Interview: Gearbox Software's Randy Pitchford

You mentioned before in an IGN interview that you’re surprised Borderlands hasn’t been cloned. Why do you think so?

I don’t know. There have been some folks who’ve been trying to get at the blend between shooters and RPG but they’ve kind of missed. To me it seems obvious how to do that properly: how to blend the genres properly together, and with Borderlands existing, other people can go oh, oh, so that’s what we’re missing and I thought it would make it easier for other people to borrow it. But they haven’t really latched on to it as  I expected.

And I think some people have kind of been influenced by the art direction. I see some things there. Some people have told me about Firefall. I haven’t really looked at it but somebody said, oh they’re totally copying you guys, and it’s like well okay, I guess I’m proud of that. It’s bound to happen, but we’re all kind of building off each other in this industry. We’re all kind of learning from each other, and I think it’s kind of cool that some folks want to imitate something they’re inspired by. It’s flattery. We’ll take it as flattery.

So do you think there’s a lack of innovation in the gaming industry?

Sometimes, but I also think there are a lot of innovations. I think it depends on where you look. I think there are people doing things that are really interesting, that you wouldn’t have imagined but for seeing someone else do it.

There are also stuff that gets pretty obvious and almost feels trite. But it really depends. I know a lot of people have thrown darts at Call of Duty for doing the same thing over and over again but you know what? There are a lot of people for whom – if you’ve never played a shooter before – Call of Duty is really exciting. It’s kind of like the vanilla ice cream of our industry. If you’ve eaten nothing but vanilla ice creams, then you’ll really want to try that rocky road or some wild flavor. But some people just like and want only vanilla ice cream. So it’s cool.

We really like your enthusiasm whenever you do an interview. But have you ever said anything you’ve regretted to the press?

I never regret being transparent. I always tend to go after things with trust. But sometimes, journalists have fun taking a bit out of an interview or something, and then they twist it into something sensationalist, making it a headline, creating drama that wasn’t there.

Another thing that I think is kind of not entirely intellectually honest is when sometimes a journalist will ask me a question, like what do you think of this, and then I’ll answer, here’s what I think of it. And they’ll write the story as: Randy says this. And I’m like, but you asked me a question and I answered it. But they’ll write the story as though I got onto some soapbox.

Like the ‘girlfriend mode’ saga?

Yeah, that’s an example of something being twisted into something that was not meant to be. There’s a whole bunch of things wrong with that. One is the word ‘mode’ suggesting a setting – like you turn on a particular mode. There’s no mode – there’s nothing like that. Also, in that case, (Jonathan Hemingway) was talking about a personal experience.

The design is for if you have a friend who isn’t very good at shooters, but you want to play the game with them, here is the character that has a skill tree that has some skills which might make it easier for them. That’s kind of cool – that’s a really good idea. It doesn’t matter how old or what gender the person with no skill is. That’s just as effective for my 60 year old grandpa. My 60 year old grandfather could be the person to benefit from that. I think that’s really who it’s for. It’s for anybody.

But am I suggesting that all 60 year old grandfathers are bad at video games? Hell no, I’m sure there’s somebody out there that’s amazing at video games that happens to be a little older than I am and happens to be a man and happens to have grandchildren. We’re all just gamers here, it really doesn’t matter. But that was an example of how people can take something and run with it, and try to create controversy where there is none. And it’s disappointing. It’s not intellectually honest. But a journalist does that because they believe it will generate readers and will generate intention, which is what they’re after. We only care to entertain people.

I’ll tell you what was frustrating though. It should be very clear that for us to exist, for us to survive, we need to care about our customers, and we need to entertain them. It’s also very clear that if your business is communicating information, then for you to exist you need people to come to you for information. So it’s frustrating when someone who’s in the business of communicating information does so in a way that makes people want to get the information from them. That might make us look like we’re doing it wrong for our customers.

It seems like the reader should know: wait a minute, their (the media) goal is to get me to read their site. But that other person’s (the developer) goal is to entertain me, and that person’s goal is to care about my interests. Now this person’s (the media) telling me that they don’t care about my interests. Could it be that they’re manipulating me? That’s where the reader might need to be a little more cynical. Sometimes we expect our readers to be cynical, and maybe that’s why we take the liberty and push things.

But at the end of the day it doesn’t matter. I’ve never let any of that prevent me from being transparent. For example, what I’ve just shared with you. You could treat that honestly and just share that or you could twist it, and you could take what I just said and go: Randy hates journalists. You could probably do that. A dishonest journalist would do that…

I think what (journalists) do is really important. You’re on the front lines of communication with people who care about what we do and I think that’s really important. So I respect and appreciate you.

And we certainly appreciated and enjoyed our little chat here. Any last words for our readers?

I am so glad to be here (in Singapore) and I want as many people from Singapore to love the game, because then it makes it easy for me to make the excuse to come back. I love this place, I want to spend a lot of time here, and the more time I can spend here the happier I’ll be. So the more people there are in Singapore who’ll play our games, the more time I’ll get to spend here. So play our games so that I can spend more time with you guys.

Borderlands 2 will be available in Singapore on 21st Sept on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC platforms. Be sure to check out the awesome Ultimate Loot Chest Limited Edition too.

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.