Aliens Legal Throwdown: Sega, Gearbox And That E3 Demo

A satirical cartoonist might attach hilarious name badges to this image.

As Sega and Gearbox scrap over liability in the class action lawsuit from folks who bought Aliens: Colonial Marines and felt more than a mite deceived, it’s getting a bit messy. Sega have dug out a big bag of internal e-mails to establish who exactly is responsible for some of the misleading marketing, including the E3 2011 demo that looked better than the finished game. Naturally they’re saying Gearbox were complicit, and that at times Gearbox president Randy Pitchford was “doing whatever the fuck he likes”. Oof.

“It’s Randy doing whatever the fuck he likes,” an internal Sega e-mail now entered as evidence said about Pitchford’s “panel leaking”–saying more than the plan allowed during discussions at events. Allegedly he’d done the same with Borderlands 2 too (published by 2K, not Sega). Sega say Gearbox were not only consulted on marketing and involved, but sometimes did more against their wishes. Gearbox said more than planned through website posts and announcements at community days too, according to Polygon‘s summary.

The e-mails also suggest, crucially, that Gearbox had told Sega that Aliens: Colonial Marines would be along the lines of the notorious E3 demo. That version looked tense and moody, close to the movie, and not a load of rubbish like the finished game. It set people up for disappointment.

“During one of my conversations with Gearbox today I verified that the E3 Demo is indeed the bar that we should use to determine where the entire game will be,” Sega senior producer Matt Powers wrote to other Sega folk. “That is Gearbox’s plan and what they believe in.” Oh dear.

Quick recap: Sega had reached a tentative settlement for $1,250,000, and said Gearbox could be included if they chipped in an extra $750,000. Gearbox instead tried to get the whole case thrown out, saying they aren’t liable as they made the game as contractors. This latest turn is Sega trying to stop that motion, saying that Gearbox are liable too.

There’s an awful lot more going on, if you want to get stuck in. Polygon have it all.

46 Comments

  1. Arithon says:

    “It set people up for disappointment.”
    Worse, they actively pursued pre-orders knowing that the released game would suck and sales would be non-existent when reviews were published. It was a confidence trick.

    • Shuck says:

      That assumes that when they encouraged pre-orders, they knew they were going to release a game different from the one that had been displayed. That’s not the case. From what I’ve heard from friends who worked there, there was a flurry of last-minute changes (to art, rendering, levels and AI) that were made because it was having problems running properly on certain consoles. Because the changes were so last minute, they were implemented very poorly (and at the end of the year, when many people had already left for the holidays, so most of the developers didn’t even know about them). A friend who worked on it said something to the effect of, “I finished my work on the project, left for vacation, and when I got back a few weeks later I found out that the game that was shipped wasn’t the same game I worked on.”

      • defunkt says:

        And all of this is somehow the consumer’s fault? They should have told Sega they didn’t have a release rather than trying to hack it to together at the last minute with no staff. Of course then they’d probably have worn a pretty stiff lawsuit for failing to fulfill their contractual obligations – so instead they decide to try and shaft the players.

      • HisDivineOrder says:

        Your “friend” lied to you. In fact, the team that worked on it right up until the end of the year was based in the el cheapo, hired gun studios that were paid the lowest dollar to get something, anything, shippable out for Gearbox to give to Sega. They took Sega’s money and turned it into more Borderlands 2 instead. Pritchford thought Sega would see the shoddy shape of Aliens: CM and give them an extension to work on it longer.

        Instead, Sega had had enough and essentially called his bluff. “You said you’d be done by this date. Be done by it, come heaven or high water.” Suddenly, Pritchford called in everyone to work on it for those last few months through the holiday.

        Except the game was barebones, barely complete, and not remotely close to the E3 demo. In particular, the AI was atrocious and the graphics made Homefront look cutting edge.

        But if you look at the hired gun mercs they got to work on it, you can see why. All substandard, el cheapo nobodies that have since gone under. Unfair to say it was their fault since Gearbox paid them so little they knew exactly what they were getting and what they were doing.

