Randy Pitchford deserves a lot of the criticism he is getting.
The head honcho of Gearbox Software, the man is arguably the one responsible for presiding over Aliens: Colonial Marines; one of the most high-profile disasters in many, many years. Atari you sort of know it’s a coin toss, FROM Software and Kinect never were going to fit together, Blade Kitten was made by a big studio pretending it was a naive little indie developer and is shocked when we find that abhorrent. Gearbox – they of the Borderlands series – are not the sort of people you’d expect to not only make a truly terrible game, but a game getting hammered and battered across the board. Randy Pitchford has many questions to answer; why was the demo so much better than the finished product? Where did all the money go? Where did all the talent go? You’d think he’d have the answers, but he has maintained a poker face over the whole debacle and it is thoroughly shameful. But this is not why he deserves criticism. Not even close.
He deserves the criticism because he’s shown himself incompetent and incapable of being a solid front-man to the studio.
Not having the answers to hand is certainly cause to ask how closely he works with his “team”, because if he was in the thick of it he should be able to snap off solutions and answers very quickly. It’s interesting because he’s obviously not a stupid person; clearly passionate and talented in his own right, but now it just appears as though he was detached from the actualities of what was going on. More than this, of course, is that he has refused to accept any criticism – and this is where things get murky.
It’s true and he is right that anyone so angry and hurt that they resort to threats of violence and murder are to be ignored. You may be incredibly disappointed, and have every single right to be disappointed, but issuing such threats is not the way to go about things. The likes of Randy Pitchford need and thrive on publicity and our money, and whilst those who pre-ordered may not be able to do anything about the money thing right now (although I suspect that may soon change, with some stores being pressured to take back copies because they were falsely advertised, and still are, with demo footage and screens that are not in the finished product!), but we can certainly do something on the publicity front. Issuing threats of violence against the man will, inevitably, turn the valid witch hunt against him – which we need and deserve – into a show of sympathy from the industry and others over a man getting such threats. By threatening the man, you effectively give him more power and more incentive to ignore the consumer base than ever before. So please, please stop it. It’s a side-show taking over from a very real and serious discussion that needs to happen.
That said, Randy should not be blocking and ignoring professional reviewers such as Robert Florence and Jim Sterling over the issue. These are people whom sat down with Randy Pitchford and watched the demos, became a part of the hype machine, and now they feel professionally aggrieved. They have every single right to feel as though they have been used in what many are calling an elaborate con. Ignoring these people, who themselves have tons of followers, isn’t going to fly. They’re not asking for anything more than the truth – why did Aliens: Colonial Marines turn out so badly? It’s not an unkind question. It’s one which could serve as an industrial point, as a line in the sand that we can learn from in future.
Nor should Randy be socking it.
This broke yesterday when some suspiciously new Twitter accounts began to send positive feedback and vibes to Randy and Gearbox, hailing Aliens as a “quality product” and such things. Now, when everyone so far has agreed that it is NOT a quality product, a brand new Twitter account making that kind of statement and promoting the game does look incredibly suspicious, and sure enough, people tracked the IP and stuff all the way back to Randy and Gearbox. The Internet is a place where your sins will inevitably find you out and when you make it so utterly, incredibly obvious that you are effectively socking yourself (as in Sock Puppets, i.e. talking to yourself with a different identity!) then you cannot be surprised when you are caught out.
Of course, we don’t know much yet as to why the game went wrong. So far, what we have is the Public Relations fall-out, a falling out that has led people like Jim Sterling on Destructoid to declare they are officially done with previews. They cannot in good conscience be a part of the hype machine when it’s so cynically and disturbingly orchestrated in such a long, planned hoax. There is the great Borderlands Shut-Off, where people are protesting by deleting Borderlands/Borderlands 2 from their hard drives, or getting rid of discs. At the middle of it all sits Sega, a publisher who may not have realised what it was publishing but should have been aware enough to ensure that it was a quality product. And the buck ultimately has to stop with Randy Pitchford and Gearbox Software. These people presided over the development of a game that clearly is no longer all it appears to be.
My review of Aliens: Colonial Marines goes up tomorrow, by the way. I too echo the feeling of being scammed.
And this is what Randy has to deal with, what Mr. Pitchford needs to address with an incredible haste. Even aside the anger and bitterness, it’s obvious that Aliens: Colonial Marines is a botched operation, a bodge job, a game that isn’t anything like as polished, technically detailed or as stable and interesting as it was once made out to be. Many of us have copies of this game, that was kept so under wraps until the last moment when the web of deceit began to unravel and it was just a little bit too late to do anything about it, and yes. We paid upwards of £30 for it. This is a good chunk of money. And yes, we’re asking why it ended up so badly. Why everything we thought we knew about the game turns out to be nothing more than lies and hearsay. And we need answers, because yes, studios do at times put out really terrible games – this happens. It happens for many reasons, but whatever one you choose it happens. It’s not unreasonable for customers to wonder why they were mis-sold something. It’s not unreasonable for the gaming press to be asking questions.
It’s unreasonable to stick your fingers in your ears, to set up fake accounts to praise yourself, to state that your stakeholders are more important than your customers. Randy Pitchford cannot stay long in his role because he’s the sort of man who loves the attention when it’s good and does everything to ignore and protect his fragile ego from the barrage of criticisms when things don’t go his way. Death threats and personal insults are, unfortunately, part of the Internet. They’re not acceptable, but they’re part and parcel of the Internet (I do think people like that need to be banned but that’s my opinion!). Getting which bits to ignore and which bits to listen to is important, but shutting out any negativity because you don’t want to hear it makes Mr. Pitchford look positively amateur and silly.
What we’re ultimately left with is one gigantic mess. We have a huge licensed game that ultimately has been hammered into oblivion. The licence holders – in this case, 20th Century Fox – will have serious questions to ask, and likely lawsuits to pursue. Sega will have to decide, if indeed it does turn out that the game is still being advertised with false footage, if it can continue to sell the product as-is. It might have to recall the product, at great cost. And Gearbox, a studio whose reputation appeared unassailable, now sees its reputation in ruins, shattered and broken into a million pieces on the ground. You have professional reporters and reviewers who no longer feel comfortable in the preview sphere, something the industry will find itself very concerned about as a whole; previews are publicity and they need publicity at points to gauge interest in their product. When websites stop previewing, or big names begin to criticise the process, then you have problems. You have consumers wary and concerned about what happened, why it happened and if there is any chance of getting their money back, wounded and perhaps in some cases more mistrustful of future big releases, meaning box office returns cannot go up and must come down.
It’s not just Aliens: Colonial Marines that is damaged. The splash damage from the impact is going to have wide-reaching consequences, and some of which we can only speculate to right now. What we do know is we have a game which shouldn’t be this way, a game promoted in a different guise, a studios reputation in ruins. Randy Pitchford stands in the middle of it all somehow gurning and grinning as the shit flies past him every which way. He doesn’t get it. Doesn’t seem to understand it.
That really frustrates people. And he does need to get a decent apology out at some point and start explaining where it all went so wrong.
That is, if he can, of course. My guess is Fox have already shoved a lawsuit so far up that none of them can sit down right now.
And guess what? It’s all their own fault.
Sorry. I don’t feel sorry for them. That bed is made. Now they lie in it.