Gearbox under fire for failing to deliver on staff bonuses for Borderlands 3

Employees accuse the Gearbox CEO Randy Pitchford of not living up to his promise of generous bonuses

Gearbox Games’ notoriously controversial CEO and famously mediocre magician, Randy Pitchford, has a long list of controversies associated with either his company or himself personally, and as they enter the post-release phase of Borderlands 3, he couldn’t help but put his foot in it yet again, this time over questions of misleading and then underpaying employees.

Here’s a look at some of his history of questionable conduct, and a summary of the latest controversial situation he’s at the heart of.

Randy Pitchford's Greatest Hits

He accused Eurogamer of being “Shoddy Journalists” for writing an article confirming the, at the time unannounced, existence of Borderlands 2. It was then officially announced within 24 hours.

Randy Pitchford tweet

Gearbox took six years to develop Alien: Colonial Marines, only for it to end up a borderline unplayable total disaster, resulting in litigation over whether the game was falsely advertised, during which we got to see emails from his former publishing partner Sega saying things like “It’s Randy doing whatever the f**k he likes” with regards to his promotion of the game.

Legal Document from Sega

Or perhaps his biggest faux pas to date, sharing on twitter a video of animal cruelty (a kitten being forced to fight with a crab), then posting this borderline psychotic justification.

Animal Cruelty tweet

Which is just starting to scratch the surface of why even people who love Borderlands have reasons to not be particularly fond of Pitchford.

So what's happened now?

But his latest gaffe is perhaps a step too far for some players, as at a time when everyone in the world is facing difficult circumstances, and many people’s financial security is on the line, Pitchford has failed to live up to the promise of generous bonuses for the development staff on Borderlands 3, at least according to some statements from present and former Gearbox staff.

Jason Schreier at Kotaku, widely regarded as one of the most trustworthy journalists when it comes to insider reports from the games industry, has published a detailed report where he spoke to numerous people who have worked on Borderlands 3, and they all accuse Pitchford of having misled them into believing that they would receive generous bonuses if the game has been a success. By all appearances, the game has indeed been a success despite Pitcford’s best attempts to generate negative publicity, but these generous bonuses have not been forthcoming.

According to the Kotaku report, many employees have accepted lower than market rate salaries at Gearbox, in part due to the promise of big bonuses, with some staff expecting “tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands” in bonuses once Borderlands 3 had shipped. It would appear that these promises had been used to motivate staff to get the work done, but despite having held up their end of the bargain, and the game having been financially successful, these bonuses have not been forthcoming.

Gearbox did apparently have enough funds to open an entire second studio in Quebec, paying for which appears to have been a greater priority than compensating staff in a manner that they consider equitable.

Gearbox Respond

Gearbox did respond with a statement where they bragged about how successful Borderlands 3 has been, and boast about the large bonuses they have paid out in the past, but don’t meaningfully address the actual subject matter of the report. Stating the following:

Borderlands 3 represents an incredible value to gamers and an incredible achievement by the team at Gearbox Software. Our studio is talent-led and we believe strongly in everyone sharing in profitability. The talent at Gearbox enjoys participation in the upside of our games – to our knowledge, the most generous royalty bonus system in AAA. Since this program began, Gearbox talent has earned over $100M in royalty bonuses above and beyond traditional compensation.

In the most recent pay period Gearbox talent enjoyed news that Borderlands 3, having earned revenue exceeding the largest investment ever made by the company into a single video game, had officially become a profitable video game and the talent at Gearbox that participates in the royalty bonus system has now earned their first royalty bonus on that profit. Additionally, a forecast update was given to the talent at Gearbox that participates in the royalty bonus to set expectations for the coming quarters. Gearbox is a private company that does not issue forward looking statements to the public, but we do practice transparency within our own family.

Goes to show that promises of future bonuses are only ever as trustworthy as the person who’s mouth they are coming out of.

Does how a developer treats their employees impact your purchasing decisions? Does any of Pitchford’s slimy antics over the years change how you feel about Gearbox and their games? Can you think of anything worse than a disappointing magician? Let us know in the comments.

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I skew Chaotic Good where possible, and love pressing buttons, viewing pixels and listening to sounds. I’ve written for publications like Rock Paper Shotgun, Eurogamer, VG247 and Kotaku UK, and spent 13 years running SavyGamer.co.uk. If you ever get the chance you should ask me to tell you the story about that time I had a fight with a snake on an island off the coast of Cambodia.

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