Borderlands 2: Double the budget but devoted to its roots

Hands-on Preview of Gearbox's next blockbuster. Plus, an interview with studio boss Randy Pitchford

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Interview with Gearbox CEO Randy Pitchford

CVG: Analyst Michael Pachter infamously predicted that the first Borderlands was going to be 'sent out to die' into a highly competitive holiday season. Why do you think the game was such as commercial success?
PITCHFORD: Because it was a good game.

You think that's really it? There are many good games that don't sell well. Borderlands was a new IP, that shipped in a crowded shooter market, that some analysts said wouldn't sell well even before the first review came in.
Well, what else could it be?

I really don't know why it outperformed. That's why I'm asking.
People bought the game, played it, and told their friends about it, and it snowballed. That's exactly what happened, people thought it was an amazing game and recommended it.

You didn't even play the first Borderlands, Rob, yet you've just played the sequel for an hour and you said you liked it! You said you don't even usually like playing those kinds of games. Isn't that interesting?

It is interesting. You think the first game has sold about five million copies because of word-of-mouth.
That's the only explanation. There weren't television commercials after the first week [laughs].

I understand the DLC was also very popular and successful in terms of return on investment.
Yeah, it had the highest attach rate of any DLC.

Highest attach rate compared to other Gearbox games or...?
No, the highest attach rate of anything this generation. The guys at Microsoft told us that the Borderlands had the highest attach rate of any DLC. When people love something, they tend to love it a lot. And I'm really gratified by that more than anything else. It's what makes us fight the good fight. You kill yourself. You work day and night. You put your soul into something, and you hope that the outcome is that people will like what you've created.

When you find out that happened, it makes you want to work harder. So with Borderlands 2 there was incredible passion and momentum behind it.

Are you hoping to surpass the commercial success of the first game?
[Aghast] Of course we are! What, you think we're going to try to sell less than the first game?

Well, studios have internal sales projections and I was hoping to get an insight into yours.
Oh, I don't know. I'm not the bean counter. We're scaling for success, though we're doing so responsibly. I think we've spent about twice as much on development as we did in the first game.

That's interesting because game budgets for sequels usually go the other direction.
Yeah exactly, but think about what that means though! We do already have the sequel established from the first Borderlands, yet we're spending twice as much, which means - wow!

It's usually sequels that test the true commercial viability of an IP. If Borderlands 2 is as big as a success as its predecessor, do you feel you will have established a franchise that has a big future ahead of it?
Maybe. I tend to take each decision as they come. When we started Borderlands 2 I think we were making a great decision. I felt at the time that, if we didn't work on a sequel, then fans of the first game would have burned our building down [laughs].

We'll see where we are after Borderlands 2. We do have incredible momentum behind this series now. There is an incredible passion, and if it's a commercial success there will be hopes that we'll keep that going, so I do expect at least that there would be DLC for Borderlands 2.

We haven't announced anything - our focus is to ship Borderlands 2 - but as I say there's a great passion from the team and a great momentum commercially, so I do think this will lead to DLC.


Does Gearbox own the Borderlands IP?

That's a fantastic and often rare asset for an independent studio to have.
Er, really, is it?

Well I was a journalist at Develop for three years, and in that time I spoke to executives at numerous independent triple-A studios, many of whom said they regretted selling their IP.
Does it really matter though? I don't think we could have achieved what we did without the help of our partner 2K.

One of the things I love about working with 2K is that they don't push us into going in a certain direction with Borderlands. If a developer is told exactly how to make a game, they won't be fulfilling their creative passions. They probably won't try their hardest if they're forced to do something. In that sense, it really doesn't matter who owns the IP.

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