Despite the phenomenal successes of Borderlands and Borderlands 2, developer Gearbox isn't currently working on a sequel to the endless-weapons action title, CEO and president Randy Pitchford told Polygon.
"We are not working on Borderlands 3," he said during an interview last week. "That is unqualified. We have more to do in the franchise, but no there isn't a Borderlands 3."
And it isn't a question of semantics, that they're working on a sequel that isn't a sequel. Put simply, Gearbox doesn't have time right now to develop a new Borderlands.
"When you think of what Borderlands 3 should be, it should be massive," Pitchford said. "It should be bigger and better than Borderlands 2. It should carry forward the story. It's probably crazy multiplatform, depending on timing. It would have to be a next-gen game and a current-gen game, if it was coming at any time in the reasonably near future.
"We love Borderlands, and we know customers do too. So we will be doing more in Borderlands. But the thing that, when you think of what Borderlands 3 should be... No. We are not developing that right now. We don't know what that is yet. We can imagine what it must achieve, but we don't know what it is yet. I'm not going to fuck around with you like Valve does with Half-Life 3. Look. We know we want it and we know it should exist, but we don't know what it is yet. But we are doing things in Borderlands that we'll announce soon, that are good, and that I think people will be really excited about if you love the franchise."
So the franchise will continue and we already know some of the ways that will happen: Borderlands 2 on Vita and Tales of the Borderlands, Telltale's take on the Borderlands mythos.
Pitchford said Tales came about after Telltale approached Gearbox about the idea.
"I couldn't say yes fast enough," he said. "Like, hell yeah."
A big fan of The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us, Pitchford thinks Telltale's games continue to improve and has high hopes for what they'll be doing with Borderlands.
"I couldn't say yes fast enough. Like, hell yeah."
"They're figuring some stuff out in a space that a lot of people had written off, the adventure games," he said. "These guys are not only figuring some things out, but they're pushing the genre and doing new things that are entertaining us and touching us in ways we didn't expect. The fact that they want to spend time in the brand and the space we've created is thrilling. I'm super excited."
The game will be driven by Telltale's take on Borderlands world, brand new fiction that will be canon to the universe Gearbox created.
"Telltale is creating their game and the story," Pitchford said. "We talk a bit about what things could be done. They get really engaged in the brand. They throw some things at us and we tinker a little bit."
Typically, that process works like this, Pitchford said: The two teams have a story meeting where Telltale walks Gearbox through an outline. And then Gearbox may have a suggestion or two, which inevitably Telltale runs with.
"It's been a lot of fun working with those guys," Pitchford said. "I think they're better storytellers than we are, frankly."
And besides, the developers at Gearbox have their hands full.
Sitting in a suite at the Hard Rock Hotel in Las Vegas, Pitchford ticks off the games the studio is currently working on or involved with:
There's Furious Four, there's a new Brothers in Arms game, both Homeworld remasters and a new Homeworld title, and two still-to-be-announced games, based on entirely new IP.
"We created Brothers in Arms," he said. "We created Borderlands. We acquired Duke Nukem. We acquired Homeworld. I'm building two original IPs for next-gen. I can't personally invest myself wholly in all of these things. So I invest myself in one or two things, and empower talent and creativity around me and beside me and in this vicinity. I do whatever I can to fuel that and let awesome people do awesome things. I love that feeling."
Brother in Arms: Furious Four
Furious Four and Brother in Arms are sort of tied together.
Announced in 2011, Brother in Arms: Furious Four started out as an over-the-top take on World War II shooters. But the obvious comparisons to Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds didn't mesh well with the Brothers in Arms brand, a shooter series known for its realism and sense of history. So the studio decided to break Furious Four away from the Brothers in Arms brand and then they decided they didn't know exactly what they wanted to do with the concept.
"We love the game design loop, and we didn't think that the game design loop was the perfect fit for the Brothers in Arms brand, so we let those guys go nuts with game design," Pitchford said. "Wherever that leads you, don't worry about the franchise. It morphed into something that's completely unrecognizable. So at some point we'll talk about that."
So it's still a thing, then, I asked Pitchford?
"The team and the software and the design elements, all of that — I think it's probably best, at this stage, to not even ... to just assume that the idea of what Brothers in Arms: Furious Four was, that doesn't exist," he said. "We let the game evolve into something totally different. It'll be a brand new IP. It's become a whole new game, which we'll announce when we're ready."
But the decision to break the brand and the idea apart from one another did seem to lead to a decision that Brother in Arms did deserve a new game.