        Ultimately, it was Gearbox’s own greed–their unwillingness to give up the license and the contract in favor of Borderlands 2 and more DLC with Sega’s money–that destroyed the game. That Sega is willing to foot most of the blame for Aliens: CM is incredible.

        Your friend is trying to save face with you. Or perhaps your “friend” is you. In which case, YOU are trying to save face. ;) It’s okay if you worked on Aliens and don’t want to admit it. Nobody does.

    • Premium User Badge

      Wisq says:

      As opposed to every other AAA title, good or bad, that aggressively pursues preorders?

      Preorders should have died when we made the switch from physical to digital goods. From a customer perspective, there’s zero reason to do them and every reason not to. But they won’t go away until people stop doing them, and damn it’s hard to convince people to stop doing them.

      In that respect, Colonial Marines actually did the gaming world a huge service, and I hope that we’ll continue to have enough sacrificial “great hype, terrible game” incidents to finally convince people to stop preordering.

      • libdab says:

        Guilty as charged … I’ve just pre-ordered the Borderlands Pre-sequel :-[

      • skorpeyon says:

        While I know this is a PC gaming site and therefore my console example isn’t quite applicable, Destiny at least did pre-orders justice. I downloaded and played the beta of the game while they had it available, got to see what they were doing with it, really enjoyed it, and get a few minor perks for pre-ordering (things like pre-download so I can play on day 1, special skins, etc.). I did it and have no regrets. So there are a few reasons they can be worthwhile, and someone releasing an open beta (especially one that feels like a finished and polished game) can back up the quality of the game before it releases. This is the exception to the rule, however, and I hardly ever pre-order games.

  2. Premium User Badge

    distantlurker says:

    GBX do have some gall saying it’s nothing to do with them.

    I remember watching all the vids, all starring Randy, Randy waxing lyrical about how Gearbox were big Aliens fans, how Gearbox were going to make the best Aliens game ever, showing us footage of Gearbox studio bods prodding at screens of code alongside LV-426 landscapes, showing ‘in game’ footage that was never gonna make it in while Randy told us how exciting it all was and wasn’t the AI great? and look at all those non despawning corpes!

    Randy, Gearbox, Gearbox, Randy, a whole heap of lies and not a mention of DodgyStudios Inc. (TX), .

    Randy needs to pony the hell up quite frankly.

    • DrollRemark says:

      I can’t look at their recent talk about the Homeworld remake without serious trepidation.

      “Hey look, we remade the intro but replaced the iconic hand-drawn 2D with bland 3D models! The full game is going to be THE BEST.”

      Errrhhhmmm.

      • HisDivineOrder says:

        Exactly. Homeworld stinks of the same level of “Yeah, I love this stuff!” enthusiasm he had when he had “his team” working on Duke Nukem Forever and Aliens Colonial Marines. Which is to say he had a bunch of nobodies that were unaffiliated with Gearbox working on said games. And when I say “working on” I mean he had them trying to glue together anything not nailed down to make something remotely playable that he could then stick a $59.99 price point to.

        Fortunately, Amazon and Newegg did me a solid. Amazon sold me Duke Nukem Forever for a $1 during a post-Christmas sale. And Newegg sold me Aliens Colonial Marines for FREE (after rebate).

        So I paid what these titles were worth. If I had paid more than a collective $1 for both of them, I’d have been way overcharged.

        • skorpeyon says:

          I am frightened to death of them having the Homeworld franchise. At first I thought “the guys making Borderlands could do some really awesome graphics on this”. Now all I can think is that they’ll screw it up the same as they do any other license they think they can push out for a quick buck. :(

        • Apologised says:

          Thing is, unlike Aliens, Homeworld is already a complete game, they’re just nailing on some uprezzed textures onto it and largely calling it a day.
          Which if they want money to survive this lawsuit is exactly what they should be doing. Rereleasing Homeworld as close to the original as possible since it’s reliable bank.

    • welverin says:

      “Randy needs to pony the hell up quite frankly.”

