Borderlands 3 might just be the most anticipated game of 2019 (well, after Anthem turned out to be a complete dumpster fire, anyway). Gearbox has provided fans of the Borderlands series with everything they want and more. Gameplay and reveal trailers have shown all-new skills, brand new mechanics, a dozen new worlds to visit, and best of all, millions upon millions of new guns.
By all accounts, Borderlands 3 will likely become the best of the entire franchise. There’s just one thing that could bring this game down before it even sees release - and no, it’s not the Epic Games Store (as with previous Borderlands titles, we expect Xbox and PlayStation sales to eclipse PC sales, at least in the short term).
It’s Gearbox’s CEO, Randy Pitchford.
Pitchford has been making questionable decisions as Gearbox's CEO for years, starting with Gearbox’s acquisition of Duke Nukem Forever from struggling developer 3D Realms. By the time Pitchford decided that “The Duke can’t die” in 2010, Duke Nukem Forever had been in development for over a decade. Most of the original development staff had already fled, and if that wasn’t enough of a red flag, the game had already been subject to a lawsuit from publisher Take-Two Interactive.
Despite this, Pitchford in his hubris believed that he could make a 10-year-old game into something people would want to buy. Three years later, Duke Nukem Forever finally released as a bug-filled mess with graphics that would have looked dated back in 2008.
However, people gave Gearbox and Pitchford a pass on Duke Nukem Forever - nobody expected a game that had been in development hell for 15 years to come out as anything even approximating a good game. Fans were far more aggravated by Pitchford’s decisions on Aliens: Colonial Marines.
Aliens was a famed series beloved by fans - at least until Gearbox got its hands on it. Then rather than making the game itself, it outsourced development to several smaller developers. The final product was again an unfinished, bug-filled mess with in-game graphics significantly worse than what was advertised. So much so that publisher Sega was actually sued shortly after the game’s released by a pair of players who felt mislead by Sega’s marketing.
Much of Colonial Marines' problems stemmed from Pitchford’s decision to re-assign staff to the development of Duke Nukem Forever and Borderlands 2 rather than finishing Aliens. While Borderlands 2 became Gearbox’s greatest success story, fans of Aliens never forgave Gearbox for the Colonial Marines debacle and effectively murdering the franchise.
Then, there’s Battleborn. Rather than delay the game, Pitchford decided to run headlong into Overwatch, believing his hero-shooter game could stand up to the Blizzard juggernaut. He was wrong. End of story.
Things get even weirder from there. Following the disastrous release of Battleborn in 2017, Pitchford became mired in another legal scandal involving a Medieval Times Dinner & Theatre, a USB drive, and allegedly underage pornography. Oh, and some important financial documents and siphoning $12 million in company funds that were initially intended as a bonus for Gearbox employees.
Let’s start with the USB drive. In 2014, Pitchford forgot a USB flash drive at a Medieval Times restaurant. On that USB drive were several files that ranged from confidential Gearbox corporate documents to pornographic images of “barely legal” teenage women performing what Pitchford said to be “magic tricks.”
That issue is still before the courts, but Pitchford doesn’t refute the fact he forgot a USB drive at a restaurant filled with inappropriate images. He just refutes that they were underage.
Former Claptrap voice actor David Eddings chimed in on Twitter after it was revealed he would not be reprising his role as the long-standing Borderlands mascot to say that yes, the weird stories of this USB drive were true. However, he was mostly upset about Pitchford allegedly stealing a $12 million bonus meant for all of Gearbox’s employees and keeping it all to himself.
That issue is also still before the courts.
Rather than trying to bury these allegations or let them fade away into obscurity, Pitchford may have done something strangely childish. A side mission in the recently released Borderlands 2 DLC, Commander Lilith & the Fight for Sanctuary contains a mission called “Claptocurrency." It's essentially a riff on cryptocurrency, but at the end the quest, Claptrap winds up begging for his old job back from Lilith.
There were quite a few parallels to be drawn between Eddings departure from Gearbox in 2017 and Claptrap’s situation in the DLC, to the point that many believed it was a deliberate dig at Eddings - especially since Claptrap now spoke with the voice of Jim Foronda.
In addition to supporting the allegations against Pitchford on Twitter, Eddings also threw in his own saying that he would have reprised his role as Claptrap if Pitchford apologized for assaulting him in the hotel lobby at Gamescom 2017. That obviously never happened, but it resulted in nearly a month of subtweets being shot back and forth between Eddings and Pitchford.
Then, we come to the many minor offenses that Pitchford made following the reveal of Borderlands 3. At PAX East earlier this year, Pitchford introduced the world to Borderlands 3 with an awful magic trick and then seemed to belittle his own employee for not being impressed.
There was also that time Pitchford tried to obfuscate the fact that Borderlands 3 would indeed have microtransactions (in the form of cosmetic items similar to Borderlands 2) by forgetting the very definition of the word "microtransaction."
It’s a testament to the skill and dedication of Gearbox’s employees and the incredible strength of the Borderlands franchise that these issues haven’t brought down the company, let alone Pitchford.
That said, there is a building undercurrent of anti-Borderlands sentiment. Pitchford’s antics and Take-Two’s recent assault on streamers advocating for Borderlands 3 has created opposition to Gearbox’s continued success. If anything were to finally break the fans’ love of Borderlands, it could easily spell doom for the company.
The simplest solution would be to remove Pitchford as the head of Gearbox, but that’s unfortunately not an option. Pitchford owns a controlling interest in Gearbox, and since it’s a private company, he calls all the shots. Pitchford would have to willingly step aside, and given how he’s presented himself as a bit of an egomaniac, that seems an unlikely possibility.
The best that Borderlands fans can hope for is that Borderlands 3 turns out to be exactly the game that they’ve all been waiting for and Pitchford eventually is convinced by those around him to hire a PR manager. Until then, either willingly or unwillingly, he’ll just keep sabotaging Gearbox’s future success.