Finding out about a new installment in a beloved series is supposed to be a happy time. People are supposed to get a chance to devour early information about something they love, savor tidbits, and make plans to play either alone or with friends. Borderlands 3 should have been something to celebrate. However, it has become overwhelmed with drama. People might wonder if all of the negativity around it could have a detrimental effect on the game and experience.
It all started with a debacle surrounding a beloved voice actor. Troy Baker has become a staple in the gaming industry. We've seen him voice icons, like Ocelot in Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, Joel in The Last of Us, Ryu Hayabusa in Ninja Gaiden and Dead or Alive, and numerous characters throughout Batman video games. He also played Rhys in Tales from the Borderlands. Until Borderlands 3. Baker said at a convention that he wasn't asked back. Randy Pitchford, the Gearbox CEO, said that he was. Baker came out with more information that suggested that no, what Pitchford was saying was inaccurate. Kicking things off with this kind of negativity isn't a good look, but people could have gotten past it and considered it an unfortunate mark against Pitchford.
Then, the first Borderlands 3 gameplay premier appeared. At the event, it came out that there would be microtransactions in the form of some cosmetic purchases. Game Informer noted this in a story, with a quote from Gearbox's Paul Sage confirming it. Pitchford went on a spree on Twitter with rambling, ranting comments calling the outlet a liar. Some wondered if it was tied to not realizing microtransactions are small add-ons like cosmetic DLC. Gearbox's PR finally had to get involved and confirm there would be cosmetic items sold as add-ons. One of Pitchford's final tweets said, "I do not respect being made out as having lied."
While the idea of cosmetic purchases may have irked some, they aren't tied to gameplay. Game Informer's original story pretty much said the game wouldn't have loot boxes and would have small cosmetic purchases. That wouldn't have caused much of a fuss. Pitchford drawing so much attention to the situation made the situation worse and more noticeable. Now, people might start wondering. If the president of a studio could have such a reaction, should they be paying more attention? Should they do more research and question things?
Now, there is the issue with David Eddings. He was once Gearbox's Vice President of Licensing and Claptrap's voice actor. He is not voicing Claptrap in Borderlands 3. Originally, he said on Twitter that he asked to be paid for the role in this game, as he did it for free in past games. He said Gearbox turned them down. Gearbox PR told IGN that it pays industry standard for voice acting and offered that to Eddings. Pitchford took to Twitter and said, "Eddings is bitter and disgruntled about having been terminated." He also said Eddings was offered twice the union rates to voice Claptrap. Eddings made his own statement on Twitter. He said he asked for his past royalties and an apology for Pitchford allegedly assaulting him "in the lobby of the Marriott Marquis at GDC 2017." Eddings also brought up the January 2019 lawsuit filed by Gearbox employees alleging that Pitchford took $12 million of revenue away from the employee royalty pool for himself. Eddings noted, "FYI—GBX employees are asked to take lower salaries with the promise of royalty shares."
Considering the current atmosphere and movement toward fair treatment of workers in the gaming industry, this is the strike against Pitchford and Gearbox that could possibly do actual damage to Borderlands 3. People remember how Telltale Games employees were treated in 2018, with the company closing down abruptly and with no care for employees. They remember how Activision, with record profits, fired 800 people in February 2019. They have heard about the inappropriate behavior at Riot Games and the walkouts by employees in hopes of creating a better work environment. People care about crunch. Hearing an allegation that a CEO took $12 million from employees (with a lawsuit involved) and may have assaulted a former vice president with the company could have consequences.
We'll have to see how people react over the coming days and weeks. It could come down to Gearbox taking action to do the right thing. A show of accountability, rather than taking to Twitter to deliver messages in the heat of the moment, could help. Seeing the outcome of the lawsuit and evidence provided could change people's minds about the studio's management. In all likelihood, Borderlands 3 will still perform well, sell millions, and become a fan favorite and critical darling. But the drama is going to have some effect too.
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