      Yes, he does.Problem is everything to do with this game leading up to this point tells us he won’t.

      I’d hold Gearbox solely liable for this and not include Sega at all.

    • DanMan says:

      Randy Pitchford to me is on the same level as Cliff Blezinski (or however you write that). They have my explicit encouragement to not make any games anymore whatsoever.

      • Premium User Badge

        N'Al says:

        Not to worry, your good friend CliffyB will serve you beer from now on:
        link to eurogamer.net

        • DanMan says:

          I congratulate him on his new-found meaning in life. Serving beer. Take note, Randy.

          • HisDivineOrder says:

            I wouldn’t trust ol’ Randy to serve me beer. I’d just know in my bones he watered it down after making it by drinking some fine beer and then pissing in a keg. Then he’d have let it ferment for half a day, tossed in some impure sugar he got at a yard sale, and in order to advertise high alcoholic content he’d have thrown in some rubbing alcohol for good measure.

            The man couldn’t make beer without trying to rip you off. Even if he made something halfway passable to drink, he’d start charging you for pieces of it that you’d imagine were essential parts, but in fact he somehow managed to separate. Certainly, you’d wind up paying a Mug Rental Fee, a Multi-Part Gulp License, a Tongue Authorization Fee, and offer a Full Drink Special Pass that gives you all the extras (but not the base beerxperience) for a fee more than the cost of the base beerxperience.

            Beer by Randy Pritchford.

  3. joa says:

    Seems pretty absurd for customers to sue a company over a product not being to their standards. Loads of subpar rubbish is released all the time. If you buy it, that’s your problem.

    The whole point of marketing is to do everything possible to make you want to buy a product. Not exactly surprising marketing materials might exaggerate a little.

    • KingFunk says:

      Yeah, but there is such a thing as false advertising. I haven’t viewed the E3 video or played the game, but all reports suggest a significant disparity.

      That said, I do think they’re doing this more out of some geek-hurt for their love of Aliens than a citizens ASA…

      • Drake Sigar says:

        Jim Sterling went through the demo: link to youtube.com

        • BlackAlpha says:

          Did anyone actually play the demo? That video reminds me of pre-rendered videos that are made to look like the game to show investors what the final game will be like.

        • wengart says:

          I watched this video and I don’t get it. The theme seems to be that the exact demo sequence wasn’t in the game.

          “Oh hey look these 2 particular marines are no where to be found!”

          “Oh hey this guy wasn’t killed at this exact point”

          “Oh hey this alien doesn’t jump at you”

          “Oh hey the the player doesn’t get killed by the Alien Queen!”

          So what? This happens all the time. Demo sequence is not in the main game. Who would have thought!
          This video is useless.

          • Drake Sigar says:

            It goes into more detail than that with stuff like the Alien AI and fluid animation not in the game either.

          • wengart says:

            Which would be better served by having its own video comparison.

          • SAM-site says:

            I am drawn to remembering the movie “Battleship” which I, in the minority, rather enjoyed.

            The trailer for which included Liam Neeson yelling “FIRE EVERYTHING!” at what was clearly a critical moment. Said line I used as my primary reason for recommending, prior to release, that my chums seek the movie out. Said line was not in the final cut of the movie, and while I was a little disappointed, I did not feel the need to sue anyone.

            I suspect quite strongly that this would be a non-event if the game in question was Squiffy and Tintin’s Treehouse IV.

          • Drake Sigar says:

            Where do I start? You’re talking about a single line. Even if you weren’t, it makes no difference. Demos used to show whole scenarios not in a game and movie trailers are constantly adding second-long scenes that don’t make the final movie. The only thing that matters is that are representative of the final product.

            Think back to the Battleship trailer then imagine paying for a ticket only to find it had a massive downgrade. Instead of fireball porn so beautifully rendered it brings tears to your manly eyes, you’re stuck with a pathetic discharge of old Christmas crackers cobbled together in some guy’s garage. Also, Liam Neeson has been replaced by a Liam Neeson puppet.

            Now either they lied, or you’ve accidently stumbled upon the new Thunderbirds movie.

