February 24 2013 by Nathanial Rumphol-Janc
Look, the truth behind the development of the six year project in Aliens: Colonial Marines is a three tiered tail, but Jim Sterling, after collecting information from several of his inside sources, finally feels confident enough to confirm and reassure the beans being spilled. For those unaware, Aliens: Colonial Marines was a disaster. The "demo" shown last year was a vertical slice and completely pre-rendered material, most of which never made it into the final game, and the parts that did weren't even remotely close to as detailed as we saw. There was also no "demo" of the game released publicly and NDAs restricted the truth about how bad the game is from coming out until the day of release, when it was already too late for pre-order folks to cancel.
There are three major players in this whole mess: TimeGate, Gearbox, and Sega. Sega is at fault for a few things, but nothing overly terrible. They announced the game back in 2007 before development began, which in general isn't a good idea, especially with a series that isn't a normal recurring franchise. Sega's board became aware of the mishandling of the funding they gave Gearbox for the game in 2008 and thus canceled the project entirely. At some point, Gearbox came to Sega offering to get serious about the game and somehow Sega decided to refund the project and give it a green light (sounds like this happened roughly early 2009). The main board member who initially became aware of Gearbox spending the first run of money on other non-Sega projects was no longer with Sega at this time.
TimeGate, the studio that ended up creating much if not a majority of the final product, made some of their own mistakes. For starters, they didn't stand up to Gearbox's pressure on the creative design aspect. This really limited what they could do with the game on their end. The project was also already a mess by the time they got their hands on it and realistically, they should have simply declined to work on it. However, TimeGate themselves is a small studio so you could argue they needed the funding provided, even if it turns out the funding from Gearbox was merely a fraction of the actual funding Sega gave them for the project.
Gearbox, meanwhile, used a majority of the funding from Sega, on several occasions, to fund every project they created. This dates back to Duke Nukem Forever, where it is fundamentally believed Gearbox used the Sega money to even purchase the rights to finish the game. Gearbox did not have that sort of cash at the time and only had the Sega contract in place. Where else would that money magically arrive from? Gearbox might have rationalized they would make enough off of Duke Nukem to get that money back, but it's still a very poor business decision.
The next batches of money were used heavily in funding Borderlands and Borderlands 2, the two flagship titles that company essentially became known for. Of these three titles that used Sega funding, none of them were Sega games. This meant Sega saw zero profits from the sales of them, and instead watched their money get flushed down the toilet. It is believed Sega only greenlighted the Aliens game to release so they could recoup what they could of all the lost funding. Remember, this is essentially six years of abuse out of Gearbox. They signed too many contracts, didn't have the money to support them, and thus used Sega's money to finish other products while they practically completely outsourced the game Sega already paid for to a company that was too small to handle it. Why? Probably because Gearbox got them to do it for such a cheap cost.
Sega is obviously at fault in this for not keeping a close enough tab to pull the plug for good. When they pulled it initially because of funding misuse, they should have never trusted Gearbox again. Apparently, Randy Pitchford is the big puzzle piece in all this, because he is the one who made the decisions at Gearbox and openly lied to SEGA, and lied obviously to the public about the state of the Aliens game. It's a giant mess of crap and people made mistakes all around. Still, it's in Randy, and Gearbox, where most of the mess ensued. Lying, cheating, practically stealing money in a way where Gearbox made money. Rumors suggest Sega can't sue due to some poison pill Gearbox put in the contract, but for now no one has confirmed that yet.
Here are some damning quotes about Gearbox's involvement in the whole mess:
"Now here is the company that should get most of the blame: Gearbox Software and Randy Pitchford. Gearbox stole from SEGA, they robbed us, lied to us about the game, and tried to get another company to make the game instead. Let's see where the funding went shall we? Everyone said the game went to both Borderlands games, but Duke Nukem Forever gets a mention as well, but it's pushed out of the spotlight, because people want to forget about that game, and I don't blame them! Duke Nukem Forever had a big impact on Aliens: Colonial Marines as well."
"It clearly shows that Pitchford and Gearbox wanted to focus heavily on Duke Nukem Forever, but how would they get the money to hire some of the 3D Realms team and even buy the intellectual property? Sure, they made a lot from Borderlands, but guess where they got the money to fund Borderlands in the first place? Yup, SEGA."
"So Gearbox essentially lied to SEGA, mishandled funds, broke agreements and contractual obligations to work on other projects, didn't want to work on a game they were contractually obligated to work on and gave it to another team, poor organization and direction on ACM, took on too many projects from different companies at once, and other things that we may not even know about. Hell, part of me believes that Gearbox wanted this thing delayed as much as possible so they can get more funding money to embezzle from SEGA."
Yup, the fact is I have enough faith in Jim Sterling and his sources to not be shitting us when looking into all these claims from across the net. Gearbox purposely misused funding, lied to all involved, and tried to get away with it. They stuck SEGA with having little choice but to release ACM to get some funds back. In the end, we the fans are who really got screwed. It makes it hard for me to trust anything from Gearbox again, including supporting the eventual release of Borderlands 3.