"I think what we kinda decided was, Brothers in Arms deserves a true Brothers in Arms game, and so we've been ... We haven't announced anything, but we've been working in that regard for a while in sort of secret," he said. "I don't know if I would say secret. It's really just like, this is how ideas form. You have people that care about things, and you let things incubate and cultivate. At some point we'll hopefully get to a stage where we feel good about being able to say, we're going to bring another authentic Brothers in Arms game. Here's what it is. We haven't made such a statement yet. Hopefully we'll get to a point where that becomes a good decision."
Originally developed in the late 90s by Relic Entertainment, real-time strategy computer game Homeworld might not seem like the best fit for Gearbox. But last year, Gearbox picked up the rights to the franchise during THQ's bankruptcy auction. The studio later announced plans to release Homeworld HD and Homeworld HD 2 remakes along with Homeworld: Shipbreakers, an entirely new game based on the franchise.
"We thought a couple of things should happen," Pitchford said. "One thing is that the original games are great, but it's been a while, and they've never really been released digitally.
"So we invested a lot to remaster the original Homeworld and Homeworld 2. We'll be releasing them on digital platforms in fully remastered — not just ported to work, but fully remastered. If you have a new crazy-ass Nvidia 780TI or an Nvidia Titan and you happen to have one of those $3,000 4K monitors, you're going to see an unbelievable image."
Pitchford says the fidelity of a ship is larger than what can fit on a 4K screen.
"We went nuts in the high-definition treatment on this," he said. "It's really UHD, not just HD. That's too low. We got with the original audio guys and remastered all the audio. It's really impressive."
He said Gearbox overspent on the remastering because Brian Martel, one of Gearbox's founders, is a huge fan of the franchise.
"He's overspent because he wants to right by his own interest in the property," Pitchford said. "They'll come soon, hopefully. We'll announce a date soon."
Gearbox also met with Blackbird Interactive, a studio made up of a lot of the original Homeworld team, who were making a spiritual successor to the Homeworld franchise, but without the brand. Gearbox met with them and liked what they were doing so much that they decided to finance the development as Homeworld: Shipbreakers, and publish the PC game themselves.
Pitchford said he doesn't yet know when that game might come out.
Indie and entertaining the world
It's shaping up to be a big year for Gearbox. The studio has its hand in the development of an eclectic mix of titles from narratively driven games to shooters to retro remakes. But one thing that Gearbox still doesn't look like it is willing to tinker with are eccentric indie titles, games like Gone Home or Papers, Please.
For Pitchford the decision of what to work on next is largely driven by how many people their works can ultimately entertain.
"If we're going to measure ourselves by how many people we can reach, we're really kind of saying, I want to entertain the whole world," he said. "Now, that's impossible. But you kind of set yourself up for a different scale and kind of game. The other thing, too, it's really fun to make relevant games with big marketing budgets that are on next-gen consoles."
And Pitchford is also mindful of the dangers of game development.
In the last generation, he said, the middle got crushed. Those who made those sorts of games knew they had to get out of that business or lose their company. For the console business, that was driven in large part by the set pricing of games. No matter how big or good the game was, if it was a packaged console title, you likely bought it for the same price.
So, I asked Pitchford, does that mean with this generation of consoles and the potential for different sorts of pricing, Gearbox might start playing around with price points?
"That's one of the neat things," he said. "For now, in the launch cycle, there's very little flexibility in price manipulation. But ultimately, these platforms are built for the full spectrum of business models. From free-to-play to ... There might be a game that's worth 100 bucks, and as a customer feel like that's an amazing deal. I'm not gonna be the one that brings that. But there are games I've spent more than $100 on."
"I want to entertain the whole world."
Take for instance Borderlands 2. Pitchford points out that for those early adopter, hardcore "I-got-every-piece-of-Borderlands-content" gamers, Borderlands 2 was actually more than a $100 game.
"Imagine if you could get all of that for less," he said. "That'd be a great deal."
Pitchford is quick to point out that he's not suggesting Gearbox would do that. His goal is to "create as much value as possible," he said.
But the flexible pricing on the new consoles opens the door for a lot of potentially seismic changes in game development and publishing.
Borderlands 3, for instance, could simply become a never-ending Borderlands.
"Absolutely," Pitchford agrees. "I bet we will see titles like that. I'm not sure Borderlands 3 is the right franchise for that. I think that if you took that approach with Borderlands 3, you'd be tweaking expectations. But I think there can be a franchise that can do that."
And why not? That's essentially the League of Legends model. Vastly popular, always growing, League of Legends never gets a sequel, it just continues.
But is that a model Gearbox will explore?
"Probably?" he said. "We'll see. It's an interesting landscape. We tend to dabble in lots of stuff. We find different ways to dabble and experiment. I think it's certain that we'll, in some way, shape, or form, play with variable models on the console. I don't know exactly how yet, but we'll definitely be playing around."