      • Vandelay says:

        I’m sure I have seen the demo, but can’t remember it now. I do remember plenty of other trailers of actual gameplay that looked like the linear setpiece filled nonsense that everyone got, so not sure why it came as a surprise. That does make me think you assessment is probably right.

        Still, if the e3 demo was not a true representation of what they were working on then the compliant is a valid one, no matter the motive.

        • HisDivineOrder says:

          The reason the lawsuit got as far as it did was because the Aliens Colonial Marines retrospective/post-mortem by people “off the record” acknowledged the demo was a canned, specially built demo that was not all a slice of the actual game. It was developed independent of the game as a way to sell the game concept separate from the actual game’s development. Put together by Gearbox and not their hired guns, it was meant to drum up interest and the things that worked in it (alien pathing, etc) were all pre-done.

          It wasn’t in any way what the actual game was and nothing in it was based on the actual game in development. It’s like they made a pre-configured demo where aliens would do set things and always do the same things, pathing where they path, etc. That’s why if people actually played it, it would play out precisely the same regardless of your own actions.

          Think about that. To make it seem like he was playing it, he had to know precisely what to do and when to do it. That’s a level of deceit that is rarely seen in games. Usually, such pre-done concepts are saved for selling a game concept AHEAD of its being greenlit to show what the game might be like.

          It’s definitely not done for the press and described as actual gameplay.

      • Joffy says:

        Agree with both of you, when you preorder you are trusting a company, but doesn’t guarentee you a good game. All this means is that people find different ways to try games, and its companies doing things like this that leads to more and more people turning to piracy.

    • bleeters says:

      “The whole point of marketing is to do everything possible to make you want to buy a product”

      WIthin the confines of regulatory restrictions placed on their activities, perhaps. They’re not allowed to deliberately mislead their potential customers.

      The problem with Colonial Marines wasn’t that it sucked. It’s not even personally that the E3 demo featured things that weren’t in the game, though I’m not exactly happy about them doing that. It’s that the whole ‘vertical slice’ excuse didn’t show up until after the game was released and they were busted. It’s that even after it was released, that same demo was featured on its website as marketing alongside screenshots that evidentally weren’t from the actual game at all.

    • TechnicalBen says:

      If a face hugger ever jumps out of your tin of beans, I so hope the store clerk tells you “our advertising said it’s tasty, it does not need to be, get over it!”

    • HisDivineOrder says:

      False advertising is a real thing. You can embellish something as long as what you’re presenting is arguably and to your best knowledge what you are delivering.

      But you cannot knowingly lie and say you’re selling people toiletseats made of gold while selling them toiletseats painted gold.

      It’s false advertising. What Randy did was false advertising. Fortunately, I could tell the game was a stinker from a mile away due to Sega’s rather convenient release of that last launch trailer and their refusal to let the game be reviewed ahead of time. It was clever in how little it really showed of actual gameplay, but by now I can read between the lines of games because I’ve been cheated before by overly enthusiastic marketing that also refuses to let a game be reviewed before release.

      Not everyone has honed their finely tuned Sucky Sense (TM pending) to sense when games (or movies or TV shows or music) are gonna suck. At this point, though, Pritchford’s involvement in a game’s development other than Borderlands is a BIG indication of an incoming stinker.

      Beware their MOBA-like. It threatens to be the biggest of them all.

      • joa says:

        It’s not false advertising because it’s not about facts. If you buy a gold toilet seat, but it’s not made of gold, that’s a matter of fact.

        If you see some demo and subjectively think, that looks good. And then you get the game and you subjectively think, hmm this crap isn’t so good. Well that’s a matter of subjectivity. It may be a matter of subjectivity that most people agree on, but it’s still a subjective standard.

        And to sue people over it, it’s crazy. Companies exist to make money. They will screw you over to do so – so just chill and get some personal responsibility.

  4. kevmscotland says:

    I had a lot of good faith in Gearbox prior to this mess.

