by Brian Crecente
Gearbox Software studio head Randy Pitchford did “whatever the fuck he likes” when it came to the marketing and promotion of Aliens: Colonial Marines, according to documents filed this week in the class-action lawsuit claiming the game was falsely advertised at trade shows.
The Sept. 2 filing by Sega of America details the publisher’s take on why Gearbox is just as culpable in the case as Sega. The company’s attorney writes that despite Gearbox’s claims that they weren’t involved in marketing, Gearbox participated equally, sometimes overstepping bounds or keeping Sega in the dark about promotional decisions.
Aliens: Colonial Marines was released Feb. 12, 2013, to harsh criticism and low review scores. Some players and reviewers noted that the game’s visuals didn’t match what Sega and developer Gearbox showed off of the game prior to release at fan and press events.
These demos, which Gearbox co-founder Randy Pitchford called “actual gameplay,” according to the filing, were criticized after the game’s launch for featuring graphical fidelity, AI behavior and even entire levels not featured in the game. Our review of Aliens: Colonial Marines featured a gallery highlighting some of the differences between a 2012 video walkthrough of the title, and the same level in the final version of the game.
In August, Sega and the plaintiffs reached a tentative agreement for $1.25 million, much of which was to be paid out to people who had purchased the game before Feb. 13, 2013. According to court documents, Gearbox attorneys were told they could be included in the settlement if they agreed to pay an additional $750,000 into the settlement. But instead, Gearbox filed a motion to throw out the case. Gearbox argued it shouldn’t be included in the suit because it operated as a contractor, and that Sega had final say on the game and its marketing.
Gearbox Software is fighting to have the tentative agreement thrown out, saying that the settlement with Sega would leave Gearbox “holding the bag” in future lawsuits despite being a contractor, that they weren’t a part of the settlement negotiations and that it isn’t a fair deal for gamers.
In the motion filed this week, Sega notes that it was initially given “absolute discretion” with regard to marketing decisions, but that the publisher was contractually required to discuss and consult Gearbox on all marketing activities.
“The parties had to mutually agree to the ‘precise particulars of marketing assets’ delivered by Gearbox,” according to the motion. “Gearbox’s participation — Randy Pitchford’s, in particular — was a key element in the ACM marketing strategy from the beginning.”
An enclosed proposition document noted that Pitchford is a “respected development celebrity and is guaranteed to be headline material in worldwide press coverage.”
The motion goes on to say that the E3 2011 demo, which many point to as the crux of the misleading advertising, was created entirely by Gearbox.
Following the presentation, Gearbox officials told Sega officials that the demo was the bar the game should be held to, according to an internal email.
“During one of my conversations with Gearbox today I verified that the E3 Demo is indeed the bar that we should use to determine where the entire game will be,” Matt Powers, senior producer at Sega of America, wrote to a handful of other Sega employees. “That is Gearbox’s plan and what they believe in. I just wanted to double-check with them and since I did I figured I would pass that along to you.”
The filing lists eight other examples of times when Sega says Gearbox made announcements to the press and public without Sega’s approval, sometimes despite specific requests not to, according to the motion.
That includes E3 2011, when Sega officials noted that Pitchford went well beyond the bounds of a prepared questions and answers document Sega provided and “talked a LOT beyond what was in there.”
Other examples included posts to the game’s website, announcements at a community day event and releasing an unapproved screenshot. This seemed to culminate in October 2012, when a member of the Sega PR team spoke with a Gearbox official in person about what they called “leaks.”
“I spoke face to face to [Gearbox’s Steve] Gibson about their persistent panel leaking,” Matt Eyre wrote in an email to other company officials. “Effectively — it’s Randy [Pitchford] doing whatever the fuck he likes. Apparently he did it twice on [Borderlands 2] also, against, against all plans and despite the fact they asked him not to. I think our best result here is that we have no more panel sessions …”
The filing also refutes Gearbox’s earlier claims that they never received any payments tied to the sales of Aliens. According to the filing, Sega paid Gearbox millions of dollars in advance royalties in the form of milestone payments. These were payments tied to the timed completion of things like a demo.
“If and when Sega recoups the royalties advanced to Gearbox in the form of milestone payments, Gearbox will receive a percentage of the net receipts for each sale of ACM,” according to the motion.
The motion, which asks the court to ignore Gearbox’s request to block the settlement with Sega, does not address earlier claims by Gearbox that it paid millions of its own money to finish the game.
The next hearing is being held on Oct. 29.