox Live Arcade. Imagine if there was nothing in there. Right now, there are things that I can actually buy on there. Does that mean those things should have come for free because they’re already done?

I was actually kind of excited that they were there for me; that’s more of a casual customer’s perspective. It’s almost like getting your iPhone and there’s an App Store but there are no apps on it. You kind of want there to be apps, that’s kind of why I got the App Store.

Aaron Yip

Aaron Yip

Aaron Yip is an industry veteran with more than 15 years of experience. When not spending time on his gaming PC and consoles, he can be found in Hyrule solving ungodly puzzles and collecting gems.