    They had delivered Half-Life Blue Shift, The Brothers in Arms series, Borderlands.
    They were a company on the move and they had earned my loyalty to their products. When they announced Aliens I was very excited.

    The reality of the situation took me somewhat by surprise and it wasn’t the loss of money or the substandard product that bothered me, it was Randy and Gearboxes reaction to the whole thing.

    I’m still awaiting an apology to be issued but they’ve left it so long and it would mean so little comparatively to that betrayal of faith.

    I have sworn to never buy from them again. Its really disastrous that they now have the Home world series.
    Hey, they might not screw it up but I’ll never know because I refuse to give them any of my money to find out.

    • BathroomCitizen says:

      Gearbox even made Half-Life: Opposing Force, which was quite excellent and waaaay better than Blue Shift.

    • Tekrunner says:

      Of course they’re not saying a word about it. No good could possibly come out of it for them while a lawsuit is going on. And once it’s settled, they’ll probably just do their best to have everyone forget about it. That’s a flip-side of resolving stuff in court. You can’t expect things to get resolved out of it at the same time.

      Gearbox can make very good games though, but there’s a marked difference in quality between what they do in-house and what they outsource (see A:CM and some BL / BL2 DLCs). So basically you shouldn’t pre-order from them, but that’s true for everyone anyway.

    • HisDivineOrder says:

      You forgot they also made the Halo 1 port. That should have been a warning sign to you that they aren’t really that good at making games not specifically their own.

      I suspect the fact the port was so poor is the reason why Microsoft continues to waffle on making a Halo 1-3 collection they’ve been working on for PC for many years now. That first game probably had to be completely redone, which would have been no small investment.

      Now they’re using that work to help make Halo Collection, which will probably keep it from coming to PC because if it were to come to PC now, that’d be every major exclusive Xbox One has actually coming to PC (except Killer Instinct) within a year and looking better for it.

      In short, if Gearbox had done a better job on Halo for PC, perhaps we’d have had Halo become a big franchise on PC. Instead, they crapped out crap and Microsoft then sank the franchise on PC in terms of sales by playing games with Halo 2’s PC release.

      Gearbox strikes again.

    • tormos says:

      why would you possibly want to put faith in a company that exists to sell you products

  5. Jim Rossignol says:

    I’ll take a look.

    • kevmscotland says:

      Thanks. Not sure specifically what the issue was with the first submission but I’d gather further submissions being the same or similar would have been flagged as spam. Either way it doesn’t matter too much, just wanted to share my thoughts on the story.

  6. Beelzebud says:

    And I’m sure if this game had been a smash hit, Gearbox totally wouldn’t have taken credit for that, right?

    • HisDivineOrder says:

      Up until the game got the response it got, they were. Success is all Pritchford. Failure is all Sega.

      Look at CliffyB or Peter Molyneux for more of this kind of behavior.

  7. quarpec says:

    gearbox is bad and has never made a good game

    • HisDivineOrder says:

      I like Borderlands 1 and 2.

      That said, Borderlands 1 was buggy, buggy, buggy. It was criminally buggy and its DLC was poorly integrated in that it often wigged out.

      I don’t know about BL2 besides anecdotal evidence because I kept waiting for them to stop releasing DLC for it. I’ll be playing it soon and beginning the long wait for Borderlands Pre-Sequel to stop releasing DLC.

      Btw, the reason Borderlands imo is better than just about any other game they released is because they took Sega’s money over the course of MANY years that Sega thought would be applied to Aliens: Colonial Marines and used it toward not one but two Borderlands games and when they had more than enough, they made some DLC with it, too.

      So on the budget of three games, they made two games plus a truckload of DLC. And paid a few other nobody developers to make a barebones Aliens game that was less than most attempts at mods in terms of fun.

  8. Maxheadroom says:

    On an ever-so-slightly. Hardly-at-all-really related matter, does anyone know whats happening with the Hex vs Magic the Gathering lawsuit?

  9. Hoover1979 says:

    Most dissapointing game in my lifetime. gearbox only does well if it is a borderlands game. can’t believe I wasted $79USD on this POS!