By now all interested parties have likely heard that the rumors were true: Gearbox Software has announced Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel, being co-developed with the team at 2K Australia. Taking the series’ patented action backwards in time – and outwards, to Pandora’s moon Elpis – some fans were disappointed to find that the game would not be releasing on the Xbox One or PS4. Luckily, the developers have a good explanation.
Gearbox president Randy Pitchford explained to Eurogamer that the studio not only has reasons for their launch platforms, but have their fans’ best interests at heart. While console manufacturers and their subsidiary studios may promote the notion that the previous consoles are already old news, Pitchford explained that whether old or new, they’re the systems that their existing fans all have in their homes:
“I don’t think I would have to stretch far to suggest there’s probably a lot of demand for more Borderlands. That demand lives on the Xbox 360, PS3 and PC. We don’t know to what extent it’ll live on the next-gen. I imagine over time – maybe by the time we get to the third or fourth Christmas – there will be enough of an install base.
“If you try to image the set of Borderlands players who have already upgraded, that’s not 100 per cent. But if you try to image the set of Xbox One or PS4 owners who do not have an Xbox 360 or a PS3, the difference there is so close to nil you can’t make a business rationalization around that.”
Pitchford raises an important point that tends to be overlooked in the wave of enthusiasm and marketing that accompanies any new hardware launch. In this case, Pitchford points out that there are “fewer Xbox Ones and PS4s than we sold copies of Borderlands 2″ currently in consumers homes, meaning the question shouldn’t be ‘why not release a Borderlands on next-gen,’ But ‘why would it make sense to?’
Publishers are in the business of making money, after all. So while Microsoft and Sony may be spending their time talking up next-gen gaming as the next big thing, third parties are left with a clear conclusion: while early console sales are promising, they’ve got a hundred million or so to go before it makes more sense to cater only to their architecture.
It may seem odd to commend a studio for making the most profitable decision, but it’s hard to argue that Gearbox shifting to next-gen could be seen as fan-service in any way. Plus, Pitchford reminds us, the developers still have content and story left to give to the Borderlands universe in its current form (a point made abundantly clear by the wealth of DLC content released since the previous game’s launch):
“Because Borderlands 2 did so well there’s obvious demand there, and we have not been able to serve it sufficiently with just DLCs. And we’ve consumed all the memory there is to consume to add more content to Borderlands 2.
“And frankly, as creators, we love the space. We’re still arguing inside of Gearbox about how much of our own time we should spend in the Borderlands space versus on future things, because a lot of us really love making Borderlands.”
Gearbox may be making their thinking blatantly clear, but they certainly aren’t the only studio that will have to deal with the issues of cross-gen sales projections. Pitchford’s claim that a next-gen Borderlands 3 could be years away shows the studio is in no hurry to capitalize on next-gen customers, but different publishers are already employing different tactics.
Ubisoft, for instance, is rumored to be releasing not one, but two Assassin’s Creed games in 2014. The immediate theory expressed online in the wake of that news characterized Assassin’s Creed: Unity (for next-gen) as the envelope-pushing experience, and Comet released to placate Xbox 36o, PS3 and Wii U owners. But in light of Pitchford’s candid comments, it seems more accurate to view the projects as tackling two different audiences: one for the bankable last-gen install base, the other to capitalize on next-gen early adopters starving for triple-A titles.
What do you think of Pitchford’s explanation? Does it seem to overlook the technical aspects of next-gen, or is it hard to argue that it makes the most sense for the overall health of the franchise? Share your thoughts in the comments.
Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel will be released in Fall 2014 for the PC, PS3 and Xbox 360.
Follow Andrew on Twitter @andrew_dyce.